July 24, 2018

"Tuck students are nice, and invest generously in one another’s success. Share an example of how you helped someone else succeed. (500 words)."

That's part of the application at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, described and questioned by Katherine Timpf at "Dartmouth Business School to Evaluate Applicants Based on ‘Niceness’/But wouldn’t jerks just lie and make up stories that make them seem like decent people?" at National Review. Timpf declares the search for "nice" students "admirable" and just finds it too hard to do.

But I wouldn't take this preference for "niceness" at face value.

First, whether the school can figure out who's nice, the message to students filling out the form is that the school cares about bringing together people who are compassionate and helping and not simply egotistical and grasping. That might make good candidates more likely to choose the school, and it may affect their outlook and their behavior once they get to the school.

These effects may serve the interests of the school even if the selection process is completely ineffective at figuring out (like Santa Claus) who's been naughty and who's been nice. If the students believe they've all passed the niceness test, the school's teaching method — emphasizing cooperation and teamwork? — may work better. Completely practical!

Second, on a much less sunny note, the "niceness" test may be a ruse — a way to reject applicants with great paper credentials. Just last month the NYT had an article, "Harvard Rated Asian-American Applicants Lower on Personality Traits, Suit Says":
Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than others on traits like “positive personality,” likability, courage, kindness and being “widely respected,” according to an analysis of more than 160,000 student records filed Friday by a group representing Asian-American students in a lawsuit against the university.

Asian-Americans scored higher than applicants of any other racial or ethnic group on admissions measures like test scores, grades and extracurricular activities, according to the analysis commissioned by a group that opposes all race-based admissions criteria. But the students’ personal ratings significantly dragged down their chances of being admitted, the analysis found.

73 comments:

tim maguire said...

If the stories I read about Asian applicants are accurate, they were rated more poorly in interviews, but not in blinded reviews. Which adds to your surmise that this "niceness" test is just another way to discriminate. The more vague the "objective" standards are, the easier it is judge according to your personal preferences.

Earnest Prole said...

Niceness is clearly overrated: An actual Newsweek magazine cover from 1996.

Jon said...

To me, the message is: "SUBMIT. Do NOT be your own person. Don't try to do things your way." Yes, it would be good if everyone was "nice", Ann, but who gets to define that? It's the same problem we seem to be having with free vs. hate speech...

Owen said...

"Nice" is just a four-letter word.

The alternative spelling is "weak."

Shouting Thomas said...

A lot of people who claimed to be nice were bullshitting me.

Or else they were incredibly deluded.

Curious George said...

Asianphobia!

Curious George said...

The Asians should say they're trans. Problem solved.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a much more revealing question. Did you help a superior succeed? Did you help an equal? Someone lower than you professionally? Which would you admit to? Would your write about helping a family member? A member of your congregation? Do you regularly do charity that skips over loyalty of those closest to you and helps the Other instead?

The question will reveal your priorities and your worldview. Not all helping others succeed will be viewed equally.







rhhardin said...

They don't want modest students.

rhhardin said...

List the mob actions you've been active in. That's always niceness.

Gilbert Pinfold said...

Niceness, indeed...
My son was admitted to Tuck 2+ years ago. Shortly after attending "Admitted Students Weekend", he was diagnosed with lymphoma, and deferred admission for a year to undergo chemotherapy. Cost to defer: $5000, payable to Dartmouth. Unfortunately, the chemo did not give complete remission, and he needed more chemo plus a stem cell transplant. Another year deferred, cost $1000 payable to Dartmouth. After transplant, he undergoes consolidation chemotherapy in the Philly area, and is accepted to Wharton. He switches to Wharton so he can keep his chemo going at the same hospital that treated him for 2+ years, but nice Tuck won't return his $6000 because they are nice, and Dartmouth must need the money since their original charter to educate Abenaki and other American Indians must have lapsed, don't you know. But they are nice, you see...

Shouting Thomas said...

Quite a few people who claimed to be helping me were really cutting my legs out from under me.

The nice talk was just a way of trying to blind me to what they were doing.

whitney said...

