Thursday, October 06, 2005


Lots of discussion in wingnuttia about whether or not it's "elitist" to oppose Miers. These discussions seem to confuse different kinds of elitism. There's one kind of elitism which dares to suggest that smart qualified people should get the kinds of jobs that require smart qualified people. This seems to be perfectly reasonable.

The other type of elitism is the one which focuses on pedigrees and certificates. One must come from the right family and go to the right school. No less than Ann Coulter has been down on Brownie Miers for her lack of appropriate law school pedigree. This kind of elitism is incredibly rampant among the, you know, elites of all political persuasions - whether liberal academics or faux heartland populist conservatives - and goes way beyond the normal kind of network cronyism that elite institutions can help foster.

Having gone to a humble state school for my undergraduate degree and then to an Ivy League school for graduate school, I was continually surprised by the degree of snob elitism I confronted. I won't deny that going to a top school provides some signal of your abilities, but one certainly doesn't have to have gone to an Ivy League school or one of the "honorary Ivies" to be a smart, educated, qualified, capable person. And, having taught plenty of undergraduates at an Ivy League institution I can say that a degree from one is no guarantee of supergenius abilities either.

Even moreso I was shocked at how much having a graduate degree from an Ivy versus a non-Ivy seemed to impress even people who should know better. Especially at the advanced degree level the quality of any individual department within an institution is often entirely almost entirely uncorrelated with that institution's broader reputation as an undergraduate institution. Not all graduate departments in Ivy League schools are any good, let alone among the best.