Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Fairness Among the Ivy

Meritocracy and fairness in legal academia has been the theme of late on MoneyLaw and thus it seems rather fitting that Harvard, being the academic trendsetter that it is, has in the interest of fairness, announced it’s intent to abandon early decision applications. Not surprisingly, other “elite” colleges and universities are now apparently picking up on the trend. While I didn’t go to Harvard, I attended an Ivy League University as an undergraduate. Law school at the University of Minnesota has been my three year sabbatical from the North Eastern nepotism and elitism. The Midwest is the closet thing I’ve ever come to a true meritocracy. Admittedly, I have minimal knowledge of how legal academics assess their peers, but at least among my law school peers and the greater Minnesota community my Ivy League pedigree has had little to no impact on the kind of regard I get. If anything, it’s only made me a recipient of what I would like to think is good natured taunting. However, it’s my understanding that at other law schools this in not the case. Rather, students seek out other students for study groups giving preference to those with elite pedigrees. Out here the only people who really care that I went to Cornell are those who went there too and want to talk about it. I can say with near certainty that had I even tried to use my undergraduate institution as leverage with my classmates I probably would have been ostracized by the school community and the taunting wouldn’t be so good natured.

Nonetheless, I’m proud of my pedigree. So proud that I felt the need to include a hyperlink. The fact that it is considered elite in some circles is definitely good for my ego, and I recognize that there are a lot of people out there who think that is important. But, mostly I feel a tremendous sense of loyalty to the university. I had an amazing 4 years there and want to keep it in the family.

Maybe eliminating early decision applications will make the college application process fairer to students, especially those considering competing financial aid packages. Ironically, the most elitist person I know just started his senior year at Harvard. He thinks that his degree from Harvard guarantees him any opportunity he could ever want. The summer we shared an office all I ever saw him do was play internet backgammon. I’m pretty sure he got admitted early, so perhaps Harvard is on to something. But, with so much educational inequality in this country, affirmative action programs, and legacy status, I still don’t think that the college application process could ever really be fair to every applicant. Life really isn’t fair and that is in part why I think people try to (and need to) take advantage of their pedigree if they can. I see the catch 22, but I also don’t see elitism going away anytime soon. With that in mind I think people are foolish to act as though merit is always a sufficient means to an end.

If there’s one thing I learned early on my sabbatical it that there is no shortage of Midwesterners just as qualified to attend Ivy League Universities as their New York City Metro Area counterparts. They just don’t apply. Perhaps if they did there wouldn’t be so many social loafers populating Ivy League campuses today.

I would agree with Prof Chen that pedigree alone isn’t necessarily a good indicator of one’s potential for scholarly achievement. Perhaps all an elite pedigree can really indicate is that someone had good grades and test scores, and recognized that for better or for worse we don’t live in a meritocracy.


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