Wednesday, February 20, 2013

If Ivy Leaguers are so smart, why are we in Afganistan? Demythologizing the Elite American Universities

Almost every college-bound American would love to attend one of the nation's elite colleges--Ivy League shools like Harvard, Yale, or perhaps Duke, Vanderbilt, Berkeley, or Stanford. Harvard's acceptance rate for the 2012 class was less than 6 percent; about 2000 students were admitted out of 34,000 applications.

And it does appear that an elite degree is a ticket to succes. President George W. Bush was a Yale Graduate, Barak Obama went to Harvard Law School. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner got his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth and a master's from Johns Hopkins. Ben Bernanke is a Harvard graduate, and all nine Supreme Court Justices graduated from either Harvard Law School or Yale Law School. If we can attend these schools, Americans believe, we will have a premier learning experience, make good contacts, and set ourselves up for life.

But our elite colleges are not the reservior of all wisdom. In fact, the graduates of our most prestigious institutions and the people who run them may not be as bright as they think they are.

For example, Harvard Law School apparently perceived Professor Elizabeth Warren (now Senator Warren) as a Cherokee Indian. University of California was unable to act decisively after a campus police officer pepper-sprayed nonthreatening UC-Davis students, an incident that went viral on YouTube. Instead of firing the offending officer immediately, which any sensible employer would have done, UC had to commission two lengthy reports and hire consultants to figure out what to do. Several of our elite institutions have persecuted Christian student groups, and a majority of our astute Supreme Court (Ivy Leaguers every one) said that is OK.

And none of our supposedly wise elite universities have figured out how to rein in costs and keep their tuition undder control. Meanwhile, the professors teach fewer and fewer courses, and the elite university presidents see their salaries and perks creep ever upward.

Finally (and this is the theme of this essay), if an Ivy League education is a sign of wisdom, what the heck is the United States doing in Afganistan? President Bush, a Yale graduate, put us there. Now, almost 12 years later, we are still there.  President Obama, a Harvard Law Graduate, even doubled down in Afganistan, sending more troops into the quagmire.

Anyone reading a history of Afganistan written at the eighth-grade level would know that invaders have fallen on their swords in Afganistan since the nineteenth century. The British and Russians both had disastorous experiences there. 

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