Friday, July 6, 2012

A tradition that deserves to die

How do you know whether you have been accepted to your dream college or university?

Yesterday I heard a microphone in the cloister-like courtyard outside my office. There was a small crowd around a man who was saying slowly, articulating carefully: "... Third: David Smith. [Sound of hands clapping]. Fourth: Jane Doe. [Sound of hands clapping]...": he was publicly proclaiming the results (in the humanities) of the entrance exam of Ecole Normale Superieure!

A few minutes later, I walked across the yard and saw people scattered about, some with a big smile on their face, others crying. Many people were on the phone.

I wonder: Results and rankings are public in France: they are published in the newspapers, and grades are posted on bulletin boards outside schools. But this ceremonial in the historical courtyard goes one more step towards delivering praise and humiliation, and maximizes anxiety among candidates. Could this setup be considered a form of hazing?


  1. What about those people from United States doing the same with their universities ? At least the ENS is not that high in those fashionable rankings from Shangai, those smiles and tears won't last eternally !

  2. I don't think ranking people and ranking universities is quite the same thing...

    I agree that rejection is one thing, but public rejection is another. You should be allowed to take the blow in private. The current system is like calling a cow to the slaughter...

  3. Traditionally, the results of the mathematics tripos exams at Cambridge would be read out from the balcony of the Senate House. The printed pages of the results would then be thrown from the balcony to the crowd of students below.

    For both Oxford and Cambridge, the final rankings of graduating undergraduate students ("First class honours degree" etc.) would be published in the newspaper.