This isn't about niceness. This is about turning everyone into liars.

MacMacConnell said...

What sociopath would have a problem with this hurdle?

MacMacConnell said...

Gilbert Pinfold

How's your son doing?

Annie C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annie C. said...

I have always wondered about these college applications. I went to a State school in my home state and never had to do anything but mail in a application with a grade transcript. But that was in the 70s and I applied to a school that had just had four students killed by the National Guard so they had a serious enrollment problem.

Are there people who read these essays and stuff? Is it people from the departments the student is applying to? Is it a separate group that just does nothing but reads and grades the essays? How does the system work? Who decides if an essay is worthy or not?

Does a computer rank their grades? All that is a puzzlement to me.

Sorry, re-posted due to weird typos.

Shouting Thomas said...

@Annie C

My guess is that the admissions people would sort out the entire batch first by a text search for specific words in that personal narrative essay that has to accompany every application.

I think the day of handwritten applications is probably over, so I assume 100% of them are produced via word processing and an ink jet printer.

Admissions would only look closer at applications that included those specific words.

That's how employment applications are now vetted at the top level.

Gilbert Pinfold said...

@MacMcConell

Well, but as you would imagine, it will be years before he can breath easy and consider a cure as likely. Starts Wharton in 2 weeks, and got engaged this past Saturday. While undergoing chemo and transplant, taught himself multivariate statistics as a distraction. My wife and I limped through all of it, while he just put his head down and ran...

cathy said...

This seems like why watching black and white tv was a way to spend time. There were nice people with ideas that sounded like the bright thing to do for the whole group. And then a dark haired character cast shade on the idea and had reasons.

Annie C. said...

Amazing Gilbert. Good on you and your wife for raising such fine man. My prayers and admiration to all three of you.

gilbar said...

but nice Tuck won't return his $6000 because they are nice
well, you know what IS Nice? Being a non tax paying non-profit that gets $6000 just Because! Gilbert, glad to hear you son is on the mend! And going to Wharton

I suppose Tuck's niceness requirement works like an additional essay:
"Write a story about doing a niceness; showing us you know the PC buzzwords and proper spelling and grammar: Also, only Nice Jews and Asians allowed"

You could weed out white kids and can't write well; weed out Jews and Asians that aren't Nice ENOUGH; and eagerly bend the acceptance bar to allow in Nice Black men (which, by definition, is ALL of them)

Owen said...

Gilbert Pinfold: I am delighted to hear that your son is doing better. Prayers up.

But I am ashamed of Dartmouth, angry at it, for taking your son's money while he was fighting for his life; money that would have been helpful in that fight. What possible economic rationale could they use to justify pocketing any amount, let alone $6K? They undoubtedly filled his seat in the two years he was otherwise occupied: so what loss did they suffer? Was it the option value that their financial modeling told them would clear the market most efficiently or signal their institution's worth?

If you want to push on this, say so. I know some people.

tcrosse said...

He's making a list and checking it twice
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

My daughter builds wheelchair ramps for the needy in summer Texas heat with our church, but won't talk about it to others or put it on applications for things. She says that's not why she does it and it would make her feel braggy and uncomfortable. Just sayin'.

Rusty said...

Owen X 2

Leslie Graves said...

It is worthwhile to weed out narcissistic jerks. They can do a lot of damage to a work or school culture. It’s hard to do, partly because narcissistic jerks often have the gift of charm in the early stages of their interactions with a person/workplace/school.

Nell said...

Every time I hear the word nice--which is constant I can't help but think of a locally well-regarded Catholic priest who refused to use the word or accept it as a compliment because of its etymology. Latin for -ignorant and apparently in middle English it meant -- foolish.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Success in business is not necessarily predicated on being "nice".

Helping someone else to succeed is not always based on niceness, but often based on ---who benefits. Quo bono Or....What's in it for me!

This question seems more like a Creative Writing assignment than anything beneficial to a business degree. Unfair to the less talented or imaginative English writers.

Gilbert Pinfold said...

