Friday, October 5, 2007

The Elitism of the Ivies

Today's New York Sun reports that Malcom Glaldwell and Adam Gopnik, both writers for The New Yorker, will square off in a debate over the elitism of the Ivy League. The sold out throwdown will take place tonight at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

Glaldwell, bestselling author of Blink and The Tipping Point,

    is expected to argue that the Ivy League admissions process is subjective and breeds elitism in American society, and that intelligent students will do just as well in life regardless of where they attend college.

Where there's a thought.

    After a good internship on Capitol Hill, a student might have more success attending George Washington University than Harvard, a professor of sociology at Harvard, Martin Whyte, said. "The Ivy League is not especially wonderful or different — those schools just have more money," he said. "I don't think you're ever going to eliminate elitism."

Of course, if you read this past Sunday's NY Times Magazine article on the application hell to get into these schools, you might want to just say no.

    photo: Annenberg Hall, the freshman dining facility, (copyright Harvard)


Ms. M&P said...

Oh, Piggybank. This hit a nerve with me. I work with a lot of people and have a lot of friends with ivy league degrees. DC is very school-oriented, elitist environment (at least the circles I run in are), and one of the first questions out of people’s mouths is, where do you work and where did you go to school. I’m often embarrassed to say I went to a state school—and a 4th tier school at that. I’ve actually had several (usually older gentlemen) ask me what kind of job I could get with my degree. When I tell them what I do, they look genuinely surprised—like successful people couldn’t possibly graduate from my school. A**holes, I know…but I take it personally sometimes.

I’ve also had my friends ask me why in the world I went to the school I did. When I tell them it’s because I just thought the other schools were too expensive, too out of reach, they look embarrassed—like I’m not supposed to say I didn’t grow up as privileged as they did...I’ve had other people tell me “oh well, that’s okay” when I tell them where I went…the list just goes on and on. I hate it and I wish I weren’t bothered by it.

My school treated me very well and they went to bat for me so I could get once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I know that an ivy league school wouldn’t have done that for me and I don’t regret where I went, but I do wish it didn’t matter to people. I’ve seen first-hand how the elitist attitude about schools can help and hurt people. The ivy league degree may not give you an edge in education or motivation, but sadly, it’s gets you an “EZ pass” into some powerful circles.

Sorry for the novella! Like I said, this hit a nerve and I rarely talk about it!

PiggyBankBlues said...


you made a lot of on point observations that i totally agree with! a friend of mine recently remarked about the commodification of higher education. people what a package and a label, and it makes things easier for them to asign value to elitism rather than quality of education and individual talent and effort.

i read an article a while ago here in the WSJ about how the majority of CEOs do not have Ivy League degrees (10%). but it points out that many CEOs start at the bottom of the ladder, and most Ivies go to higher paying investment/law.

i hate when people get snotty about what school you went to. that's what i mean about the branding of schools, like their degree is a BMW and another is a yugo. it's not like they ask you about the actual education, they just judge.

higher education has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. i come from a working class background, was the first in my family to go to college, and ended up at an expensive private liberal arts college. the amt of student loans one could borrow at the time was capped, so most of it was student aid. i managed to escape with under $20,000 in loans. today, most student aid packages are loans, and there is no way i would shell out that kind of money/debt for a private university. no way. the value of it is simply not worth the price difference, not by a mile.

do not be embarrased. they should be embarrased for even asking you, and i loathe the question so much that for years i just dodged and and replied with a geographic answer to the "where did you go to school" question. i don't work in a place where that is a frequent question, but i think it would drive me nuts.

just tell them that it was too expensive, and not worth the money, quite frankly, considering you had a stellar education.

it makes it unfairly harder for you, m&p, but be proud that you are making a career for yourself with your own ability. you are clearly good at your job, the question is how many people are unfairly denied a seat at the table simply because they came from a different class background? the enormous expenses of private universities (coupled with a slashing of student aid) are creating the very class divide that higher education is purportedly meant to narrow.

what the debate really should have addressed is how elitism in the work force is exactly what you said- the Ivy EZ pass.

ps- never apologize for writing a novella to a novelist :)

Ms. M&P said...

See, this is why I love blogging. This was like free therapy for me. I feel so much better about the school-thing now. I actually went away for the weekend to a friend's house. I once again ran into the dreaded "where did you go to school" question. I feel like I handled it better this time...and it didn't bother me too much when they asked me what my parents did for a living (seriously....the first conversation I'd had with these people and they asked that).

So thank you for listening to my rant and responding thoughtfully.

I also want to say that I wholeheartedly agree with everything you wrote. Thanks again.

PiggyBankBlues said...

no problem ;)

i know, it's so crazy what some people think passes for small talk...

SavingDiva said...

Wow! I was just going to leave a comment that I would want to read that debate. However, ms. m&p's comments hit home. I turned down an Ivy league school because I didn't want the loans. My parents would have paid the loans, so I would have felt extremely guilty. Instead, I went to an expensive private school that paid for everything...great guilt...less money...totally worth it!