With all the Miers-related talk about East Coast snobbery, it's useful to remind Ivy-worshippers everywhere that, as Malcolm Gladwell spells out in the New Yorker, Harvard's fabled admissions standards were explicitly crafted to discourage Jews.
By 1922, [Jews] made up more than a fifth of Harvard's freshman class. The administration and alumni were up in arms. Jews were thought to be sickly and grasping, grade-grubbing and insular. They displaced the sons of wealthy Wasp alumni, which did not bode well for fund-raising. A. Lawrence Lowell, Harvard's president in the nineteen-twenties, stated flatly that too many Jews would destroy the school: "The summer hotel that is ruined by admitting Jews meets its fate … because they drive away the Gentiles, and then after the Gentiles have left, they leave also."
The solution? Replace the simple entrance test with a complicated patchwork of evaluations encompassing "leadership," "character," "religious preference," "race," "birthplace of father" … that kind of thing. The results were a smashing success—the Jew never did overtake the WASP—and the basic set-up of this unseemly system, with its entrance essays and enclosed photos and extra-curricular bon bons, remains largely in place today. Gladwell's last paragraph:
In the nineteen-eighties, when Harvard was accused of enforcing a secret quota on Asian admissions, its defense was that once you adjusted for the preferences given to the children of alumni and for the preferences given to athletes, Asians really weren't being discriminated against. But you could sense Harvard's exasperation that the issue was being raised at all. If Harvard had too many Asians, it wouldn't be Harvard, just as Harvard wouldn't be Harvard with too many Jews or pansies or parlor pinks or shy types or short people with big ears.
Whole thing here.