@Owen:
His employer (besides being just wonderful through all of this) has offered to pay his tuition + fees at Wharton (a $200,000 kiss), and it's the first good thing to happen in a while. The deans at Tuck stuck to the line of "he knew that the money would be forfeited is he did not matriculate, and we kept a seat open for him". You'd think they would be more understanding, but you'd be wrong. We've let it go, but I did point this out to several college friends who are Tuck alums. They were appalled.

Just a side note--our younger son's girlfriend also got diagnosed with lymphoma this year as a college student. History does not repeat, but it does rhyme. A prime age group for diagnosis is the 20's-early 30's. If you have kids in this age cohort, ask them to be aware of drenching night sweats which can be an early symptom. She just finished chemo and likely has achieved a cure, so we've had quite a wild ride these past few years.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

And wow, Gilbert. Just read your comment. Go get 'em. What a bag of assholes. Prayers for your son's continued wellness.

Fernandinande said...

"Harvard admissions evaluators -- staffers who are likely under pressure to deliver a target mix of ethnicities each year -- rate Asian-American applicants far lower on subjective personality traits than do alumni interviewers who actually meet the applicants."

Sebastian said...

Niceness is just another tool for holistic admissions manipulation.

SDaly said...

At the undergraduate admissions level, white kids are advised to either downplay or leave out entirely church-related activities when applying to "highly competitive" schools who look at students "holistically."

Birkel said...

The "holistic" approach that the Supreme Court accepted in 2003 (Grutter v Bollinger) remains the fig leaf by which universities unconstitutionally discriminate based on race.

Dartmouth is doing what every other school does. They are granting themselves the wiggle room to pretend. They are pretending not to be racist. It is a comfortable lie.

The welfare of the students (accepted or not) and the institution(s) itself (themselves) are of no import when university employees decide that some "greater good" is at stake. As I believe former President Obama said "The type of people who don't discriminate because of race? That's not who we are."

Bruce Hayden said...

I can't help but remember the quote that Instapundit puts up on occasion about the left taking over, and killing institutions, then wearing their skin as a trophy. Or some such.

Millennials seem to be more collaborative than at least my generation, the Boomers. But that only goes so far in business. At some point, it becomes very cut throat. A lot of collaboration can maybe be useful in mature companies that no longer really are growing. But I am not sure how big that niche is, and Harvard has seemingly been dominating it for some time (HBS MBAs HW Bush and Mitt Romney are both considered "nice"). Maybe their idea is to be the preferred provider for assistants to HBS CEOs. Still, I suspect that concentrating too much on nice is going to hurt the grads long run, and thus the school and its reputation. The numbers are the numbers, and taking your eye off them is a quick way to destroy almost any company unless it is well entrenched. And prioritizing nice is a good way to allow mismanagement to flourish.

I received an MBA before my JD, never formally used my MBA (except for a brief bit of supervising someone at Sandia Labs, because they only dealt with people with at least a master's degree), but am far better off financially because of it, than my JD. One of the striking differences between the two programs is that the JD is 3 years long, and I was bored silly half way through. The MBA was 2 years, and I could easily have used another another semester or couple of quarters. In particular, right now, I wish that I had taken more finance classes. The place I would have cut back was probably Operations Research, which was fun, thanks to my computer background, but not nearly as practical. Probably some more Tax would have been useful too (it was something that I learned in a Tax class that made my MBA so much more valuable, to me, than my JD). Tax was never fun for me (it is for some of my fraternity bros), but is critically important. Maybe it is more like trade school than law school, but you really do learn an awful lot of very useful stuff. Maybe the reason that I wasn't bored there, as I was in LS, is because after the basic learning to Think Like A Lawyer, and the core classes hat show up on the bar exam, it is more of the same. You can become an expert in an area of the law that you didn't take in LS - it just requires that you Think Like A Lawyer. Management, marketing, accounting, finance, economics, tax, operations research, etc are all different. Often radically so. Management is dealing with people. Accounting is dealing with real, precise, numbers, while economics deals with rough approximations. Etc.

Birkel said...

