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Is An Ivy League Education Really Important?

During the general elections, we focus on the most trivial questions possible. Perhaps they are easier to comprehend. Governor Palin has religious convictions against abortion, Senator Obama takes a different view. We can all understand that, and agree or disagree; even though their personal views on abortion are unlikely to make any difference, we mistakenly believe that they will. The Democrats and the Republicans have (marginally) different views on health care, the economy, Iraq, drilling for oil, taxation, and a few other issues. We may not (and probably don't) understand the differences, but like to think that we do. We really like to have opinions, but understanding what is going on is, well, rather burdensome.

In this article, I will address one of the more trivial issues of the campaign: the formal education of the candidates, particularly Senator Obama and Governor Palin. I see little hope of laying to rest this non-issue, because it has assumed too much significance for that to happen. Most of us assume that an Ivy League education is per se far superior to an education at a lesser institution of "higher learning," I disagree.

I was sufficiently fortunate to have been graduated from a well regarded Ivy League university and a good law school. I did well and am proud of it. I am very grateful to my parents for making these things possible. I was lucky in this and in other respects.

Having been graduated from college in 1963 and from law school in 1966, a long time ago, I can't comment based on personal experience upon the alleged leftist tendency in current higher education. I have read that it exists, but don't really know.

What do, and what should, these things independently mean in the post election political arena? Very little. They should have comparable significance in the pre-election arena. Do they have much significance in one's understanding of life, the universe and everything? No. There is an old saw,

You can send a fool to college
But you can't make him think.
You can lead a horse to water
But you can't make him drink.

Do educational accomplishments suggest a better world view, or better preparation to answer the important questions which affect the survival of our society? Occasionally perhaps, but not necessarily. Do folks who did not attend top universities fare worse? Occasionally perhaps, but not necessarily. Does the fact that Senator Obama was the President (or Editor in Chief, depending on the source of information) of the Harvard Law Review mean much? He is said to have been a good leader there, although he is credited with only one comment, unsigned and unattributed, until recently. The lack of attribution is not unusual, since most short student comments are unattributed. That there was only one is rather unusual, since most Law Review members author more than one. I wrote about a dozen. Does that make a difference? I don't think so. Does the fact that President Bush did marginally better at Yale than did Senator Kerry (neither excelled)? Does the fact that Governor Palin finally got a BS degree from the University of Idaho after attending other colleges make a difference in her qualifications to become the Vice President? Or President? Does the fact that Senator McCain was graduated fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy mean much? No, I don't think so. President Truman didn't have a stellar educational background — he never even got a college degree — and he did quite well as President of the United States during one of her most difficult periods. Although kept very much out of the loop by FDR until the latter's death, Truman became, in my view, one of our very best presidents. Were he alive and in good health now, I would vote for him in a heart beat. He had good, common "horse sense," and his lack of a college degree didn't cause the United States, or President Truman, any memorable difficulties. President Wilson who, before becoming the President of the United States had been the President of Princeton University was, in my opinion, one of the worst; President Carter (59th out of his Naval Academy class of 820) was, in my view, less than exemplary as well. TR, who was something of an "elitist" when at Harvard University, nevertheless did quite well as a "populist" President. As I noted in a previous article,

TR was no egalitarian; At Harvard, he became quite “foppish.” He was of the elite, he knew it, and so did everyone who knew him. In his senior year he wrote to his sister, “I stand 19th in the class . . . Only one gentleman stands ahead of me.” Harvard was, of course, not [then] coeducational.

After being admitted to at least some of the very prestigious universities, it takes a bit of effort not to receive a degree. That was the case at the university which I attended, where relatively few freshmen failed to get through four years and to receive a degree. Many other schools tend to accept far more applicants than will ultimately be graduated. I offer no opinion on which is the better admissions philosophy, only the caution that acceptance by and "success" at some of the better universities are not necessarily indicative of diligent effort, profound understanding or much of anything else truly useful in a President. Somehow, I doubt that having received a baccalaureate degree from Harvard, Yale, Princeton or another of the Ivy League schools would much impress, for example, Mr. Putin. Being among those who manage to get through four years at, and to receive a degree from, a less selective school may conceivably be more significant — particularly if one has to hold down a job to finance one's own education. Of course, that probably wouldn't much impress Mr. Putin either.

About Dan Miller

  • David Black

    “me first, fuck you”

    Sounds like one of your lib heroes, John Edwards, that great champion of the po’ and underprivileged, sneaking around the back doors of hotels at 3 AM.

    Such a humanitarian who couldn’t even stay faithful to his wife and kids! Tsk, tsk.

    Want me to start in your beloved lib icons, the Kennedy family?

    How about starting with brain cancer Teddy? Chappaquiddick, anyone? I think Mary Jo Kopechne, if alive, would attest to the “me first, fuck you” Kennedy way.

