What’s So Elite About The People Who Attend Elite Universities?

Michael Medved takes issue with Sarah Palin specifically and others in general for having a bit of disdain for the people who attend our elite universities:

It’s healthy, even natural, for Americans to feel populist resentment against elites that base their status on inherited wealth and family connections. But it’s toxic, misguided and profoundly stupid to focus public hostility on leaders who achieved their positions through education, diligence and ability.

…Consider the often-expressed (and misguided) discomfort over the fact that every one of the nine current justices of the U.S. Supreme Court holds degrees from either Yale or Harvard. Far from indicating the domination of our most powerful legal institution by members of an American aristocracy, the background of the reigning justices demonstrates the effective operation of an educational meritocracy.

Not one of the jurists on the high court (with its six Catholics and three Jews) arose from the old-line, blue-blood, WASP establishment. Two of them, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, grew up in abject poverty, while most of the others came from modest circumstances and immigrant families. They attended Yale and Harvard not through family connections (a charge that could accurately be lodged against presidential candidates Al Gore, John Kerry and George W. Bush) but due to academic excellence and scholarship aid.

No one can question the fact that the nation’s most prestigious educational institutions opened up to “unconventional” but able applicants in the ’60s and ’70s (prominently including Barack Obama) and reserved far fewer spaces to legacy students and prep school products. This means that populist rage focused on Ivy League degrees now amounts to resentment of educational achievement, or even intelligence, rather than inherited privilege.

Here’s the thing about “elite universities” like Harvard, Yale, Oxford, etc: Opinions of the attendees tend to split into two groups. One group of people is extraordinarily impressed by a degree from those schools. They believe that degree is proof that these are America’s finest, America’s best, America’s elite. The other group of people falls somewhere inbetween “Not impressed at all” or “Wow, that’s sort of cool…I guess.”

Add to this the fact that Americans have become less impressed with a college degree in large part because of their exposure to college professors who are Commies, radical anti-Americans, or they’re teaching worthless crap courses like African-American studies — and there is this gulf that is practically unbridgeable.

So, what does the fact that all 9 Supreme Court Justices happen to be from Yale or Harvard say to these two different groups? One says, “Well, what do you expect! Harvard and Yale are the best!” The other thinks, “University attendance trumped performance” — and since 5 of the 9 Supreme Court Justices aren’t worth a bucket of warm spit, that seems like a plausible charge to make.

Granted, you do have to be of a certain intellectual quality to graduate from an elite university, but to most people, unless you’re up for your first job out of college, they don’t care very much about where you went to college. Does that count as “anti-elitism” or “anti-intellectualism?” Only if you think people deserve great, lifelong respect for where they spent four years drinking, cramming for exams, and taking “rocks for jocks.” Nothing against the “elite universities,” but some of us just aren’t all that impressed.

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