It's hard to decide which of these two stories is more excruciating. Vanderbilt, a Bible Belt university located in Nashville, is targeting Jewish students in an "elite strategy" to boost itself toward Ivy League status. Chancellor Gordon Gee announced this plan along with a series of relentlessly pro-Semitic compliments guaranteed to set every Jewish tooth on edge: Jews are lively, interesting and hardworking, and come from a rich culture. All well meant, no doubt, but close to conventional stereotypes.
Then there is the problem of leaving the word "Jewish" hovering in the air within 10 paces of the word "elite." Our campuses are addicted to ethnic and racial tinkering, so problems like this are common. Vanderbilt wants to pep up its image (and presumably its ranking in U.S. News & World Report's college guide) by importing some bright Jews. But the university doesn't seem to have a clue about how offensive this is, and not just to Jews. Christian students will now understand that their university views them as unimpressive bumpkins in need of non-Christian help.
The College Board has fueled the new market in religious identity groups by asking college-bound test-takers to list their faith. Jews came in second in the testing sweepstakes (1161 average board scores), exceeded only by Unitarians (1209). According to The Wall Street Journal, some colleges now buy the names of Jewish students from the College Board. This has overtones of the scramble for free agents in all major sports. The unspoken premise is that if the Jewish free agents are attractive enough, they will be granted an edge over equally qualified gentile candidates.
Here we go again. Although Vanderbilt claims that it's just marketing to a new group of students, this looks like yet another identity-group preference scheme by college officials who seem constitutionally unable to hold all candidates for admission to a common standard.
Jewish students are also at the heart of a controversy over the University of Michigan Law School's preference system. Ruled unconstitutional last year by a federal district judge, the system was upheld last week in a 5-to-4 decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case is likely to go to the Supreme Court.