‘Credentialed, Not Educated’

by David French

I love how Glenn Reynolds describes the cultural elite. On Wednesday, I spoke at the University of Kentucky College of Law on that very topic. At the invitation of the UK Federalist Society (an extremely active and dynamic group, by the way), I addressed the dramatic overrepresentation of Ivy Leaguers on the Supreme Court, in the presidency, and elsewhere in the elite corridors of power. My points were simple:

First, since the Ivy League is essentially an ideological monoculture — with professors almost exclusively on the Left and students overwhelmingly so — students won’t be exposed to a full range of credible political, cultural, religious, or economic ideas.

Second, when conservatives or others dissent from the ideological orthodoxy, they are often reflexively dismissed, sometimes jeered and mocked, and even on occasion censored.

Third, the first two factors tend to push Ivy Leaguers, conservative and liberal, into a set of default assumptions about the world around them — assumptions that are shared by their classmates and professors but have frequently proven to be not just wrong, but destructive.

Finally, students at large state universities can often receive a better education than Ivy Leaguers because the faculty (though still largely liberal) is materially more intellectually diverse and — crucially — their peers are much more ideologically and religiously representative of the general population. At state schools, both conservatives and liberals are much more likely to be substantially challenged by their professors and peers.

My first questioner was a member of the UK law faculty (and apparently a Yale Law grad) who deemed my presentation a “joke” (his manifestly contemptuous response inadvertently helped prove my point about the nature of debate in the Ivy League). He said so in part because he could name two or three moderate to conservative faculty members at Yale Law School and because Yale has a vibrant Federalist Society. In his mind, I suppose, a couple professors and one club are all a school needs to provide a well-rounded education.

But if I’m a joke for seeing a problem, he must think the same of Yale’s own Peter Schuck, who decries not just Yale’s lack of intellectual diversity, but the lack of intellectual diversity in elite-law-school education as a whole. It’s hard to argue with his key assertion: “[A] teaching institution that constructs an ideologically one-sided faculty, whether liberal or conservative, seriously abdicates its pedagogical responsibilities.   

Many thanks to the UK Federalist Society for the invite. I’ll come anytime you call — especially if you can hook me up with basketball tickets.