Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Software-savvy Ron Unz seems to want Harvard to go open source with admission algorithms

It would seem that analytics pioneer and long-time political activist Ron Unz wants his alma mater (he graduated from Harvard College in 1983) to pull open its corporate kimono and show the world the algorithms it uses to select the members of its elite student body.

Unz believes that Harvard University is a hedge fund disguised as an educational charity.

On the website of “Free Harvard/Fair Harvard” he argues that:

Harvard is now one of the world’s largest hedge-funds, with its $38 BILLION portfolio tax-exempt because of the college it runs as a charity off to one side.

The university’s annual investment income is twenty-five times larger than its net tuition revenue.

Meanwhile, thousands of student families are forced to spend most of their life-savings on $180,000 of total tuition, while relatively few non-affluent students even bother applying.

Paying tuition to a giant hedge-fund is unconscionable, and Harvard should immediately abolish all college tuition.

All the reforms he is calling for in his campaign to elect a Quintumvirate of insurgents to the Harvard Board of Overseers, can, viewed properly, be seen as  efforts to reprogram certain University computer systems.  Mr. Unz founded Wall Street Analytics, Inc., which has morphed into Moody’s Analytics.  Accordingly, we can view his efforts to re-program the allocation algorithms at the $38 billion endowment to cover all undergraduate tuition as an extension of his previous efforts to apply computing to solve financial problems. 

Similarly, his call for greater transparency in the undergraduate admissions process can be seen as a call to make public (open source) the code that rates and ranks applicants and optimizes for certain variables in selecting the overall class.  This could be preparatory to re-programming those algorithms to admit students and compose a class based on a revised set of criteria.

If Unz is right and making Harvard free would encourage millions more students to apply for admission, it’s certain that machine learning and predictive analytic systems would be doing most of the heavy lifting in the admissions process, and so could readily be tweaked to adjust the variables contributing to the analytic prediction that such-and-such a student is the most likely to flourish in and enhance the Harvard milieu and so deserves one of the University's Golden Tickets.

Read more about the up-coming Harvard Board of Overseers election here.

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