In Defense of the Ivy League

The current issue of the New Republic features former Yale professor William Deresiewicz going on for 4000 words deriding the Ivy League and other “elite” schools. This is not unusual: Deresiewicz has done this before and probably will do so again (there’s freedom in not getting tenure, it seems). But with a solid clickbait headline, the article made the rounds on social media and we decided to address some of the fallacies and paradoxes presented in his TNR arguments. Join us.

Isn’t Harvard Just the Worst?

That certainly seems to be the opinion of a few journalists recently. Wait,  seems to be? With a headline like “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education,” you just know the author is not too keen on the Crimson. The author is none other than our old friend Cockmaster D (William Deresiewicz for our forgetful readers). Goold ol’ Cockmaster D recently discovered that he was too elitist to interact with a plumber, so obviously the rest of us are just as bad.

Because we’re coddled with extensions on papers and rampant grade inflation, we grow up to be the worst people ever. Also, it’s because we have gates:

The physical form of the university—its quads and residential colleges, with their Gothic stone façades and wrought-iron portals—is constituted by the locked gate set into the encircling wall. Everyone carries around an ID card that determines which gates they can enter. The gate, in other words, is a kind of governing metaphor—because the social form of the university, as is true of every elite school, is constituted the same way. Elite colleges are walled domains guarded by locked gates, with admission granted only to the elect.    

He’s right. Gates might be cool when every other college does it, but how dare we use them to keep people out!

He also points out that George Bush went to Yale, so take that, Ivy League! Yeah that’s right one of the dozens of presidents who went to elite universities isn’t so awesome! Clearly we have no defense to these accusations, but are we really that bad?

No, we’re worse! After the jump, Harvard is destroying the world (and bruising the butts of old ladies).

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The Wit and Wisdom of Cockmaster D

The Wit and Wisdom of Cockmaster DThe student-professor romance is an erotically charged if ethically dubious prospect. The key word is “prospect.” While probably everyone has taken the GER101 class enthusiastically taught by that really hot grad student who was writing her dissertation on Hannah Arendt, actual entanglements seem to be exceedingly rare in real life — disproportionate representation in popular culture and student dream life notwithstanding.

William Deresiewicz is an Associate Professor of English at Yale as well as a frequent contributor to The Nation and other publications. While to many he may be known as “Professor Deresiewicz,” to others he is better known by the affectionately-bestowed sobriquet “Cockmaster D.” In the current The American Scholar, the Cockmaster tackles the subject of student-professor romance, aiming to show:

Why we should understand, and even encourage, a certain sort of erotic intensity between student and professor.

In this actually pretty interesting (and very worth reading) essay, Deresiewicz first examines the stereotype of the lecherous academic — a stereotype, he claims, which embodies, “not only our culture’s hostility to the mind, but also its desperate confusion about the nature of love.” To flesh out this stereotype, Professor Cockmaster turns to cultural sources traditionally taken as the final word on American life: a boatload of crappy movies about English professors, along with the novels of Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. The following picture emerges:

The alcoholic, embittered, writer-manqué English professor who neglects his family and seduces his students is a figure of creative sterility, and he is creatively sterile because he loves only himself. Hence his vanity, pomposity, and selfishness; his self-pity, passivity, and resentment. Hence his ambition and failure. And thence his lechery, for sleeping with his students is a sign not of virility but of impotence: he can only hit the easy targets; he feeds on his students’ vitality; he can’t succeed in growing up.

Needless to say, NO ONE like that has ever worked at an Ivy League university. Plus, as the Cockmaster points out, “Male professors are not less-devoted or less-faithful husbands, on average, than other men – in fact, relative to wealthier ones, they are probably more so.”

So “whence,” as Professor D might ask, does this stereotype come? After mentioning not unseriously the possibility of bitter screen-writers with an axe to grind against their old creative writing professors, the Cockmaster takes a closer look at the “idea of universities as dens of vice, where creepy middle-aged men lie in wait for nubile young women.”

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