Gerson Responds to James Atlas' Super People Theory

Letter to the Editor of the New York Times
The New York Times

To the Editor:

Though he doesn’t identify it, the brochure that figures centrally in James Atlas’s article is the one announcing each year’s class of 32 new American Rhodes Scholars. They are, assuredly, extraordinary people.

Mr. Atlas is rightly concerned about the increasing advantages of affluence. But for the Rhodes Scholarships at least, we try mightily not to let parents’ wealth affect our judgments about who wins.

While a few Rhodes Scholars each year may have, in fact, “helped build a school or hospital in some foreign land,” our selectors are keenly aware of how family affluence can burnish résumés.

Most students cannot afford summer experiences in exotic locations, and often the most compelling demonstrations of leadership and concern for others are close to home and anything but glamorous. We are not necessarily impressed when someone volunteers in a developing country known for its beaches, nor when someone “founds” a charity with gifts from a rich father’s friends.

American Secretary
Rhodes Trust
Washington, Oct. 2, 2011