The only university that counts

It isn’t mine or yours, it’s only Harvard, as far as the New York Times is concerned. Read this thread to see what I mean.

It’s depressing. I’ve talked to so many people who consider Harvard the sine qua non of academia, when I’ve never been particularly impressed with the institution. Not that it’s bad, but this country, and other countries, have so many worthy universities that contribute far more to science and other disciplines…but the NYT, and other media, have created this myth of the superiority of one over-priced private whose primary, notable qualification is that rich people go there. See how skewed the headlines are:

Also telling:

In 2019 35% (7.7 million) of college students attended community colleges.

The New York Times mentioned “community college” 100k fewer times than it mentioned Yale University which enrolls approximately 12k students.

This is a vivid illustration of the problem:

(If you’re not up on the lingo, “HSI” is a Hispanic Serving Institution, “MSI” is Minority Serving Institution, and “HBCU” is a Historically Black College or University. I’m at a public and primarily regional college. Not that NYT readers would get exposed to any of that riff-raff. Really, unsubscribe from the New York Times, don’t bother reading it, it’s a bastion of all the inequity and elitism that is wrong with the US.)

(Also, seriously, they still pay David Fucking Brooks to write drivel?)


  1. says

    Also, in the 1990’s a manager I was friends with was sent by the corporation we worked for to an ‘accelerated Harvard MBA’ program. He confided in me that it was an insulting program. Full of fluffy corporate ideas and not much else.

    Community colleges and the California University system used to cost less than $100 PER SEMESTER and offered more substantive courses than the (at the time) $416 PER CLASS fee of USC.

  2. consciousness razor says

    Not that it’s bad,

    Oh, but it is a bad thing, though. It should be renamed Nepotism University, Inc.

    velociraptor, #1:

    One reason to shit on Yale Law: Clarence Thomas

    I might be willing to give Sotomayor a pass … but Alito or Kavanaugh?

    Eight of the nine current justices went to Harvard or Yale (four each), and over the last several decades:
    — Harvard can claim 13, more than half the total from one institution (Blackmun, Brennan, Breyer, Ginsburg, Gorsuch, Jackson, Kagan, Kennedy, Powell, Rehnquist, Roberts, Scalia, Souter)
    — 6 for Yale (Alito, Kavanaugh, Sotomayor, Stewart, Thomas, White)
    — Only 5 from all others (Barrett, Burger, Marshall, O’Connor, Stevens)

  3. consciousness razor says


    Eight of the nine current justices went to Harvard or Yale (four each)

    And in case it’s not clear, Breyer (Harvard) was just replaced with Jackson (Harvard), so that remains unchanged.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    Considering Clarence Thomas emerged from the messy entrails of Yale,
    it is the LV-426 of legal training.
    Sterilise it with a nuclear strike.

  5. lumipuna says

    OT but can we have a new episode of The Infinite Thread, please? It’s been three months and the current thread has closed.

  6. daulnay says

    Harvard and the other Ivies are not highly rejective or competitive. They are selective – for white legacy students. This paper found that 43% of white students admitted are ALDC students (athletes, legacies, donors, and faculty/staff children). Some of the ‘athletes’ are actually donors (as the bribery scandal showed) and legacies when you dig deeper than the officially reported categories (which is why athletes are included),

    If you are white, but not an alum, this is why your kid was rejected by an Ivy League college. Not competition from some minority, but strong affirmative action for the white WASP social elite, to which you don’t belong (if you did, one of your relatives would have gone to an Ivy League college, and your kid would have a huge advantage). That’s what the Ivies are about, not the “best and the brightest:”.

    The NYT, I suspect, recruits from the same pool, and it seems to me that NPR does as well. Yes, yes, some of their reporting is good, but I often notice the ivy-league-colored glasses that the reporters seem to wear. And that makes them pretty unreliable.

  7. Matt G says

    The best part of David Brooks’ articles is the comments section, where David gets his ass handed to him.

  8. says

    Harvard: “Suck it, Georgetown!”
    Georgetown: “Suck it, Yale and Princeton!”
    All of the above: “Suck it, Stanford!”

  9. gijoel says

    Maybe he’s impressed by the fact that they’ll take anyone if you give them enough money.

  10. says

    Prof. Myers,
    For some reason, I have had the chance to attend a fair number of universities in my time, from community college to a State university to Harvard (where I got my graduate degree) to Cambridge. In my experience, it is almost impossible to really know the comparative value of the education at any given university without having been a student, or possibly a faculty member, there. People who have never been to Harvard rarely have any understanding of what makes it unique; I expect that includes you. I sense a feeling of inferiority in your remarks, which is nothing but the reverse side of the idiots who regard Harvard as some sort of magic place, despite really knowing nothing about it.

  11. says

    Oh, and BTW, PZ wasn’t saying Harvard was bad or inferior; he merely said it got more mention than it should, relative to the thousands of other colleges in the US. Also, you haven’t explained what actually “makes Harvard unique” that us sad Philistines just don’t get. Do you have any clue about that yourself?

  12. jrkrideau says

    I was thinking about politically-connected, international students at Harvard and suddenly thought: I wonder if one of the reasons that the sons and daughters of important politicians in other countries attend Harvard is because they cannot get into the highly competitive universities in their own countries?

  13. nomuse says

    Not the only place, either. I used to work at a theater where it was an open secret; “You want to design lights in this house? Have a degree from Harvard.” Apparently being merely from, say, Boston University couldn’t possibly prepare you to design lighting for such an important, 350-seat regional theater…

  14. says

    Just a little dose of irony: David Brooks’ father taught for 40 years in the same regional-public-comprehensive university English department I do. So his access to big ideas, academic libraries, and the middle class leisure to muck around in them for his whole life is the result of the exact kind of institution he and his employer sneer at.

    Oh. Just another “I got mine, so f*** you conservative. Nothing to see here!

  15. garnetstar says

    @14, in my experience, you really have to attend such institutions to fully understand how a name means nothing at all. Nothing. Neither “Harvard” nor “Cambridge” nor “MIT” nor “San Diego State” nor “Holyoke Community College” tell you anything about the quality of the education a person had or their ability.

    So, newspapers that treat certain names as guarantors of great quality are sorely mistaken.

  16. says

    Raging Bee,

    I say the same thing for any university: it is very hard to understand exactly what it has to offer if you haven’t experienced it yourself. I found a number of things unique about Harvard and Cambridge too, not all of them good, but all of them helped me understand what, besides age, cause them to constantly produce world leaders in their fields. Unfortunately, there is hardly room to explain this in any detail here, particularly to someone like you, who obviously doesn’t want to hear about the actual experience of someone there. You can go on denying that there is anything unique about these institutions, and their graduates will go on winning Nobel prizes and other such honors. That is perfectly fine, as far as I am concerned.

  17. seachange says

    I have made no attempts to discover if any of the people I have met with claims of Harvard degrees actually went there. But every single person I have met who did make this claim cannot do algebra. Some of them are missing the basic number theory needed to to arithmatic.

    This no longer surprises me.

  18. consciousness razor says

    You can go on denying that there is anything unique about these institutions, and their graduates will go on winning Nobel prizes and other such honors.

    Honorable people aren’t proud of being parasites or of hoarding everything for themselves. And at least when they’re educated properly, they care about what they’ve learned. Did they teach you anything special that the rest of us can’t know? (Just to be clear, I’m looking for something that’s not ineffable and might have some significance in real life.)