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Questioning the profundity of America's Ivy League




Excellent Sheep The Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz.
Excellent Sheep The Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz.

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As a former Yale professor, William Deresiewicz sat on an elite admissions committee that thoroughly raked student applications so much so that it left scars and bruises. The applicant needed extracurriculars with quality and quantity (more than six); top scores across categories; evidence of strong "PQs" (personal qualities); a prodigious skill in a niche area; and the undefined attribute of "leadership."

As he writes in his new book "Excellent Sheep," the last one particularly vexes Deresiewicz because he says it's become meaningless. The elite schools are churning out timid and self-serving "careerists," he argues, citing graduation statistics such as Harvard University's 2010 class — half of which lined up jobs in finance and consulting.

Before the meritocracy took hold, Deresiewicz said leadership had meaning among the American elite. He writes:

“The concept made demands. It meant devotion to the benefit of others, not yourself. It called for allegiance to ideals; a commitment to the stewardship of institutions; a code of public service that was something more than a commencement afterthought. The country was being placed in their care and they were expected to a hand it on in better shape than they received it.”

If that concept has changed, is it the fault of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford? What should those schools be doing differently?

Guest:

William Deresiewicz, Author, "Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life" (August 2014, Free Press); Deresiewicz is an essayist and critic.