Racial balancing for incoming molecular biology grad students (Campus Notebook, Dec. 14)? The very idea in saner times would have been considered an outrage — and an injustice to all those better-qualified applicants from “overrepresented” groups who lose out in the racial-balancing game. There was a time not long ago when Americans who considered themselves the most liberal and most advanced segment of the community believed that discriminating against people because of their ethnicity or race was deeply offensive.

It was almost universally believed that our premier research universities, especially in their natural-science programs, should only seek out “the best and the brightest” regardless of race or ethnicity, letting the demographic chips fall where they may. If Asians and Jews were grossly “overrepresented,” and other groups substantially “underrepresented,” then that’s just the way it is. In academia as in other areas of American life (cf. professional basketball and professional ice hockey), merit-only selection systems work that way. And that’s why little Caltech, organized exclusively on the merit-only principle, often is ranked ahead of Princeton in rankings of world-class universities.

When are we going to end this madness of racial-quota thinking and return to the naive idea that talent, hard work, and achievement should be the only criteria for advancement in academia?

Russ Nieli *79