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Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership at the Washington Post.

Does elitism still rule?

College application season has kicked off, and overachieving high-school seniors across the country are busy hitching their self-worth to the judgment of admissions boards.

In a recent video interview with On Leadership, the president of Arizona State University talked about how "social hierarchy based on test scores from high school is not exactly how you'd like to run the country." He also commented that private universities "look at Harvard and say, 'Well, Harvard's it. Whatever Harvard does, we need to do.' Now Harvard's a fantastic institution, but it's not it."

What do you think? How important is getting into an elite school if you want to be a leader in this country? Add your comment below.

By Lillian Cunningham

 |  October 13, 2010; 3:37 PM ET
Category:  Education leadership , Leadership development Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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We misconstrue the term 'elite' by conflating it with ANY particular university or socioeconomic stratum.

Plato, a much clearer head, saw the wisdom in cultivating an 'elite' that had the capacity to understand the needs of its society, and the moral integrity to place those needs ahead of its own individual 'wants'.

Elitism is correctly a term of honor, not a term of privilege. Those who are presently attempting to market a revisionist view of elites and elitism are doing so with a transparently political agenda in mind.

If elitism is 'bad', is ‘anti-elitism’ better? Welcome to the third world.

Posted by: bloommarko4 | October 25, 2010 12:36 PM
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We misconstrue the term 'elite' by conflating it with ANY particular university or socioeconomic stratum.

Plato, a much clearer head, saw the wisdom in cultivating an 'elite' that had the capacity to understand the needs of its society, and the moral integrity to place those needs ahead of its own individual 'wants'.

Elitism is correctly a term of honor, not a term of privilege. Those who are presently attempting to market a revisionist view of elites and elitism are doing so with a transparently political agenda in mind.

If elitism is 'bad', is ‘anti-elitism’ better? Welcome to the third world.

Posted by: bloommarko4 | October 25, 2010 12:35 PM
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This is a perennial question has been discussing all over the world, what makes matter is that what the elites's performce should be more counted than whether one is from a bower or from a cottage.

Posted by: fortune1002003 | October 17, 2010 8:52 AM
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Yes, elitism still rules and it's even worse than it used to be. At least old money left behind something for the greater good, like Rockefeller Center. What have these new Ivy league bozos left behind? The Harvard endowment was turned into a quasi hedge fund and all it has to show for it is a bunch of splashy, half finished buildings they can't pay for and a mountain of red ink. Or even better, the new elite gave us piles of worthless financial paper no one can understand and a new cast of smug, annoying creeps that can explain away anything and are too cowardly to take responsibility for anything. Anybody gonna remember anything positive about Lloyd Blankfein? Any monuments society will look at admiringly that he'll leave behind? Of course not. The one thing the new elite will be remembered for is selfishness; leadership is about the last thing people will think of.

Posted by: Candressuhmoose | October 15, 2010 10:05 AM
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Maybe we have to distinguish between learning the principal, more Harvard, and the practise, more MIT.

Posted by: info85 | October 15, 2010 9:40 AM
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Maybe we have to distinguish between learning the principal, more Harvard, and the practise, more MIT.

Posted by: info85 | October 15, 2010 9:39 AM
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Yes it still "rules", but look at the the results. I could only send my children to those schoools if we sold our home. But, why should we sacrifice so much and expose them to people who's main goal is to make money and get to the top. My children have greater values that relate to God, Family and Country . Why expose them to that environment? Let them "rule", if they really do. The future of our nation should be in better hands, and my children in better company. Again, look at the results.

Posted by: siervo | October 15, 2010 9:36 AM
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Why does anybody want to be "a leader in this country" ?

What drives someone to want that, to have that ambition ... it may be simplistic, but given a choice of trusting everybody who wants it vs trusting no one who wants it, I go with not trusting any of them.

I didn't trust Bush, I don't trust Obama, and there's not a single person in Congress I'd pee on if they were on fire. I don't care which college sold them their degree.

Posted by: eezmamata | October 15, 2010 8:48 AM
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Going to an Ivy League school appears to be the only way to get on the Supreme Court.

Posted by: MrBethesda | October 15, 2010 8:17 AM
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The elite schools provide the elite classes of our oligarchy the means to perpetuate the status of the elite. The pesky problem with democracy and equal opportunity for all is that the elite is not guaranteed a place at the top for their progeny. The system of elite private schools from Pre-K through high school to feed into the elite colleges provides the gateway. So from birth to college graduation, one would invest about $25,000 a year for school before college and about $50,000 a year for undergrad. The combined tuition from preschool through college of perhaps $500,000 provides an effective gate to the elite that only the elite can afford.

