28 June 2010

Ivy League follow-up

I argued a few days ago that the Ivy League is held to a very strange standard, which results in professions of love or hatred but nothing in between. Not surprisingly, politics often uses it for a bit of rhetorical point-scoring.

Rick Santorum, the hyper-conservative former Senator from Pennsylvania who regularly says completely insane things, also has a reflective side. He nicely sums up what he considers President Obama's detachment from "the American people" (all errors in the original):
Obama is detached form the American experience.  He just doesn’t identify with the average American because of his own background.  Indonesia and Hawaii.  His view is from the viewpoint of academics and the halls of the Ivy league schools that he went to and it’s not a love of this country and an understanding of the basic values and wants and desires of it’s people.  And as a result of that, he doesn’t connect with people at that level.
So in essence, if you've had anything to do with the State of Hawaii or an Ivy League university then you're not really American. (Unless of course you're Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Charles Krauthammer, John Ashcroft or one of the many, many other conservative bigwigs who darkened the halls of the Ivy League--then somehow your elite education does not cloud your judgment about the hoi polloi.) Last time I checked, that's not the way it works.

(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.)

UPDATE (29 September 2010): Amazingly, according to Newsweek, Christine O'Donnell, the batty Sarah Palin-backed Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware, has claimed to have studied at both Princeton and Oxford. Of course neither is true and she only got her bachelor's degree last year. The incident shows how even those who most vociferously oppose academic elitism are in thrall to it (in the same way that it cannot be coincidence that so many anti-gay preachers have been caught carrying on same-sex affairs with parishioners and rentboys).

25 June 2010

Pruning the Ivy: Why I don't believe in the tyranny of elite universities

I’ve met plenty of arrogant, entitled people—and I make no apology for my cordial detestation of them—in the decade I’ve spent at two Ivy League universities (Princeton, Columbia). When people generalize about the Ivy League as an institution, it seems to me, they’re actually expressing their perceptions, right and wrong, of the people who have attended Ivy League universities. But when you consider the fact that there are nasty people in every walk of life and in every organization, blaming elite universities for having a percentage of unpleasant people is unfair. It cannot be an admissions office’s job to figure out whether someone is a nice person or not.

The conversation about the role of elite universities in American life yields no middle ground. On one side are the people who honestly believe that the universities in the Ivy League (eight old, private institutions on the East Coast that happened to have football teams in the 1930s) are the points of a golden compass keeping America on its bearings and producing the only people really worth talking to. The other side argues that the leafy campuses are bastions of privilege and represent the worst of our society, the preserve of a self-perpetuating elite that is responsible for American arrogance abroad, the collapse of our financial system at home and general mediocrity. Many of the fiercest critics themselves went to an Ivy League university and were horrified by some of their boorish classmates.