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  • Intellectual Nondiversity

    Posted by David Foster on May 11th, 2010 (All posts by )

    David Bernstein observes that if Elena Kagan is confirmed then every single Supreme Court Justice will have attended Harvard or Yale law schools. He also observes that:

    The president went to Harvard, and barely defeated a primary opponent who went to Yale. His predecessor went to Yale and Harvard, and defeated opponents who went to Yale and Harvard, and Harvard, respectively. The previous two presidents also went to Yale, with Bush I defeating another Harvard grad for the presidency.

    ..and asks, “Isn’t this a bit much?”

    His post reminded me of something that Peter Drucker wrote, way back in 1968:

    One thing (a modern society) therefore cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale…By contrast, one of the strengths of American education is the resistance to any elite monopoly. To be sure, we have institutions that enjoy (deservedly or not) high standing and prestige. But we do not, fortunately, discriminate against the men who receive their training elsewhere. The engineer whose degree is from North Idaho A and M does not regard himself as “inferior” or as “not really an engineer.”….And five or ten years later, nobody cares much about where the fellow got his degree…

    The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim.

    …It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.

    (link via Little Miss Attila)

     

    30 Responses to “Intellectual Nondiversity”

    1. david foster Says:

      Related post at American Thinker.

    2. Dennis Says:

      What a change four decades make. Governor Palin graduated from “North Idaho A and M” (known colloquially as the University of Idaho), as did I, and the liberals consider that to be the height of gaucheness. Of course maybe liberals always did think that.

    3. Bill Waddell Says:

      The cultural and legal dominance of the eastern elite is clear – but the dominance of the Ivy League and their close northeastern cousins in running the economy is just as pronounced.

      Everyone in a position of power in the SEC, on the New York Stock Exchange board, sitting in the Secretary of the Treasury seat, and acting as a close advisor to any president on economic matters over the last thirty years has gone to school north and east of the intersection of 37th and O Street in Washington, D.C.

      No mystery why the response to the economic debacle begun by the Bush folks continued right on unmolested through the Obama administration without the least change in philosophy.

      No mystery why the economic policies in general stay the same – GOP for high taxes-Dems for higher taxes; GOP for loads of government spending-Dems for even more spending … there has been no real diference in economic thinking or policy from one administration to the next since Reagan.

      Very real possibility we could be looking at Mitt Romney (Harvard) versus Obama (Dartmouth) in 2012 – and it keeps rolling along.

    4. Ginny Says:

      Eisenhower was followed by Kennedy with the “best & brightest”; LBJ with his San Marcos degree felt/was slighted.

    5. david foster Says:

      One has to wonder what faculty members and administrators at *other* colleges think about the increasing dominance of American society by a few schools. One would hope that it would arouse their competitive instincts…

    6. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      From the New York Post:

      “At this rate, it won’t be long before the US Supreme Court becomes the sixth borough.

      If confirmed by the Senate, Elena Kagan — President Obama’s choice to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens — would be the third native New Yorker now sitting on the high court, along with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. (Plus, Antonin Scalia grew up in Queens.)”

    7. Bill Waddell Says:

      David,

      “One has to wonder what faculty members and administrators at *other* colleges think about the increasing dominance of American society by a few schools. One would hope that it would arouse their competitive instincts”

      For far too many it seems to have sparked a ‘pick me, pick me’ mentality. One gets the feeling that many of the faculty and administration folks of other schools follow the Ivy League agenda and supports their thinking in hopes that they might some day be able to work in the hallowed halls of the east.

    8. david foster Says:

      Bill,

      Probably largely true. Whereas if you’re running or working with a fairly small company and you see a subpar peformance by a large & well-known company, your instinct is likely to be, “How can we kick their asses?,” at least if you’re any good.

      Problem is that the status hierarchy of schools is so entrenched that it’s much harder to change than normal business competitive position & brand awareness. If a particular little-known school is turning out brilliant businesspeople or brilliant lawyers, it will probably take 20 years before corporate hiring people or law-firm managing partners really understand its value.

    9. MadinMadtown Says:

      One of the ironies of the current administration is that it promotes government as the solution to all problems, yet consistently opts for graduates of PRIVATE institutions rather than government schools. If the government does everything better than the private sector, as this administration tells us it believes, then it would be seeking to fill positions from the state university systems.

    10. onparkstreet Says:

      Zenpundit did a kind of similarly-themed post a while back:

      http://zenpundit.com/?p=3396

      (I get very confused in the comments section because I am unsure about models of social mobility, how they are determined, what they mean, and whether social mobility is really less in the United States than in some Western European countries.

