Ivy League influence
Q: Elena Kagan's nomination has raised the prospect of an "all-Ivy" Supreme Court. Is it a good idea for any institution, or any sector of society, to rely so heavily on a handful of elite universities to educate and train its leaders?
I am the product of a state-school education, and am very proud to now be employed at a state-school. Yet, I have no problem with an all-Ivy court. To me, the issue is not where Ms. Kagan went to school. The important issue is whether she has the competence to serve, and whether her interpretation of the legal code will effectively complement the interpretations of others on the court. Based on what we know at this point (which is not much), it seems Ms. Kagan is well-suited and capable of effectively serving us.
All that said, there are several reasons why we even have the possibility of an all-Ivy court, and I think understanding the reasoning is important to answering the question: should our society rely so heavily on a handful of universities to educate and train its leaders?
First, Ivy-league institutions (and their non-Ivy peers) attract the "best of the best" students. Most parents would love to replace their "My kid is an honor-roll student" bumper sticker with one that says: "My kid is an Ivy-leaguer." So, if the "best" coming out of the Ivy League go on to serve our country as presidents, legislators, and justices, we are probably better for it. But there are also reasons beyond competence that explain why a nomination process such as the one used in selecting Supreme Court justices results in an all-Ivy lineup.
There is clear evidence that our place in elite social networks explains our social status and mobility. In fact, research even shows that business executives enter into strategic partnerships and alliances with other companies, in part, based on whether the partnering executives attended the same undergraduate institution. Scary, right? Thus, Ivy-leaguers (and their peers) are not just paying for an education, they are paying for entry into a social network that is powerful and global.
It is no accident that Obama and Kagan have worked and socialized together in the past, and now she is being nominated for a life-long position as Supreme Court justice.
But again, the issue is not where did she go to school or who does she know. Is she competent? Does she complement the existing justices? Does she have the principles and perspective necessary to make decisions that will affect a nation? Only time will tell. I can assure you there are many people educated as elites that do not have the necessary principles and perspective. I sure hope she does.
Posted by: kermit5 | May 18, 2010 1:08 PM
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