Does US Government Have an Overgrowth of Ivy?

Does US Government Have an Overgrowth of Ivy?

If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, all nine Justices of SCOTUS will be Ivy League affiliated in their education. But the Presidency is not any less upper-crust in credentials of late, to say nothing for the rest of government. Bill Whalen writes at Real Clear about “America’s Government-Hooked Up to an Ivy Drip?”

A second point worth noting: It’s not just the Supreme Court that’s covered in Ivy, but the White House too.

Starting with George H.W. Bush (Yale Class of ’48), the five most recent presidents have earned a combined seven Ivy degrees – George W. Bush (Yale-Harvard) and Barack Obama (Columbia-Harvard) being double-dippers. Yes, this includes Donald Trump, University of Pennsylvania Class of ’68 (apparently, this vexes the southernmost of the Ivy campuses).

Never before has the White House experienced such an Ivy rash. Prior to Bush 41, the last Ivied presidents were John F. Kennedy (Harvard and, briefly, Princeton) and Franklin Roosevelt (Harvard undergrad and a posthumous JD from Columbia).

The American presidency did experience an Ivy spurt in the first two decades of the 20th Century – Theodore Roosevelt (Harvard and Columbia Law), William Howard Taft (Yale) and Woodrow Wilson (Princeton). Somehow, the nation survived the 60 years between Roosevelt and the previous Ivied president, William Henry Harrison (the briefest of America’s presidents spent one semester at Penn; technically, he’s a non-graduate alumnus of the Medical Class of 1793).

Is America destined for an Ivy-Ivy duel in 2020, ala fellow Harvardians Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012 and Yalies George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004? That would exclude the likes of former Vice President Joseph Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

However, it rules in New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (Yale Law), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (Columbia) and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Dartmouth undergrad). As Harvard seems to work wonders for Democratic nominees (Obama, Kennedy and FDR went 7-0 in presidential elections) the smart option would seem to be former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, owner of two Harvard degrees (maybe that’s why some Obama insiders reportedly want him to run).

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14 thoughts on “Does US Government Have an Overgrowth of Ivy?

  1. The run of Ivy league in the early 20th century wasn’t surprising. Due to the influx of immigrants from Europe and the rise of the American economy, there became a concentration of power on the east coast, combined with the west still being a bit too focused on ‘civilizing’ itself to think about national office, so Ivy Leaguers with Gilded Age connections were well-positioned to obtain office.

    As for the latest run, it’s a bit vexing but the old networks still exist and keep the powerful in power.

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  2. Maybe not in politics but being an Ivy League grad has always set someone up for material success in life unless they were an absolute fuck-up and/or decided to reject the privileges on their own.

    A bunch of other schools are likely to confer success too if at slightly lower levels.

    When it comes to politics and nominations, I have some theories:

    1. Negative partisanship is so high that these credentials become a shield against the opposition. Everyone knows HYPS are hard to get into so you can’t be accused of nominating a hack.

    2. It is a protection racket because the grads have known each other since they were 18. These aren’t elected politicians but people who go from high ranking government positions to lucrative private practice based on the admin.

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    • I think you your 1. point is very well taken, and true. Kavanaugh can, for example, rightly claim that Justice Kagan hired hi previously, so clearly he is acceptable, and so on. To your second, I also think there is validity to it, though the line between networking/watching out for your own and having a separate eco-system is hard to define.

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      • “your second, I also think there is validity to it, though the line between networking/watching out for your own and having a separate eco-system is hard to define.”

        I agree but I think a lot of the backlash is because of how separate this eco-system is. I went to a hard to get into undergrad. We do pretty well. Some of us do extraordinarily well. But there are ways in which HYPS are in a whole different stratosphere compared to the advantages that my well-known undergrad degree confirs.

        HYPS seem to just create chambers of wealth and prestige that are almost exclusively open to the graduates of those places.

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        • Here’s a thought I had and would like your opinion If it has any base. With the “traditional” college experience rapidly changing with on-line, continuing ed, etc growing-The “18-22 yr old, 4 years in dorm” experience is still entrenched in the Ivy league schools more so than others who use a mix or “hybrid” education. I wrote about how that type of student with some data available and it is still the perception but is declining in reality (shameless plug, “This is Us, in Transcript Form” https://medium.com/swlh/this-is-us-in-transcript-form-390818b7a0f5) but I wonder If that adds to a culture we are talking about here. Full disclosure I’m one of those non-traditional students so my viewpoint may be skewed.

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          • When I was an undergrad, we had a few non-traditional students and since then my alma mater has developed a reputation for being a good school for veterans.

            But I think it is generally true that the elite schools like the Ivies, don’t go out of their way to make it easier for non-traditional students to attend. They don’t do night-school or part-time classes. You can attend many law schools as a part-time student and work during the day. Same with many business schools. You can’t do this at the HYS level, you need to be able to do it full-time as far as I know.

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  3. Harry Truman was the last President to only have a high school education. I think that the Ivys and handful of other elite schools are operating like Oxbridge does or did in the United Kingdom or France’s Grand Ecoles. A source of elite professionals in the private and government spheres. From what I understand, the top employers go to the Ivys and recruit directly rather than have the Ivy graduates come to them. Most other countries prevent this sort of elite school domination by trying to ensure you don’t have any handful of universities that rise to the top. From my understand, which is based on taking to people from other countries, while some colleges and universities are harder to get into than others, none really have the prestige and status of Oxbridge or our Ivys.

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    • Tokyo University has (or had) a reputation just a fierce as the Ivies. The story goes that once you were accepted, your life was golden. You didn’t even have to graduate, companies simply wanted to have a TU grad on the stationary. The more numbers of them, the greater the prestige of the company.

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  4. From time to time, suggests moving the capital to at least Kansas City, MO or perhaps to North Platte, NE. From time to time I agree with him, just because I’d like to see the Ivys — both graduates and schools — squirm over the decisions they would have to make :^)

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      • North Platte would be an… interesting test of that thesis, or at least how long it takes. From North Platte it is 213 miles east or west to reach a city of 100,000 people. (Coincidentally, the straight-line distances to Greeley, CO and Lincoln, NE are the same.) Inside a circle with a radius of 200 miles (an area a hair bigger than NY, NJ, PA, MD, DE, and DC combined), there is no place with a population of 25,000, and no schools that make the “research university” category most rating schemes use. I suspect that Congress would fairly quickly figure out how to go back to three-to-six month sessions, then adjourn for the year.

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