When Those Harvard Alums Come to DC They’re Much More Than Outgoing and Gregarious

Jonathan Zimmerman, a UPenn professor, wrote about “The quiet bias in college admissions” in yesterday’s Washington Post. The column’s lede: “Do Harvard and other elite universities illegally discriminate against Asian American applicants?”

He says he’s not sure about that but “there’s another group of people who definitely face routine prejudice in college admissions. They’re the quiet types who keep to themselves….I’m talking about introverts, of course. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from reports on the recent lawsuits against Harvard University’s admission system, it’s that introverts routinely get the short end of the stick….Harvard’s ‘personality evaluation’ favors people who are outgoing, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight.”

To outgoing, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight, Zimmerman might have added that Harvard graduates are known to be ambitious—relentlessly ambitious. The Harvard-educated journalists I worked with over the years stood out for using the job they had to position themselves  to get a better job—one with more money and visibility. That included writing stories—well-reported but positive—about people who might help them get ahead.

Such ambition in Washington is not confined to journalism. Philip Merrill, the Washingtonian’s longtime owner and publisher, was immersed in government and journalism and he liked to say that Washington is full of people who on their first day on the job are maneuvering to get their next job—and it goes on and on.

Put the competitiveness and prestige of Harvard (and other top colleges) together with the many jobs in Washington that now offer big money and some fame and you get a lot of smart, outgoing, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight people doing well in journalism, lobbying, and government. Some even become Supreme Court justices or presidents.

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