After covering Higher Education for a while, I realized that perhaps the most important question about this world was access: who gets into the golden gates and who doesn't? Golden, because of the deeply rooted belief that going to a top-flight college provides a huge leg up on the ladder of life.
It's a big story, and to illustrate it, I persuaded the University of Pennsylvania admissions office to let me hang out with them over the course of a year as they recruited students, received applications and decided the fates of all those hopeful high-schoolers. I got tremendous access. I even got to sit in with the admissions committee as it decided, behind closed doors, who made it and who didn't.
I published roughly one story a month for a year. Here's the first one, in which we see doctors, lawyers and hedge fund managers lead their children unto top-tier college campus to perpetuate a new generation of doctors, lawyers and hedge fund managers.
Shouldn't society give a boost to African Americans, who have been held behind as a people by centuries of slavery and another century of Jim Crow and persistent poverty?
But when that translates to preferential treatment in admissions to college, to take one of the most difficult battlegrounds, doesn't that lead to more unfairness, to those of other races who possess good qualifications but are denied entry? And might the boost not do some harm to the beneficiary, coming with an innate message that "you aren't good enough, without the handicap."
These issues played out in a convoluted way at the University of California in the 1990s. Once the center of leftist student radicalism, the university now became a spearhead to undo affirmative action.
I went out to Berkeley to write about it. A week after my front-page story appeared, the article was lauded by columnist Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post, who called it "a balanced, comprehensive report."