The Corner

White House

Presidents and State Universities

Alabama fans stand for the national anthem before the Arkansas-Alabama game at Bryant–Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., November 3, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

For a while now, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen (usually our dog) that liberals think the grown-up world is just like college, while conservatives think it’s just like high school. To liberals, the world after graduation is an ever-changing bunch of friendly, caring, intellectually curious people living in a place with lots of grass and buildings, where really smart folks run things and everyone spends their time doing interesting stuff, and if any disputes develop, you get together and work them out (except for conservatives, they don’t count, in fact they barely exist), and the money to pay for it all comes from . . . somewhere. To conservatives, the world after graduation is a big, drab building that smells of disinfectant where you spend all day doing things that need to be done while following arbitrary rules, and even if you hang around long enough to become a teacher, you still have to deal with assistant principals and school boards, and the money to pay for it all comes from the taxpayers, i.e. you.

Of course, there are colleges and colleges. As the indispensable Iowahawk has pointed out:

And indeed, private colleges have dominated presidential higher education since the days of John Adams (Harvard). Just as matter of interest, how many presidents do you suppose have shared the great American experience of earning a bachelor’s degree at a state university? (Pause here if you want to guess.)

[brief intermission]

Still there?  The answer is three: Gerald Ford (Michigan), Lyndon Johnson (San Marcos State, now Texas State), and James K. Polk (North Carolina).*

Now, I won’t put forth the fallacy that our president should be a regular guy or gal; a president should be outstanding, and in recent decades, outstanding students have increasingly tended to enroll in elite, highly selective institutions, or at least in small, close-knit liberal-arts colleges (or both, as with Obama). And to be sure, public colleges can be just as crazy as private ones.

But there’s something to be said for the leveling effect of grappling with a vast and faceless bureaucracy, sitting in cavernous classrooms with hundreds of students, and making friends from widely varying income levels and social and academic backgrounds. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a president, now and then, who had lived through four years of that.


* Three early presidents went to William and Mary, which is now a state university but in the 18th and 19th centuries was private. Three other presidents went to service academies, which are public universities but not state universities.

Fred Schwarz — Fred Schwarz is a deputy managing editor of National Review.

Most Popular

White House

The Trivialization of Impeachment

We have a serious governance problem. Our system is based on separation of powers, because liberty depends on preventing any component of the state from accumulating too much authority -- that’s how tyrants are born. For the system to work, the components have to be able to check each other: The federal and ... Read More

‘Texodus’ Bodes Badly for Republicans

‘I am a classically trained engineer," says Representative Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, "and I firmly believe in regression to the mean." Applying a concept from statistics to the randomness of today's politics is problematic. In any case, Hurd, 42, is not waiting for the regression of our politics from the ... Read More

In Defense of Tulsi

Some years ago, a liberal-minded friend of mine complained during lunch that Fox News was “stealing” his elderly parents. “They should be enjoying retirement,” he said, noting that they live in a modest but comfortable style with attentive children and grandchildren to enjoy. “But instead,” he sighed, ... Read More

Not Less Religion, Just Different Religion

The Pew Poll tells us that society is secularizing -- particularly among the young -- and who can deny it? That is one reason that the free expression of religion is under such intense pressure in the West. But it seems to me that we aren't really becoming less religious. Rather, many are merely changing that ... Read More