      On my long list of “I have to do” posts for Chicago Boyz is one on statistics and how to interpret social mobility models. I expressed skepticism, mainly because I can’t understand how the data is generated. Or maybe I have an emotional reason to resist the OECD data. Or reading too much Thomas Sowell. Dunno :) )

      – Madhu

    11. onparkstreet Says:

      Oh, and as I’ve mentioned before here, I was a junior faculty member at HMS for five years – I felt an oddball and odd-gal-out, although I still have many friends there, people I really love – and my experience was so complicated in some ways I am still trying to tease it all out. Narcissist that I am.

      Basically, as a child of academia, a graduate of state schools (land grant college) and then an employee of an Ivy League school for a short time, my thoughts boil down to this: there is a lot of smart out there! It’s a shame not to take advantage of all that varied experience.

      – Madhu

    12. onparkstreet Says:

      “For far too many it seems to have sparked a ‘pick me, pick me’ mentality. One gets the feeling that many of the faculty and administration folks of other schools follow the Ivy League agenda and supports their thinking in hopes that they might some day be able to work in the hallowed halls of the east.” – Bill Waddell

      There is a fair amount of corruption in academia, as may be expected of any large bureaucratic establishment. I never understood why academics tolerate it, except that they are afraid of retaliation.

      – Madhu

    13. Michael Kennedy Says:

      Obama went to Columbia and Harvard. As a Dartmouth alumnus, I hasten to point that out.

    14. dearieme Says:

      In the recent British election, the three main party leaders were all from middle class families, had had elitist schooling and had attended Ancient Universities. But none, thank God, were lawyers.

    15. I Call BS Says:

      Dennis Says: May 11th, 2010 at 8:43 am What a change four decades make. Governor Palin graduated from “North Idaho A and M” (known colloquially as the University of Idaho), as did I, and the liberals consider that to be the height of gaucheness. Of course maybe liberals always did think that.

      I personally wouldn’t use Ms. Palin as an example of “North Idaho A and M”’s best and brightest.

    16. PacRim Jim Says:

      Harvard and Yale are monoversities.
      Is American jurisprudence confined to the East Coast?
      If so, 95% of America is unrepresented.

    17. Robin Kral Says:

      There is nothing on this earth more overrated than an Ivy League degree. I’ve known Harvard Ph.Ds who barely had enough sense to pour water out of a boot.

    18. Orson Says:

      May 12th, 2010 at 9:26 pm
      Dennis Says: May 11th, 2010 at 8:43 am What a change four decades make. Governor Palin graduated from “North Idaho A and M” (known colloquially as the University of Idaho), as did I, and the liberals consider that to be the height of gaucheness. Of course maybe liberals always did think that.

      I Call BS Says:
      I personally wouldn’t use Ms. Palin as an example of “North Idaho A and M”’s best and brightest.

      I HAVE, I WOULD! So I will:

      Why such “hubris”? The facts man…the reality of Palin’s large executive accomplishments during a short tenure: federal-state relations (a HUGE issue in the West), overhaul of the state severance taxes with Big Oil (which took decades to achieve), and the natgas pipeline with Canada (which also was delayed for DECADES)!

      In fact, show me another state chief exec who did so much in so little time, and you’ll be talking other distant decades.

      Time to check your facts before you believe the lies!

      -Orson
      (and I have attended Cornell, Oxford and Cambridge – but live in theUS West where I have known a U of I educated woman who lived and taught at the University of Alaska, too.)

    19. bgates Says:

      I personally wouldn’t use Ms. Palin as an example of “North Idaho A and M”’s best and brightest.

      If I wanted to know your opinions I’d read the Time magazine columns where you get them.

    20. Shawn Says:

      Most of the east coast law schools tenured professors come from either Harvard or Yale, so even if you get away from the schools themselves you can’t get away from the pervasive nature of them.

    21. Drew Andrews Says:

      Sometime in the early 1960’s, the Ivy League schools adopted mostly meritocratic admissions policies, dramatically altering their student bodies, making them more intellectually elite and less socially elite than they had been. By the time E Kagan and peers finished Hunter College High, or Bronx Science or Walt Whitman or Lower Merion or New Trier, the sorting was pretty efficient. The studs went to HYP (or similar). The sort at the law school cut was even more efficient — a pure screen by grades and LSATs was the first cut. The people with the energy and intellect to make PBK at the finest schools went to Yale and Harvard Law. Really not the shocking that they constitute the Sup Ct today.

    22. Bill Waddell Says:

      “The people with the energy and intellect to make PBK at the finest schools went to Yale and Harvard Law”

      Which one did you attend Drew?