It gets better. For a long time, an undergraduate degree from a elite college was sufficient. But now a graduate degree is also necessary to separate the elite from the rest. Who else but the elite can afford another couple years of education, call it $100,000, after spending $120,000 to $200,000 on an undergrad degree and perhaps $300,000 on primary and secondary education?

It is said that history is written by the winners. Our education system is similar, as it was created for the elite by the elite. Non-elite colleges provide the educated service employees to keep the system going--teachers, accountants, engineers, etc. The system has worked well for the past couple decades, so there's no reason it won't continue to do so.

Posted by: sfpearcy@hotmail.com | October 15, 2010 8:14 AM
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OMG-the first post was a stunner. Sarah Palin went to an Ivy League school??? Was that sarcasm?? I believe, she went to 6 [?] different colleges before she finally got her degree.

I don't think graduating from an Ivy League school has anything to so with leadership per se, except that part of leadership is confidence, which Ivy League people are full of. Leadership qualities are not necessarily tied to education levels.

I have worked with Ivy Leaguers for most of my career and they are a mixed bunch. For the most part they are smarter than average, but that is necessary but not sufficient to succeed in the business world, law, medicine, etc. I know one Ivy Leaguer who graduated at the top of his law school class and washed out of a law firm after his first year. Zero people skills.

Overall if I had the choice of hiring an Ivy Leaguer over a graduate of ASU or the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, I'd choose the Ivy Leaguer.

This teabagger anti-elite attitude extends beyond the Ivy League to anyone with a graduate degree. Ever listen to Glenn Beck? He thinks Jon Stewart is an "elitist" because he grew up in New Jersey in an upper middle class family.

This "we love ignorance" movement is very troubling. Sort of like the "let's kill all the lawyers" attitude.

Posted by: Afraid4USA | October 15, 2010 8:08 AM
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What was it really all about? The vision of John Harvard and Elihu Yale ... it was about access to books ... learning ... knowledge ... alas when someone recently told me of their going to Harvard, I looked them squarely in the eyes and asked " You mean John Harvard College?" "No!" she exclaimed "Harvard!" "Oh," I said. "Do you know about John Harvard?" To me it's about a school library ... a professor can talk the talk ... but the "books" walk the walk!

Posted by: 10boniface | October 15, 2010 8:02 AM
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Posted by: judithclaire1939 | October 13, 2010 7:39 PM

Too many of our "elite" just don't get it. One reason that Sarah Palin is so popular is that she is not a graduate of the Ivy schools...think about it...

------------------

So what does popularity have to do with leadership ability? Zack Efron and Taylor Swift are popular. Does that make them good leaders?

Sara Palin is popular because someone wrote her a good speech and 'she can see Russia from her house.' Jeeze Louise!

Posted by: dlpetersdc | October 15, 2010 2:56 AM
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Mike Crow wants you to think ASU is an elite institution. It's a bunk public school that has below average graduation rates. It's a top party school. Every weekend the Tempe police patrol the area and arrest drunk ASU students. Crow sucks the taxpayer money and hires high priced professors to teach second rate students who are barely literate. ASU has always been a second rare school and always will be. Crow by the way rules with an iron fist and fires anyone who stands in his way. His litigation budget courtesy of us taxpayers is in the millions every year. But the AZ press is fearful of the top dog and never reports on his misgivings of which there are many. Crow was a tyrant and Columbia and he's a tyrant in Arizona. Even the governor won't stop his tirades.

Posted by: whitedebraj | October 14, 2010 1:33 PM
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Who's Michael Crow and why should we care what he has to say about all this? Is he or his institution, ASU, so outstanding that we should pay any more attention to him than hundreds of other faculty members across the country? Crow is one of those people who judge being good simply by size and numbers, since that's the game for ASU, size and numbers. Of course by size and numbers, we know that MacDonalds is the best restaurant in the world, just like ASU is a great university.

Posted by: harrumph1 | October 14, 2010 12:19 AM
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The United States has 310 million people generating $13 trillion worth of goods and services annually. The nation and the economy are simply too big and too complex to be run by the graduates of just a half-a-dozen colleges. It was possible a century ago, but not today.

So what value does a diploma have from an "elite" university? Brand recognition? Instant job network? It is not apparent that the graduate is any smarter than one coming out of a private college or state university.

Critics perceive the "elite education" as a mark of privilege and preferment, not one of achievement. With no "washout rate", the elite school merely becomes a place where it is easy to stay after being hard to get into.

Posted by: WilliamTerdoslavich | October 13, 2010 10:59 PM
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"One reason that Sarah Palin is so popular is that she is not a graduate of the Ivy schools...think about it..."

