March 25, 2018

GLANZEL | In Defense of The Ivy League

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A couple years ago, a former English professor at Yale published an article in the New Republic entitled, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.” The title reflected a growing sense of hostility towards elitist institutions of higher education across the nation. Over the last few years, there has been a sort of a backlash against Ivy League-type schools — from President Trump’s attacks on university endowments, to the assaults from conservative media groups that label the Ivy League as a harbor for radical snowflakes.

At the risk of sounding elitist and out-of-touch, I argue that the Ivy League — from its hyper-competitive admissions process, to its rigorous academics, to its army of loyal alumni — is actually good for society. Though there are certainly problems with the sort of elitism that emerges from these top schools, the Ivy League nevertheless has produced brilliant thinkers and powerful innovations that have pushed the human race forward.

Among the first criticisms leveled at elite schools is the admissions process. The low acceptance rate of the schools necessarily forces the respective admissions offices to only admit highly-accomplished, interesting and capable students. Many argue that the process stresses out high schoolers and transforms them into lifeless robots. They argue that high schoolers become engrossed with an enhancing their personal sense of prestige rather than truly developing a love for learning.

The problem with this argument is that it is highly stereotypical, and is often not reflective of actual prospective Ivy Leaguers. Yes, the process is stressful; but so is life. Top schools produce individuals that will almost always work in demanding, high-intense professions. Students go to the Ivy League to be movers and shakers –– not to be cruise directors. Thus, the intensity of the admissions process is simply reflective of the stresses that one will face both at the prospective school and in life after schooling. How can one lambast the SAT when our nation’s future doctors will be faced with stressful medical examines or when future lawyers will be faced with admission to the bar –– both of which are infinitely more intense and time consuming than a mere three-hour test on math and reading.

Another attack on the Ivy League is that the schools produce students that are highly insecure, and are unable to deal with the prospect of failure. Because of this insecurity and fear, these students try to avoid risk, thus depriving them of intellectual curiosity. I agree, to an extent, that top students often exhibit strong sense of insecurity. However, this is not a product of the schools per se, but rather an environment that brings together the best and brightest young minds in the country. The students at schools like Cornell are brilliant — and it is often intimidating to bear witness to the intellectual horsepower of some of the top students at these universities. However, the insecurity does not necessarily bring students down to a level of mindlessness that is free of true intellect. Instead, the environment challenges to students to push harder and work to achieve greater heights.

What is certainly one of the greatest hallmarks of the Ivy League is that it truly is more affordable to low-income students than most colleges. While I have written extensively on how Cornell has policies that are economically detrimental to lower income students, the fact of the matter is that the entirety of the nation’s higher education system hurts poorer students. Rising tuition rates and growing fees make it difficult for poor families to afford a college degree. However, the generous financial aid packages of top schools help to give these students the opportunity to achieve an incredible education at a bargain price. In fact, students from families making less than $65,000 at most Ivy League schools receive their education virtually for free. The limited debt accumulated by these students is vastly outweighed by the massive return-on-investment generated by an elite diploma.

Another popular attack on elite schools comes from the right-wing media that portrays these campuses as epicenters of weak and insecure snowflakes. These portrayals often highlight isolated events and comments made by radical students who are in a very small minority. In my experience, professors and students alike have been willing to challenge my views and I have felt more than comfortable to challenge their perspectives. The Sun is a perfect example of this. This newspaper is filled with conflicting and competing ideas; and this conflict is the very contrapositive of the snowflake narrative generated by the right.

Though it is clear that the Ivy League is currently facing an era of tough resistance from the media, public and the administrative state, I firmly believe that it is a force for good. There are, of course, a myriad of problems with elite schools. Nevertheless, the Ivy League has produced incredible thinkers, revolutionary advances in research and incredible educational opportunities. It is for this reason that we must work to defend these schools from outside attacks and work to continually improve and strengthen these institutions.

Michael Glanzel is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at mglanzel@cornellsun.com. Cornell Shrugged appears alternate Mondays this semester.