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Report links college admissions, fundraising

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Universities like Duke and Brown have transformed themselves into elite institutions by selectively lowering their admissions standards and admitting some students who were less qualified than other candidates but whose parents were rich or famous and could make big gifts or attract attention to the schools, The Wall Street Journal reported Sept. 9.

Duke and Brown both had a “behind-the-scenes power broker, a go-to man for prominent parents seeking to fast-track their children’s applications,” the Journal said.

At Duke, that was Joel Fleishman, who held jobs at the school ranging from senior vice president to professor of law, the Journal said.

Fleishman, who also served as president of The Atlantic Philanthropies in New York City and now is a professor of law and a professor of public policy studies at Duke, operated “at the vortex of development and admissions,” the Journal reported.

As chairman of a Duke fundraising campaign from 1983 to 1992 that raised $221 million, the Journal said, Fleishman “courted potential donors and pushed to admit their children.”

And his “friendships with Duke donors gave him a valuable entrée into businesses far afield from academia,” the Journal said.

The children of fashion designer Ralph Lauren, for example, enrolled at Duke when Fleishman ran the fundraising campaign, the Journal said.

Lauren was a regular guest at dinners that Fleishman hosted for parents of students he had helped, the Journal said, and the designer pledged a six-figure gift to Duke.

Fleishman is on the board of Polo Ralph Lauren, earning $35,000 a year as a director plus $7,500 as chairman of its compensation committee and $2,000 per meeting, the Journal said, and he owned or held options to buy 37,000 shares of Ralph Lauren stock, worth at least half a million dollars.

The Journal said it had no evidence that Fleishman’s directorship or Lauren’s donation to Duke was tied to admitting the Lauren children.

Fleishman also sits on the board of Boston Scientific Corp., whose chairman, Peter Nicholas, is one of Duke’s biggest donors, and whose three children graduated from the school, the Journal said.

Fleishman declined to comment to the Journal, which said Duke had acknowledged the existence of “development admits.”

Fleishman sits on more corporate boards “than a lot of people, especially nonpresidents,” J. David Ross, a former vice president at Duke, told the Journal, but Ross also said he believed the directorships were not paybacks for admissions.

And Duke spokesman John Burness said Fleishman “is a person of considerable distinction and accomplishment, and it’s no surprise that a number of leading nonprofit and corporate organizations have invited him to share his wisdom as a member of their boards of directors.”

The Journal report was an excerpt from the newly published book, “The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges – and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates,” by Journal reporter Daniel Golden.

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