What put her on such a fast track? And what kind of background does she bring to covering a national economic crisis brought about largely by corporate executives who make more in a day than many Americans do in a year?
Her profile on the New York Times Web site jokingly says she "grew up in South Florida (the New York part)." A closer look at her background shows that, to be specific, she came from the "Upper East Side" part of South Florida, Palm Beach. She attended one of the most elite East Coast boarding schools, Phillips (Andover) Academy, before going on to Princeton.*
There is nothing in her background to suggest she is not hard-working and bright--as are many journalists who are not afforded nearly the same opportunities. But it is an column she wrote for Princeton's student paper, later reprinted in The Chicago Tribune, that may offer the best clues as to her edge in life and her current mindset. In it, Rampell, a Princton legacy, gives a full-throated defense of legacy preferences and the use of family connections and wealth to gain advantage.
Admitting to being a "possible beneficiary"** of a legacy preference, Rampell suggests--contrary to social-science research readily available in Princeton's library--that such preferences serve only as tie-breakers, "never to the exclusion of more qualified non-legacy candidates." She then offers the following argument:
"Suppose your cousin and a total stranger get into a no-fault traffic accident. Both need one pint of blood, which you, a strapping young thing of over 110 lb and high iron levels, can supply to only one person. You would not hesitate to give the blood to your cousin — even if she needs it no more and no less than the otherwise indistinguishable stranger — because she is family.
"Princeton faces a parallel moral choice in its admissions. Princeton is more than a temporary aging vat; it is also a family, and its alumni are its kin. By definition, the quality of the student body does not suffer in taking a legacy over an equally qualified non-legacy, but there is a moral opportunity cost, a disloyalty, in not doing so. Loyalty to family, especially when there is no greater principle at risk, is important.
"Even if the school felt it bore no loyalty to its alumni, it still has the duty to minimize harm; the school knows that a rejection letter will likely cause greater trauma to a family that has been emotionally investing in the next generation's admission to Princeton for decades than to a family of an equally qualified but less invested candidate."
Her piece goes on to call legacy preferences "a benign gesture that can help grease Annual Giving's wheels" and to characterize those who object to them as "anti-capitalist snobs." It ends by calling legacy preferences "a moral means to a moral end."
*A 2003 New York Times article offers insight into how much she has been helped by her family's wealth. It describes how her parents interrupted a Mediterranean cruise and dropped $100,000 battling to get her promptly reinstated at Phillips after she was suspended following a meltdown over a boyfriend. Phillips ended up bending its rules to reinstate her much faster than it otherwise would have, but the family nonetheless took its beef with the school to a Times writer. A spokeswoman for Phillips characterized the family's approach to the dispute as "shock and awe" and told the Times writer "you're part of it."
**Her father was a 1974 graduate of Princeton, currently serves as chairman of annual giving to Princeton for his graduating class, and has been president of the Princeton alumni association.
(Full disclosure: The author of this blog post, Peter Schmidt, is a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education. He did not work directly with Ms. Rampell during her stint there and recalls any interactions they had as professional and cordial.)