A great college like Stanford has two reasons for admitting the best
students: the first, of course, is that it is so competitive, that
they have to admit only the best.
Still, the top-tier colleges tend to admit only students who would
have done well for themselves anyway. Take a look at this study: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/weekinreview/19steinberg.html?_r=1
Let me give you the tl;dr: Students who were accepted to so-called
“first-tier” and “second-tier” schools, but chose the second-tier
schools anyway, earned as much as as the students who stuck with their
If you can get into Stanford, you don’t need Stanford. It’s a useless
middleman between you and your future success.
Which brings me to the second reason why Stanford needs to admit only
the best students: because it’s an investment. If they can pick the
future movers and shakers well enough, Stanford gets a share of their
glory, however undeserved its share is. Here are some shiny Stanford
names: Sally Ride, first female astronaut; John Steinbeck, author of
_The Grapes of Wrath_, Vint Cerf, inventor of TCP/IP; Supreme Court
Chief Justice William Rehnquist; and by now, everyone has heard of
Larry and Sergey. Even the little fish like me and my fellow alums
working at Twitter add a bit of a gleam–it’s a happy thing for
Stanford that many of us work there, adding Twitter’s fame to
Stanford’s, and Stanford’s fame to Twitter’s, in a virtuous cycle.
Which brings me to a potential way to force your university to do what
you want, even after you’ve graduated. It’s been a perpetual
frustration to me that the student body can’t get jack shit done.
There’s too many distractions on a good campus, but the real killer is
that the turnover makes it hard to do anything but send angry petitions. I suspect the
administration counts on this–let one generation kick up a fuss, let
it graduate, and let the incoming freshmen simply accept that the
terrible state of affairs is the immutable status quo.
Now, if the university does something you don’t like, you have little
recourse unless you have scads of money. Or do you? What if you and
your compatriots all swore to forever disown any association with
Stanford and claimed that you went to Cal instead? With a sufficiently
large conspiracy to keep Stanford’s name out of the press, and out of
the history books, you could ruin its reputation. The academics in
their ivory towers would still recognize it as a great research
institution, but what really counts is prestige among the general
citizenry, and the power and connections that bestows. The average
upper-middle class yuppie couldn’t care less about Vint Cerf, truly,
but once you stop the flow of future Supreme Court justices, the
luster of the name fades, and the yuppie spawn would stop applying.
Then Stanford would fade into irrelevance.
Some fantasy settings have a clever conceit where gods derive their
power from mortal memory and belief. If mortals forget that a god
exists, that god dies. You, dear fellow Stanford student or alum, have
the fantastic power to kill a god. Make it tremble.