The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Harvard Prof Bemoans the Impact of Higher Education

Last year, I reviewed Freddie DeBoer’s book The Cult of Smart, an plea for egalitarianism based on the notion that people don’t deserve their good or bad traits. I didn’t find it convincing. A few months later, another book with precisely the same premise appeared, The Tyranny of Merit by Harvard philosophy professor Michael Sandel.

I don’t find Sandel’s case for egalitarianism any more persuasive than I did DeBoer’s. First and foremost, he simply assumes that equality should be the overriding concern. I don’t see why it should be, and nothing in his book persuades me otherwise.

Nevertheless, Sandel has some interesting observations about higher education in the U.S. In today’s Martin Center article, I discuss them.

He’s perfectly correct in writing that credentialism has become “the last acceptable prejudice.” Many Americans look down their noses (and this is especially true among “progressive” elitists) on those who don’t have fancy college educations. More than that, it’s OK to discriminate against them in employment. You can’t legally post “No persons of color need apply” but you can post “No person lacking a college degree need apply.”

The problem is that Sandel doesn’t see the connection between our governmental policy of massively subsidizing college attendance and the result of a glut of college-credentialed people entering the labor force. Rather than advocating a change in that, Sandel wants to see colleges and universities (particularly the most prestigious ones, like Harvard), drop all admissions preferences for legacies, athletes, and children of rich donors.

I’m with him on that, although it would do almost nothing to undo the damage caused by our “college for everyone” mania.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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