Gilbert Pinfoil,

You might have let it pass but a letter to the enforcement division at the of the Justice Department might be worth your time. I would imagine that a "reasonable accommodation" in light of a documented illness would not be to treat a person with cancer the same as a person who wants to delay for some other reason.

You might not want to write that letter but I would urge you to do so. Others will be similarly treated if their unfair policy stands. Please consider others who might face what you did but who don't have the resources to hold a spot.

I find your story compelling and Dartmouth's actions repellent. I too will pray for your son's continued health. Mazel tov on the pending wedding.

Seeing Red said...

Dartmouth

Wasn’t that the LaCrosse team?

It seems the teachers should write essays every year to evaluate whether they should keep their jobs and the subject should be on how they were nice to The Other. How they disciplined themselves to keep from tweeting or joining the angry mob.

Gilbert Pinfold said...

@Birkel

Thanks for your thoughts and wishes. Dartmouth was clear upfront (I assume they don't want students to defer and keep a seat warm while shopping for a better school), and even though this clearly fell outside of that scenario, they proved to be inflexible. He really liked Tuck, and was particularly appreciative of their team-focused activity style, so the "niceness" of students seems to be a selling point for them. I do draw distinctions between students and the layers of administrators now crushing the university experience. When I look back in yearbooks on my own Ivy-undergraduate years, there were so many fewer deans and administrators per student. You need a lot of $$ to employ high salary functionaries in charge of meddling. I say Caveat emptor .

Wince said...

It's easy to be "nice" with other people's money.

Birkel said...

Gilbert Pinfold,
They may have been clear but they have a statutory obligation as the recipient of money from the federal government to make "reasonable accommodations" under Title IX when somebody gets sick. The question, as always, is what it means to be reasonable but I'm suggesting that an inflexible policy that extracts the same payment for somebody shopping for a better school (which Wharton is) or dealing with cancer treatments is unreasonable.

Institutions should be forced to live by the same rules they wish to foist on us. If they like federal law so much (and they do!) then they should have no problem with federal oversight of an unjust policy (but they will!) so I, once again, ask you to do your part to bring their blatant hypocrisy to the fore.

All those excess administrators are strangling the institutions from the inside. It won't be long before they're parading themselves in the carcasses of the institutions they have gutted from within. Putting pressure on those institutions to reform is the only thing that might save what ought to be valuable.

Michael said...

Fine, but aren't they in danger of an over-representation of matriculants from Minnesota?

Gilbert Pinfold said...

@ Birkel

Thanks again for your thoughts. I do see your point, but I've always felt that you can't force someone to do the right thing. The right thing is truly done only when no one else is looking. I don't wish the administrative state on anyone, and I am loath to use its tools to get grudging "justice". After all this, we are content to be grateful that we have our sons, their friends, and our family. And of couse, the wonderful US Army which is the largest and best family of all, and who has welcomed son #2 as a Lieutenant and soon to be Cavalry scout. I need both sons to be bulletproof now.

Owen said...

Gilbert: I hate to throw this epithet around but your forgiving approach is Christian in the best sense.

Birkel: what an excellent salient. Not just to apply much-deserved pressure but to help others in the future.

It stuns me that a school like Tuck --with rigorous intellects and unsparing analytical discipline-- could be so blind to a huge threat to its brand. A threat made all the more glaring and dangerous because it is willingly self-inflicted. If this policy were presented as a business case in Marketing 101 or Corporate Relations 102, how many of their first-years would try to defend what happened here?

Warming to my theme, I think "nice" in the test question posted by Prof. A is a strong predictor of institutional self-infatuation. If you are applying to such a school and are asked such a question, do not walk, run.

Birkel said...

Gilbert Pinfoil,

I too am a conservative. And I understand the hesitance to use the tools of the Left against anybody - even the Left. I used to believe the same way as you represent above. But I've decided that I was wrong before and that only pain can accomplish the ultimate goal: leave each to their own.

That pain must be visited upon those who seek to control so that they understand their actions are expensive and too painful to continue.

