Recently, the Marshall Scholarship announced its 2012 winners, rewarding 36 students with scholarships. The Crimson reported that Harvard only had one recipient this year, noting in the title that Mr. McAuley was our “sole” winner. The article quickly goes on to mention that a few of our colleagues from the Ivy League either tied or exceeded the mark. Princeton won 5, Penn had 2, Columbia and Yale both with 1. Meanwhile, Stanford had 2.
The Crimson‘s piece was striking in that it chose to report how well other top universities performed in the competition—and so early on in the article. Its peers, The Daily Princetonian, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Columbia Spectator, Yale Daily News, and The Stanford Daily, all chose not to mention the number of winners at other schools. While I’m not picking on this one particular article’s style of journalism, it does beg the larger question of whether Harvard holds itself to a higher standard when it comes to these awards.
While these scholarships are important, especially in recognizing passionate and bright individuals, we should not make it a mission to compare ourselves to our peer institutions with the number of winners. It does not prove constructive and makes us appear preoccupied with a non-zero-sum competition.
Learning From Others
The number of Marshall and Rhodes scholars is often used to compare top universities. Forbes Magazine even assigns 7.5% of its rankings methodology to the number of awards winners. Historically, Harvard has fared extremely well in both competitions. It has the most Rhodes scholars with 336 including this year. Additionally, it has the most Marshall scholars with 235 between 1954 and 2010. Having an off year with one winner is not the end of the world.
When we focus on the aggregate, our institution is still a leader in many regards. Preoccupying ourselves with how many Marshall scholars Princeton had this year is trifling. We should take a page out of Columbia’s book and exclusively honor our winners and how hard they have worked to realize these gains.
Harvard competes with other universities in enough areas—in sports and attracting talent in the form of students, professors, and fellows. These are actual zero-sum situations. Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, while finite in the number they offer, should be victories for all schools, regardless of how others do. Universities should not count it as a loss if it only has one recipient, and Harvard is no exception to this rule.
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