Did you see “Disadvantages of an Elite Education” (American Scholar, 2008) in which former Yale professor William Deresiewicz contrasts the education at Yale and Cleveland State, an inner-city university much like Baruch? The article was unexpectedly thought provoking. For example, consider this:
“[S]tudents at places like Yale get an endless string of second chances. Not so at places like Cleveland State. My friend once got a D in a class in which she’d been running an A because she was coming off a waitressing shift and had to hand in her term paper an hour late.
“That may be an extreme example, but it is unthinkable at an elite school. Just as unthinkably, she had no one to appeal to. Students at places like Cleveland State, unlike those at places like Yale, don’t have a platoon of advisers and tutors and deans to write out excuses for late work, give them extra help when they need it, pick them up when they fall down. They get their education wholesale, from an indifferent bureaucracy.”
It’s not that I agree with all the arguments in the essay, but Deresiewicz asks an important question: where do you fall on the spectrum of “indifferent” to “pampering”? The essay also gives one newfound appreciation for our students.
There was another recent attack on the elite colleges—Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Chris Hedges’ 9-Dec-2008 essay “The Best and the Brightest Have Led America Off a Cliff“—but skip it if you are looking for uplifting news.
If you want to read something more positive about elite colleges, consider Philip Delves Broughton’s Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School (Penguin Press, 2008; see the reviews that appeared in The New York Times, Business Week and The Economist). I especially recommend the book to my colleagues in the Zicklin School. Broughton shares several positive aspects of the HBS MBA, especially the way it trained him to think and noteworthy classes and professors. But if you keep reading, sure enough, more critique. For example, the last chapter (“A Factory for Unhappy People”) lines up closely with Deresiewicz and Hedges. His comments “If I were dean for a day…” (pp. 277-280) are particularly interesting:
“I would change the mission statement. HBS does not need to promise to ‘educate leaders who make a difference in the world.’ It suggests that business, with its priorities and decision-making approach, has a right to impose its will on the world. But business needs to relearn its limits, and if the HBS let some air out of its own balloon, business would listen. HBS need only promise to educate students in the process and management of business. It would be a noble and accommodating goal and would dilute the perception of the school and its graduates as a megalomaniacal, self-sustaining elite. … Harvard can stop saying it ‘transforms’ students, as if it has a lifelong claim on them.”
(Special thanks to Professor Mano Singham, Case Western Reserve Univ. for bringing the first two articles to my attention.)