IVY-COVERED PROFESSORS IN IVY-COVERED HELLS?: A reader asks “if you’ve ever publicly reflected on The Situation in the Ivy League. Would you send your kids to Yale? Would you recommend that others do so? What sorts of kids is it good for?”
Well, there are two very different questions here: 1) Would you want your kid to go to Yale? and 2) What’s the Ivy League like these days? And I can’t answer either–but I’m gonna take a crack at it anyway, because hey, that’s what blogging is all about. (Warning: uber-long post impending!)
1) It would depend on the kid. Not every kid is best served by a college education (I’m with the Cranky Prof on this), let alone one very specific college. Obviously, if you forego a college degree, you’ll have a harder time changing plans later on; but it’s not impossible. Our society is set up to foster the acquisition of unnecessary degrees. That’s a fact of life, but it’s not a reason to harangue a kid who’s made a (mature, thoughtful) decision to skip college. There are very few schools that I genuinely wouldn’t want to send my kid to: of the Ivies, only Brown and Harvard. (That’s not just the usual Yale inferiority complex/college rivalry; I think those two schools don’t do a good enough job at providing a liberal education. They promote relativism, in Brown’s case, and hyper-intellectualism in both cases.) Anyway, I’d be very happy if my kid wanted to go to Yale, assuming it was a good fit for him.
2) I don’t know much about the Ivies in general. (Despite the disparaging comments about Brown & Harvard.) One thing I learned at Yale is how different the Ivies are. So instead of trying to answer this question, I’ll just offer a list of facts that might be relevant to someone trying to figure out What’s Up With The Ivy League. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly; not in that order.
THE UGLY: Drinking, including heavy drinking, can build camaraderie and trust. It can break down some of the defenses people construct to avoid confronting their fears, hopes, etc. But that only works in small groups where people know each other, care for each other, and are savvy about alcohol. Without those prerequisites, you end up with budding alcoholics, girls staggering through the streets alone at 4 a.m., drunken sexual encounters, and much much more. Yale offers both approaches to
drinking, and it’s often just luck which kind of parties you end up at.
Yale is sexually insane. There’s a reason Planned Parenthood set up shop right outside campus. The Yale Daily News and the campus feminist magazine are full of women bragging about how much sex they have, how they hired a male stripper, and, in general, how “liberated” they are. They’re desperate to prove
that they’re not prudes. The lucky ones never face the consequences of their conformity. …Yale also sponsors one annual dance, the Exotic Erotic (oy gevalt), where you pay less to get in if you show more flesh. Cute, no?
The sign the Yale Pro-Life League posts at the beginning of the year reads, “Your tuition stops a beating heart.” Yale covers abortions (however many you need…) under a health plan that students can’t opt out of.
THE BAD: Yale’s administration does not really have a sense of Yale’s uniqueness. That means the college’s traditions are diluted, and it churns out managers and social engineers rather than leaders.
I don’t know much about the college chapel, but they perpetrated the South African hymn described
href=”http://eve-tushnet.blogspot.com/2002_05_05_eve-tushnet_archive.html#76273132″>here. Apparently their nun who wanted to be a priest got disciplined (she’d been meddling in the Mass), and the two homilies I’ve heard from the chaplain were quite good. But the chapel still struck me as a bit fluffy.
Don’t expect any guidance in picking courses. The academic advising is basically a rubber stamp for students’ every whim. The Course Critique (a guide published by… I forget who–anyway, it grades lots of popular courses) is useless unless you already want what a majority of Yalies want (since the course descriptions and grades are basically majority-rule)–if you’re looking for a liberal
education, you need a better guide. I suggest the Yale Free Press “Coarse Critique.”
Yale grants tenure at random, as far as I can tell. If your prof doesn’t have tenure, don’t get too attached.
There isn’t really a vibrant intellectual Left. The Left on campus seems to believe that time spent refining their ideas could be better spent at a soup kitchen or a rally. There’s no sense on the Left, as far as I can tell, that college is a four-year opportunity to pursue truth that you’ll never have again. There are many scattered lefty students who do have this understanding, and it’s always great to run across them, but they’re isolated. And isolation is a lousy way to develop one’s ideas. (They should all start blogs!)
Yale is on a mission to ruin the campus area by forcing out beloved local retailers and replacing them with–I grimace as I write this–Urban Outfitters. Sheesh, at least they could let the free market ruin small businesses! Oh, and businesses with Yale leases can’t sell cigarettes. Thanks for nothing, jerks. (And I don’t smoke.)
There’s a lot of renovation going on right now. Most dormitories get vastly uglier when they’re renovated. Beautiful wood-paneled common rooms have become wannabe bus stations. The Athenaeum Room, which used to have Athenian-themed carvings showing nude men, uh, wrestling, is now bowdlerized and carving-free. Gah.
THE GOOD: Yale students are obsessed with extracurricular activities. If they do want to engage in deep,
life-changing discussions, they’ve got the friendships, the trust, and the willingness to put coursework last that they’ll need. Plus, extracurrics often offer opportunities for leadership, and they force you to deal with people you’d rather avoid. They teach you to make tough choices and take responsibility for those choices. Students at more study-obsessed schools gain expertise, but they don’t have as much opportunity to learn leadership.
The professors. Marilyn Adams; Harold Bloom; Mary Habeck; Karsten Harries; Donald Kagan; Traugott Lawler; Ivan Marcus; so many more.
A vibrant, intellectual right-wing minority (both trad and libertarian). Many in that minority welcome criticism from the Left. They’ve got a good sense of fun–they throw parties, hold protests, and do a lot of intense intellectual work.
Yale was the first place where I really experienced a living tradition. It’s hard to explain, but the Yale tradition is real. The architecture helps–the acid-aged pseudo-Gothic buildings explicitly recall the medieval university, and their carvings provide sly, fun, irreverent commentary on college life and New England Puritanism. (I really like the carvings of the Puritans gambling, but my favorite has got to be the relief of the man bent over a tablet, with the inscrutable heading, “DROOL.”)
New Haven is beautiful, not as crime-ridden as you’ve heard (its reputation is stuck in the ’80s and early ’90s), and packed with fantastic restaurants.
And there’s St. Mary’s.
Well. That’s my take on “the place where I made my best mistakes.” There’s a lot of good at Yale. It has not capitulated to the “long march through the institutions.” Boola.