Stop worshipping the Ivy League
After Hamas massacred 1,200 Israelis, gang-raped teens and kidnapped hundreds of innocents, 30 student groups at Harvard issued a statement reading, "We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence."
The anger that followed went beyond this dismissal of ISIS-type barbarity. It pursued Harvard president Claudine Gay after she issued a mealy-mouthed response.
There was bit of a turnaround when prestigious law firms and other employers started rescinding job offers to students involved in these groups. Some companies may have objected to what they saw as overt displays of antisemitism. They may have also been shocked by the TikTok-level display of ignorance of the conflict's complexities, which these alleged top students had put on full display.
The main subject here isn't the current Mideast tragedy, but let us note: Students have every right to say stupid things, and employers have every right not to hire students who say stupid things. As for college administrators frightened of the children, that's a problem for the colleges.
This is about the undeserved reverence shown to these colleges no better than others with lesser brand names. How many times have my new acquaintances used the H-word to elevate their ordinary views?
Without a doubt, brilliant minds have attended and taught at Harvard, Yale and the rest. But so have many mediocrities whose rich parents hired consultants to turn their offspring into the perfect packages these institutions want. That meant tutors to ensure high scores alongside some angle, such as prowess in a sport or carefully selected do-gooding.
Many in the media play the Ivy worship game. Reporters commonly put "Harvard-educated" or "Yale-educated" in front of some expert's name. If the person being interviewed went to the University of Nebraska or, say, Colgate, the alma mater is left a mystery. Never mind if the interviewee's less-glamorous school excelled in the area of expertise they were writing about.
My late husband, a senior editor at Princeton Press, set me straight on the hot air that fills the balloons of Ivy puffery. (I went to New York University.) Himself a product of elite education from prep school on up, he talked of seeking out writers at small colleges in the Dakotas who were actually doing original things. He found the professors who had spent their entire lives climbing the grades, from kindergarten to Ph.D. with hardly a break, tended toward the immature.
The most interesting intellectuals had held regular, non-academic jobs at some point: They had worked on a road crew or run a shoe store or painted houses. He was grateful to have been shaken out of his assumptions by time spent in the Marines. (He laughed about having to hide his background as an "Ivy flower" while being schooled on Parris Island.)
If these latest displays of cowardice by administrators at Harvard, Columbia and Yale vacuum up some of the fairy dust the worshippers sprinkle around these schools, so much the better. And that goes double if they prompt some rich alumni to move their donations elsewhere. How about funding organizations that help kids from struggling backgrounds get a foothold in a secure life?
One of the reasons so many super rich graduates give multimillions to the richest colleges is the same reason so many parents want their children to get into them. It gives them an opportunity to hobnob with other rich people or those whom they consider socially desirable.
"Should Ivy League Schools Randomly Select Students?" was the subject of a recent essay about how the COVID shutdowns gave the well-to-do an extra leg-up in these admissions. The more interesting question would have been, "When Can Everyone Stop Worshipping the Ivy League?"
Froma Harrop covers the waterfront of politics, economics and culture with an unconventional approach. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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