    How about that ol’ horn dog Jack in the White House while pretty lil’ Jackie was away?

    How about ol’ Bobby and Marilyn, sittin’ in a tree … ?

    This is the same disgustingly creepy Kennedy family your neo-Kennedy Barry O. loves to cite.

    Please, don’t give me that “me first, fuck you” stuff as a lib democrat exempt domain.

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    re #46

    I don’t know, David. 700 billion dollars for this bailout could buy an awful lot of infrastructure, health care for everyone, and really improve our school systems….

    It’s okay to “socialize” business but nothing else?

    It’s okay to allow business to be an under-regulated greedy free-for-all because it’s supposed to trickle down and benefit everyone, when what gets trickled down is just a lot of pain and suffering?

    We might see, in the long run a financial gain for some taxpayers from all of this (according to some analysts) but right now it’s a free for all.

    Mostly, Alan Greenspan, from whom McCain said he was going to learn his economics (since he didn’t know much about it) said that McCain’s economic plan would be absolutely terrible for this country, much worse than Obama’s. And Greenspan was partly responsible for the current meltdown!

    And according to all the best “thinkers” this is a global problem, not just an American one, and the only candidate who is thinking globally is Obama (this comes from the conservative network, Fox, from both Kondrake AND Barnes)

    So, it just might be possible that a “lib,” as you like to call us (I prefer progressive, although as I have said on another post, the true dictionary definition of the word liberal, if used by everyone to describe us, would be wonderful by me), a “pointy head intellectual” might just be the one to get us out of this mess.

    No one is discounting that McCain served his country. But just being a P.O.W. for 5 ½ years is no qualification for the presidency. My husband was a Vietnam era vet and a prisoner (although not for that long) and although he is certainly smart enough to be president, I doubt he would want it. I don’t think every P.O. W. of every and any war automatically gets to be our prez. And I really don’t care whether we can type or not. Although not being able to use the internet in this day and age seems rather ridiculous. He can, like my disabled sister, use a voice recognition program.

    BTW, The cost of the Iraq “war” which you seem to support could have also paid for a lot of other good things in the country which Bush claims we can’t afford.

    But then it’s our “duty” to just go into any country we please, take down their leader, make up a reason to kill their people, and wipe that “scum” off the earth. In the name of democracy. Oh, yeah. I get it.

    You are about the most pissed of conservative (other than O’Reilly) I have ever heard.

  • Clavos

    The banks should be allowed to collapse. Neither the US nor the world economies will collapse, though they will contract.

    There is no better means of regulation than failure.

    Governments should identify and compensate the victims directly, bypassing the thieves.

    The perps (government AND business) should be jailed in max security prisons for terms up to life without parole. The most egregious should be executed.


  • bliffle

    Hey, alessandro! Answer me a question. Do you prefer having sex with monkeys or with sheep.

    I eagerly await your response.

  • Daniel Miller


    If I didn’t consider your comment #54 a gross and unwarranted personal attack on another commenter, I would suggest a reference to Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, in which it is sung, “we like sheep. . . .”

    Gosh darn. I suggested it anyway.


  • alessandro


    What’s the matter with you?

  • Daniel Miller

    Alessandro, re your comment #56

    You don’t really want an answer to that, do you? It would probably be rather lengthy and boring.

    I tried my best to ignore comment #54, but the Devil (or his close cousin, Demon Rum) made me respond. Let it be. It’s disgraceful and well over the top; perhaps one of the comments editors will decide to delete it.

    On the other hand, perhaps even those intent upon demonstrating their own foibles should have the opportunity to do so.



  • alessandro

    Thank you, Dan. Yeah, you’re probably right.

    Yes, if that’s not a personal attack I’ve no clue what is.

    It is what it is. That’s CR’s call.

    You’re right. It says more about the person making such comments in public.

    Imagine if I actually said something offensive!


  • Joe Big Red

    I have a degree from an Ivy League school. I currently work with a combination of people that either have no college degree, have some college education, or have a bachelors degree. My biggest regret from my college days is that I did not make enough friends (network) to help make my life easier. It should have been easier to get the career position of my choice. Unfortunately, I spent over $120,000 in those four years and now (at age 31) I don’t even make that in one year. I have faith that I will indeed eventually make over $120,000 in a year. If you go to an ivy-league school and only get a bachelor’s degree, do yourself a favor and settle down on the east coast. My BA from Ezra Cornell’s university is about as impressive here in CA as a degree from CAL POLY. My degree is almost worthless in my eyes. Save your money parents- send your children wherever the heck they want to go. And always remember- it is the learning that a kid does in the real world that makes all the difference as to whether they will be financially successful come adulthood.

    -Big Red alumnus in the red