    23. Anonymous Says:

      “Everyone in a position of power in the SEC, on the New York Stock Exchange board, sitting in the Secretary of the Treasury seat, and acting as a close advisor to any president on economic matters over the last thirty years has gone to school north and east of the intersection of 37th and O Street in Washington, D.C.”

      This is an exaggeration- Miller,O’neill and Snow to name 3 recent sec treas. did not nor for that matter did Lloyd Bentsen

    24. Harvard Yard Conservative Says:

      Just like competing in the Olympics at a young age, for many Harvard graduates the time spent in Cambridge, Massachusetts was the high point of their lives. For them, life after graduation was all down hill. When talking with some of these people, you begin to hear Marlon Brando’s tragic lament in the movie, On the Waterfront,”I coulda been a contenda.”

    25. Bill Waddell Says:

      Anonymous – I stand corrected regarding O’Neill, Bentsen and Miller, so the Secretary of the Treasury has been held by a “north and east of the intersection of 37th and O Street in Washington, D.C.” grad for twenty five of the last thirty years (Snow is A George Washington U law school grad so h fits the description).

    26. Bill Waddell Says:

      A guy by the name of Mory Taylor who runs Titan Tire and had an obscure run for President a while back hit said, “The biggest hoax in this country is that Harvard is going to make you smart. Harvard just gives you connections.”

    27. MadinMadtown Says:

      Personal knowlege that a few strings pulled by the likes of Larry Tribe would make the world of difference whether someone could be admitted to Harvard Law. It has never been solely about meritocracy at Harvard.

    28. david foster Says:

      See also this post:

      “Few object to a meritocracy in which people, regardless of family backgrounds, are judged by what they have accomplished in life. But should that binding decision have been made by the admissions committees at two law schools when the applicants were still in their early 20s? Imagine a guidance counselor shouting, “Future Supreme Court justices over here. Everyone else, best of luck with your legal careers – if you don’t aim too high.””

      As I’ve observed before, we as a society have given enormous power to university admissions officers–especially at places like Harvard and Yale–yet we know very little about who these people are and what values/criteria they represent.

    29. David Foster Says:

      Jonathan Turley:

      “When you virtually exclude all but two of the nation’s 160 law schools as sources for justices, it not only reduces the number of outstanding candidates but guarantees a certain insularity in training and influences on the court. This bias is not only elitist but decidedly anti-intellectual. Moreover, there is no objective basis for favoring these two schools. Annual rankings from law schools on publication or reputation or student scores show relatively small differences in the top 20 law schools. The actual scores of the small pool of students in the top tier vary by only a few points.”

      and

      What Kagan had was a Harvard connection and one of the most powerful legal cartels behind her. When challenged on this obvious bias in favor of two schools, leaders usually insist that it is just coincidence. Ironically, the federal government has long rejected the claims of businesses that insist their failure to hire from certain groups, such as women or minorities, is unintentional.

      “The United States leads the world in legal education, but you would not know that from the roster of justices. Obama preferred Kagan, for example, over such potential choices as U.S. 7th Circuit Judge Diane Wood, who is generally viewed as one of the most brilliant minds on the federal bench and who has a lengthy record of both opinions and legal writing. She also graduated from the University of Texas.”

    30. Bill Waddell Says:

      Drew Andrews wrote “The people with the energy and intellect to make PBK at the finest schools went to Yale and Harvard Law. Really not the shocking that they constitute the Sup Ct today” and I believe that is where the flawed thinking – arrogance really – of the Ivy Leaguers is apparent.

      I don’t doubt that all of the people who go to Yale and Harvard are very smart – it is the assumption that the reverse is true – that all of the smart people go to Yale or Harvard – that is absurd.

      I attended an ‘intellectually elite’ high school in Cincinnati with very high academic standards and a track recrd of cranking disproportionate numbers of National Merit level graduates and the like. Many could have met the admission requirements for the Ivy League – most probably – but relatively few chose to go to the Ivy League for lots of very good reasons. Many opted to continue their Catholic education and went to places like Notre Dame, Marquette or Xavier; many went to legacy schools – wherever their parents had gone simply because they had been raised to respect those schools; many went to Big Ten schools on academic scholarships; many went to Miami University or the University of Cincinnati simply because they wanted to stay close to home; and the reasons go on and on.

      The arrogant assumption implied in Drew’s statement, and that which seems to prevail among so many proponents of the Ivy League, is that everyone wants to go to Harvard or Yale, and that if they go elsewhere it is only becasue they are intellectually or academically, unqualified.