Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Inside Higher Ed, Food Fight:
Why do some seemingly similar colleges admit more low-income students than others?
Malcolm Gladwell, the popular writer (The Tipping Point, among other books), has an answer for that question. Elite colleges that spend to have quality food and other amenities for students are making choices he finds immoral. Letting students make do with mediocre food would enable these colleges to admit more low-income students and provide them with the aid and support they need to succeed, he maintains.
In his new podcast series, Revisionist History, he makes this point by contrasting Bowdoin College, which is regularly cited by campus guides for outstanding food, with Vassar College, where students tell him the food is mediocre. Both are elite liberal arts colleges, with highly competitive admissions, respected faculty members and beautiful campuses. But Vassar enrolls a much larger share of low-income students than Bowdoin, and Gladwell blames the gourmet food Bowdoin students enjoy.
Gladwell doesn't just gently suggest that Bowdoin spend more on aid. He says that the college's dining services represent “a moral problem.” And he closes his podcast by saying, “If you’re looking at liberal arts colleges, don’t go to Bowdoin. Don’t let your kids go to Bowdoin. Don’t let your friends go to Bowdoin. Don’t give money to Bowdoin or any other school that serves amazing food in its dining hall.”
The reaction -- from Bowdoin, its alumni and higher education observers -- has been intense. While many agree that colleges can and should do much more than they are doing now to increase the admission of low-income students, many question whether Gladwell's focus on dining makes sense.