And I respect your position and will not persist.

Owen said...

Speaking of admissions policies...may we have a show of hands here on the question, Who has not read "Mismatch"?

Oso Negro said...

Oh, for fuck's sake! Is it a business school or an NGO school?

Birkel said...

Owen,
I read the law review articles many years ago. As a conservative it was not difficult to believe that Leftist policies created nearly exactly the opposite of the promised benefits.

I'm also not sure the Overton Window can be dragged far enough toward reality for the Mismatch argument to win.

MacMacConnell said...

Gilbert Pinfold

You and your's will be in my prayers.

Michael K said...

Very disappointed in Dartmouth but not surprised.

Dartmouth went to a lot of trouble preventing anoter TJ Rogers from getting on the Board.

They don't want anybody asking about administration.

As for the essays for college applications, my older son was asked to write about his "most significant experience in high school." He wrote it about sailing to Hawaii when he was 16. The counselor at the high school asked him "if he really wanted to go to college." He was expected to write about a peace march or some such.

Gilbert, good luck to your son and the other son's GF. If it's Hodgkin's, its probably cured.

"Niceness" is an obvious ploy to allow discrimination without admitting it.

MD Greene said...

@Gilbert Pinfoil

I have a friend, near 70, who was diagnosed with lymphoma more than 40 years ago, when medicine was less advanced. She told me that she was certain at the time that she would die young. Must have been harrowing for her and her family.

But her fears were wrong. She is very active, has raised two kids and is about to retire after a long and successful career. She looks great.

More frequently than we pretend to believe, nice people do not finish last.

gilbar said...

Owen said... Speaking of admissions policies...may we have a show of hands here on the question, Who has not read "Mismatch"?

Isn't that The Point of Affirmative Action? Find the competent, smart Black students;
Then throw them into an environment they are completely unprepared for;
THEN, when they Fail; they Blame the Bogus Rigged Society that Screwed Them Over;
Making them Bitter, and hateful.... And Lifetime Democrat Voters

If the intent was to make productive happy members of our Society (that is, Republicans), then you could call it a Mismatch...
But That's NOT the idea. The idea is to keep the Black man DOWN, and voting Democratic

chuck said...

Steve Jobs need not apply.

Owen said...

"Nice" is "race" without any fingerprints.

These people were only dull-normal before they became addicted to virtue-signaling each other.

As previously stated, do not walk, run.

Josephbleau said...

Dartmouth anticipating Brown.

Unknown said...

Just a way to admit less qualified students - as measured by objective, quantifiable traits. Perhaps the "diverse" engineers who build footbridges/overpasses in Florida were admitted on the same basis (those bridges tend to collapse). I majored in math at Dartmouth - when even us black women had to be qualified...

Char Char Binks, Esq. said...

From the Tuck website: "...attributes reflective of successful Tuck students: smart, nice, accomplished, and aware."

I'm going out on a limb to guess that "smart" will be handicapped the same way Blacks are spotted ACT and SAT points, and class rankings are unreliable from school to school. Asians, pushy Jews, and Deplorables will be found to be insufficiently nice. "Accomplished" will mean "accomplished despite Whitey's overwhelming racism", and the only truly "aware" will be the Woke.

PhilD said...

'Niceness' is in the eye of the beholder. And while jerks certainly are able to lie about 'being nice'my guess is that it will be the college who will substitute their own interpretation of 'being nice', that is being jerks but of the PC-correct kind.

Michael K said...

Isn't that The Point of Affirmative Action? Find the competent, smart Black students;

What's interesting to me is how many foreign born and upper class blacks go to the head of the line. AA was not intended (I thought) to benefit immigrants and the children of successful middle class people.

Owen said...

There is probably good money to be made by selling essay templates online to kids wanting to apply. There are only so many boxes to be checked, all pretty predictable, so the art becomes how to check the boxes without being too obvious about it. "My most important 'Nice Moment,' [tongue in cheek, modest shrug] was when at age 15 I threw my cherished hand-crafted ecologically pure bicycle into the rushing waters to make a safe passage for the black [check] Gay [check] illegal immigrant [check] autistic [check] grandmother of my transgender [check] quadriplegic [check] best friend." [For extra virtue options, click [here]. If not, submit credit card information [here]."

