(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class, Ross Gregory Douthat characterizes the country's most revered college as deserving to be loved for its history and status, but as having policies and practices that are anything but lovable.

Douthat finds that although the school's reputation as internationally and ethnically diverse is factual, diversity from within America itself is practically nonexistent. Most of the students, even those receiving financial aid, hale from northeastern, upscale suburbs and private schools. Douthat notes that “a smattering of strivers from underprivileged backgrounds” are accepted in order to promote the illusion that Harvard has become more egalitarian and democratic. Instead, blatant privilege has been supplanted by an ostensibly better but equally discriminatory merit system. Douthat portrays an institution that fosters not intellectual curiosity, but intellectual snobbery. Educational excellence seems to be a myth, and grade inflation is as much a problem at Harvard as at lesser diploma factories. The college exists to provide a springboard for entrance to an elite, moneyed world for those deemed worthy of access.

Privilege is a close-up and highly critical look at the real Harvard as the author experienced and perceives it. Any reader of this book who wishes he or she could have participated in academic excellence by attending Harvard will find solace in this book. Author Douthat seems to wish that he could have provided a different analysis; in the closing pages he writes that he loves Harvard, not because it is good, but because there is good in it.