The Ivy League and American Society

Glenn Reynolds has some thoughts

I believe that excessive credentialism is definitely reducing social mobility and inhibiting the full use of America’s human talents…and that the excessive reverence paid to “elite” colleges is part of this problem.

I’m reminded of something Peter Drucker wrote, way back in 1969:

One thing it (modern society) 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 technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…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…

We as a country are a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for Harvard Law School and similar institutions than we were when Drucker wrote the above.

He continues:

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. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman.

See also my 2011 post Drucker on Education, which includes additional excerpts from Professor Drucker on this topic.  Very well worth reading and contemplating.

University Diaries also has a post and discussion thread on Glenn’s column.


5 thoughts on “The Ivy League and American Society”

  1. my comments on the Reynold’s article at his website:

    I too am frustrated with the current situation among the wealthy institutions. I think that it deserves a lot more attention from policy makers than it has received. The Universities have received massive benefits from the government (Federal and state) not just tax exemptions, but grants for research and to students, subsidized loans, tax deductions for contributions, and on, and on. They have responded to this largess by raising salaries, hiring more administrators, spending billions on construction, and continually raising tuitions far faster than the rate of inflation. I really do not think the tax payers should be carrying this much of a burden at a time when deficits are mounting without limit.

    Henry VIII solved a similar problem by confiscating assets. We have constitutional limits on that sort of activity, but I think there a lot of constitutional steps that should be considered. Here a few:

    1. There is ample reason to tax the the investment gains of the endowments as unrelated business taxable income (UBTI, see IRS Pub 598 and IRC 511-515) defined as income from a business conducted by an exempt organization that is not substantially related to the performance of its exempt purpose. If they do not want to pay tax on their investments, they should purchase treasuries and municipals, and hold them to maturity.

    2. The definition of an exempt organization could be narrowed to exclude schools that charge tuition. Charging $50,000/yr and sitting on 30G$ of assets looks a lot more like a business than a charity.

    3. Donations to overly rich institutions should be non deductible to the donors. Overly rich should be defined in terms of working capital needs and reserves for depreciation of physical assets.

    Ron Unz wrote about the multi-billion dollar endowments:

    “Paying Tuition to a Giant Hedge Fund: Harvard’s academic mission is dwarfed by its $30 billion endowment.” By Ron Unz The American Conservative December 4, 2012

  2. My response to Reynolds proposal about admissions is that college graduation is simply a ticket to get a decent job and denotes no educational value (“women’s studies” ’nuff said), therefor there is no reason to impose any academic requirement at the outset. The fairest system of allocating the golden tickets to make sure that all children regardless of origin or class have an equal chance is a lottery.

    I am explicitly rejecting “objective” criteria like grades and board scores because leftists have done so much to trash them as racist and class based. They cannot say that about about random draw.

    Here is the system: Every high school graduate can enter the lottery. On the lottery day, the kids receive a number at random from a pool of numbers equal to the number of entrants. Number 1 goes first and gets to pick a college from the list of colleges, and he is admitted. The process is repeated until the last kid gets to pick. When a college is filled, its name is removed from the list. The last kid won’t have much of a chance to pick Harvard, which has a freshman class of about 1500. But, he will have had the same odds as everyone else, unlike the current system which is rigged by race and class.

    Most likely every entrant will have to submit a ranked list of places he would pick. To prevent the thing from dragging out for too long.

    I would hypothesize that one effect of a lottery admissions plan would be a return to more stringent grading in the class rooms. It would be useful to the faculty to weed out the poor performers more quickly, and the students might have less of an attitude of entitlement.

  3. My principle concern is student loans. They should be limited to certain majors, mostly STEM and a few others that are of national benefit. The student loan program began as “National Defense Student Loans.” I was turned down for one as a pre-med major in 1960. I was told that was not a useful field.

  4. The idea of a lottery doesn’t go far enough. In addition every year there should be a lottery to see which 10% of the administrators should be hanged.

  5. Dearie, I’ll vote for that. I met the Diversity Dean at the Medical School last year and had to take a diversity course. At least it was online.

    I’m not teaching this year.

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