Harvard I did thatIn response to a request I have deleted the original text of this post from July 22, 2014.  The edited post follows below.

Let me explain.  William Deresiewicz, former Yale Professor, author and contributor at The Nation and The New Republic, wrote a very thoughtful piece with the title used above.  Over at the UW AAUP  listserv, one of our faculty wrote a biting rebuttal .. accusing William Deresiewicz of a sort of academic faux anti elitism …. a form of egalitarian nobility,

Unfortunately, the UW Professor is under the misapprehension that the AAUP  listserv is not public.  I received an email accusing me of being a bully for republishing the email from the listserv.  Apparently this Professor is unaware that, under Washington law,  every posting at the listserv is in the public domain.   Even more unfortunately, by asking me to delete the post, this UW Prof has deprived readers here of an ardent and heartfelt defense of the Ivies by a Professor at the UW.  Isn’t it ironic to see this sort of defense of the Ivies by a Professor of the humanities at the UW?  Presumably the UW is the sort of  public solution to the sort of private school elitism William  Deresiewicz decries?

(By the way, IvyGate published a hilarious rebuttal to Dr D’s piece:   Dersiewiz’ own arguments can be read at The New Republic or at more length in his book.
As for the UW Prof’s piece, I will paraphrase a few items.

  • The UW Prof sees Deresiewicz, as if he believed that  “people from other educational backgrounds are “not worth talking to,” ”  I read The New Republic and came to the opposite conclusion.  What Deresiewicz says is that the selection process at Yale results in an overly upper class community, a community that is only superficially divers.  He goes on to argue that this community deprives Yale students of the chance to meet their true peers … equally talented people from lower economic classes less able to afford the perks that get a kid into Yale’s elite.
  • The UW Prof cites another piece by Deresiewicz as saying he has a problem talking to plumbers.  The UW Prof sees this as “a deep moral failing and, I suspect, the fault of poor parenting or crummy friends (if, that is, he is being honest, and I suspect he is not).”  Then the UW Prof says ” I made up the plumbers bit.  But the book is coming out in about a month.  Or perhaps in as little as a couple of weeks.”  All I can say is I am confused by this part of the post, but I would also be dishonest if I didn’t say that many of my high achieving friends seem uncomfortable when I introduce them to other friends from the working classes. I also know many “ivies” who conceal their alma mater out of concern for appearing to be  snobs.
  • ” this is not a piece written by an academic who cares deeply for his students and the stresses of higher ed at the top institutions (indeed, Dr. Deresiewicz’s disdain for the students he taught for ten years makes me rather relieved that he turned his attention to plumbers); it is written by a former academic with an ivy-sized chip on his shoulder, who is trying to promote his book.:  Now that I have read the New Republic piece, it is absurd that the UW Prof called this “—a virulently anti-academe piece (and a) a self-interested press release for Deresiewicz’s new book.


In summary, there is nothing in the TNR article that shows the sort of elitism the UW prof. decries.  If anything, Deresiewicz  objects to the narrowness of the Ivy students … a student community he describes as devoted to a small spectrum of elite jobs in business, medicine, or law.  The solution he recommends is somewhat ironic, (given the AAUP posting by a humanities prof).  Mr. Deresiewicz   recommends that more of these elite students choose lower tier schools with more divers, less competitive student bodies.  He especially recommends schools with strong liberal arts programs where these talented folks might even go on to be Professors of the classics or even very, very good plumbers.

I apologize if this Prof. is still upset by my comments here, but I strongly recommend that any reader of THE Ave interested in the issues of academic elitism, read the article in New Republic.   They may also want to read posts here on The-Ave.US that echo Mr. Deresiewicz concerns that the free tuition at these extremely well endowed academies may be creating an upper class/lower class divide that Mr., Dickens would recognize as much like England in the period of its great decline.

As POGO said ..” We have met the enemy and he is us.”

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Roger Rabbit #

    I’ve always suspected you academics were a bunch of self-aggrandizing snobs; but who am I to judge, I’m a mere lawyer.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    I clicked on the links (okay, I admit it, I’m a link-clicker), and Deresiewicz doesn’t write like a nutjob, although I can’t vouch for his relationships with plumbers. Here’s a sample from his New Republic article, and I have to say, it resonates:

    “The first thing that college is for is to teach you to think. That doesn’t simply mean developing the mental skills particular to individual disciplines. College is an opportunity to stand outside the world for a few years, between the orthodoxy of your family and the exigencies of career, and contemplate things from a distance.

    “Learning how to think is only the beginning, though. There’s something in particular you need to think about: building a self. The notion may sound strange. ‘We’ve taught them,’ David Foster Wallace once said, ‘that a self is something you just have.’ But it is only through the act of establishing communication between the mind and the heart, the mind and experience, that you become an individual, a unique being — a soul. The job of college is to assist you to begin to do that. Books, ideas, works of art and thought, the pressure of the minds around you that are looking for their own answers in their own ways.”

    What’s so terrible about this?

  3. theaveeditor #

    Not to blame me. I will forward your comment to the author.