Or five of the six schools she attended; nor is Christine O'Donnell a graduate of Yale (or Oxford or Princeton, which she also claimed to attend/be accepted to)...

The elite schools serve a purpose in leadership not necessarily because they offer a better education, but almost as a self fulfilling prophecy they get to select the best of the best because they are so sought after. Some will grow through going to college elsewhere and emerge stronger for it, and many of them will prove themselves based on their experiences later; but for entry level positions, or for immediate entry to graduate education, an Ivy/near Ivy education is a good sign of continued excellence of a student, whether the Ivy education itself truly exceeds other universities.

Posted by: kreuz_missile | October 13, 2010 9:35 PM
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I tire of certain poles when the answers are clear. Education, initiative, character and public will are essential for leadership. Leadership is sometimes innate with a propensity towards those with interpersonal, effective communication skills, but may also be acquired. It is more chalenging for the reserved or introspective. Unless the school is non-accredited, in other words has low standards and requirements, elite v. non-elite should be immaterial.

Posted by: mars11 | October 13, 2010 9:13 PM
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Trinity in Washington, founded 113 years ago to educate Catholic women and now a comprehensive university that still maintains the core women's college, is a prime example of a relatively small institution that has had a big impact on public leadership. Our graduates include Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Kansas Governor and current Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Ellen Murray, Ambassador for Nuclear Nonproliferation Susan Burk, former Chief of Staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton Maggie Williams, and numerous federal and state judges, elected officials, school board members and leaders of major nonprofit and corporate organizations. On the corporate side, for example, our graduates include Hearst Magazines Chairman Cathleen Black, thepollingcompany founder and owner Kellyanne Conway, investment guru Joan Payden, and numerous other women leaders in publishing and journalism, finance and investments, and many other businesses, to say nothing of the many lawyers, doctors and other professionals we count among our graduates. Women's colleges like Trinity have educated significant leaders for our society for generations, proving the success of this form of education again and again. We focus on making women very successful by challenging them to develop the self-confidence, communication skills and intellectual firepower necessary for leadership. Yes, we have an "old girls' network" born of the necessity of women's historic exclusion from the channels of power long dominated by male graduates of elite schools. Relationships do count, but most women leaders know that the "network" cannot be a substitute for hard work, exceptional talent, and the tough-mindedness necessary to stay focused on goals.

Posted by: TrinityPresident | October 13, 2010 8:51 PM
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It depends how the leader is chosen. Are any of Pelosi, Reid, McConnell, Boehner, Cantor, etc. from an Ivy League school? I don't think so, and they were chosen by voters. And I doubt the college of the people they defeated was an issue for any of them.

But if there is a normal job vacancy with lots of applicants, who you know may be more important than who you are in getting the job. People who go to the Ivy's (especially Harvard and Yale) have more connections, either through alumni they meet or because the alumni are the selecting officials.

For almost any job, a lot of good people could do the job very well, but if the selecting official went to 'Old Ivy', he will have a natural bias ("I got the job because I am great, and this guy is just like me.") for another 'Old Ivy' grad.

Posted by: ad9inaz | October 13, 2010 8:08 PM
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RE: How important is getting into an elite school if you want to be a leader in this country?

It sure seems to help if you want to be president (even BUSH43 got C's, but he graduated). And it certainly ties one very closely to financial, as well as political, networks that can make a huge difference regardless of which profession you choose.

That any Ivy League education comes with all the political and financial trappings is frankly unfortunate, as those things also have a way of distracting the student from the education they went there to get.

Posted by: armar | October 13, 2010 8:07 PM
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Too many of our "elite" just don't get it. One reason that Sarah Palin is so popular is that she is not a graduate of the Ivy schools...think about it...even our Washington Post is including some reporters who are more like "small" people!
And the Post is allowing the "small" people to comment...yes, some are too small, but that's the way it is...Also, the Post is including more Celebrity News for the small and not so small ...just to bring them on board/bored!

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | October 13, 2010 7:39 PM
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Both Washington and Wall Street are run by Ivy Leaguers. I can't think of two more despised and dysfunctional places on the planet. We should look elsewhere for our leaders.

Posted by: rkfoster04 | October 13, 2010 6:09 PM
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I have no doubt that it takes book smarts to get into Harvard, Yale, etc. But I'm not sure what good it's done for this country lately ... Book smarts and the elite alumni network that comes with attending the Ivies does not translate to great leadership, if you ask me.

Posted by: financialnewsyoucanuse | October 13, 2010 5:25 PM
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