PackerBronco said...

How did I help those students succeed?

Voted for Trump. Voted for Trump. Voted for ...

Begonia said...

I just was reading Ben Franklin's autobiography and was struck by how nice he was (at least in his own retelling of his life) in business. And that niceness and integrity later rewarded him in business, as he was known to be an honest fellow. Here's some examples:

--He resolved never to print libel or slander in his newspapers (even though it would have brought him a lot of money when he was a struggling young printer)

--When Franklin was starting out, the postmaster office (appointed by the Colonial government) was held by a rival newspaper publisher. The rival publisher refused to distribute Franklin's newspaper using his employees. Franklin's newspaper therefore had difficulties reaching a wider audience. Therefore, when Franklin became postmaster, he always allowed rival newspapers to be delivered by his employees.

--Franklin always kept on good terms with his former employees and often helped them set up their own printing businesses in different parts of the colonies, in exchange for part of the profits of the new businesses. This allowed him to earn some money while at the same time helping others.

Doug said...

The Asians should say they're trans. Problem solved.

I knew an Asian named Tran.

Mary Beth said...

I think that, in general, nice people don't think of themselves as nice. They treat others well because that's what feels right to them. The ones that are identifying as "nice" are more likely to be doing it so others notice that they're nice.

Owen said...

Franklin's strategy may not be easily followed by us mediocrities. He was bursting with talent and character, and could afford to spot others a few lengths. But I would guess he also enjoyed the advantage of an expanding market. He was positioned --with printing for a reading public in a new continent-- the way Steve Jobs was positioned with that curious little thing called a smartphone.

The Godfather said...

I bet if Althouse checked the (unlinkable) OED, she'd find that "nice" doesn't always mean what Tuck thinks it means.

The Godfather said...

I went to law school not business school, but I dealt with a lot of business persons during my almost-half-century of practice (not all of whom had MBAs of course). I found a lot of them very congenial, pleasant to work with, etc. And some were brass-plated sons-of-bitches (I never worked for Donald Trump, but I worked for/with a few guys who Trump could have taught deportment to). "Niceness" is not a word that I would associate with business (or law) success. What Tuck may think it's looking for is students who will work cooperatively with others in the company. It's certainly important to the success of any venture that the members of the team work together. "Niceness" however isn't a good descriptor for that kind of behavior.

"Is this a trick question?" Maybe what Tuck really wants to know is, What's your definition of "nice"? Helpful hint: It doesn't including cutting some slack for a young person facing a deadly disease.

JaimeRoberto said...

Steve Jobs wasn't very nice, but then he didn't have an MBA.

Bleach Drinkers Curing Coronavirus Together said...

Ivy League colleges don't need legions of faceless engineers. They need to show that they're looking for students with a sense of character and the potential to show that they've contributed to building it further.

Unknown said...

Complete BS. Business doesn't run on "nice" and this is a business school. Business doesn't even particularly run on cooperation and collaboration. Business depends on people who 1) know what the hell is going on technically, financially and 2) can get things done. I have had "nice" bosses who could not make decisions and were weak on technical aspects and it is a disaster.

Unknown said...

I can just imagine that if the "nice" things you did involved a church charity, it would not count. You would need a bunch of intersectionality points.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

nice (adj.)

late 13c., "foolish, stupid, senseless," from Old French nice (12c.) "careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish," from Latin nescius "ignorant, unaware," literally "not-knowing," from ne- "not" (from PIE root *ne- "not") + stem of scire "to know" (see science). "The sense development has been extraordinary, even for an adj." [Weekley] -- from "timid" (pre-1300); to "fussy, fastidious" (late 14c.); to "dainty, delicate" (c. 1400); to "precise, careful" (1500s, preserved in such terms as a nice distinction and nice and early); to "agreeable, delightful" (1769); to "kind, thoughtful" (1830).