Saturday, March 31, 2012

Unlikely Ivy?

Unlikely? By what criteria ADG? I don’t know. In the slightly more egalitarian and meritocritized world today, is there really a “likely Ivy”? Does legacy still count as a variable? Legacy…certainly it should count for something and I’m assuming that family and close friends who’ve attended and will vouch and offer  a well-placed letter and phone call might still be a tie-breaker.
I’m also of the mind that today’s Ivy admission criteria, regardless of who your mama and daddy might be, requires a stellar academic performance record. And I’m convinced that leveraging your legacy for admission through the courtesies of family and influential acquaintances may get you in—but it won’t keep you in. 
Harvard didn't fill its Freshman class until 1934. Prior to then, if you had he dough and a half-decent academic record, you were in. But see the aforementioned regarding staying in. George Frazier got thrown out and had to beg his way back into Harvard. His best revenge was coming back and winning the Bowdoin Prize.
George W. Bush may go down, perhaps accurately, as one of the five worst Presidents in American history. His malaprops are legendary and his judgement suspect. One tends to question therefore, his intellect. At least I do. But of this I’m assured…his Bush and Walker antecedents might have made certain his admission to the Harvard Business School but he had to do the work once he got there.
My bias also says that unlike the male WASP ascendancy (I’m gonna ponder the idea of male WASP “ascend” versus “descend” and when the trajectory headed the other way—I feel another blog story coming on—stay tuned) of decades past, today’s Ivy credentials don’t necessarily make THAT much easier, your professional and personal post graduate journey—post graduate in the sense of striking out in the world with just an undergraduate degree.  Surely an Ivy undergraduate degree with a respectable GPA makes grad school admissions at the better schools a bit less onerous, no?  What I’m stumbling to say in too many words is that the Ivy ticket probably doesn't guarantee as much anymore. I can hear it now...from some haughty Ivy grad reader..."Oh, ADG, you are mistaken. The currency, the cachet...the tickets...the assurances are still guaranteed and are accepted. It's subtle don't you know. Oh no, you wouldn't know. That's right." Sure, there are subsets of Ivy minions who are palpably government and Wall Street for example. And the CIA for a half century was nothing more than Saint Grottlesex--Ivy extended. Quite the Shetlanded Weejuned Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight,actually. However, my bias is that the other venues where the Ivy tickets remain currency are only places that Ivy folks would give a damn about anyway.
And does academic accomplishment at an Ivy assure good judgement and the life skills necessary for success? Of course not. I left the pharmaceutical industry in 1996 and joined a boutique consultancy founded by Dr. J. Sterling Livingston who  received his Masters and Doctorate in business from Harvard. He then taught there for over thirty years so if there was anyone who was a proponent of formal education…and an Ivy one at that, it was Dr. Livingston. By the time I joined his shop, Dr. Livingston was in his eighties but was still so freakin’ smart—so lucid—so present, that he intimidated the shit out of me. Folks, I’m not bragging too much—I know that my gifts are modest. But I generally don’t cower in the presence of anyone and I’m not nervous when speaking to five hundred people. I allowed my IQ to drop by half when I had to engage with Dr. Livingston one-on-one. Why? The man was uber in every sense. Orphaned during the Depression, he was as hardscrabble--life skills wise--as he was Ivy degreed.
Ok, so where am I going with this? Hell, I don’t know. Shut up. Oh…So Dr. Livingston was a huge proponent of academic training but he was the first to espouse the lack of guarantee therein.  In his legendary Harvard Business School article The Myth of the Well Educated Manager, Livingston declared that… “Formal education programs emphasize the development of problem-solving and decision-making skills, but give little attention to finding and exploiting opportunities or to dealing with potential problems. Effective managers, on the other hand, share characteristics that cannot be taught in a classroom: they need to manage, they need power, and they have the capacity for empathy. Furthermore, managers develop leadership capacities by first hand observation of their environment and by an assessment of feedback from their actions. Managerial aspirants must be taught how to learn from their own first-hand experiences.” Other academics have, from Livingston’s original work, further posited that“…the arrested career progress of MBA degree holders strongly suggests that those who get to the top in management have developed skills that are not taught in formal management education programs and may be difficult for many highly educated managers to learn exclusively on the job.”  True dat.
I begged, bullshitted and cried my way into graduate school at Hopkins. And I didn't begin ‘til I was twenty-nine years old. I wouldn’t have stood a chance if I’d tried to go directly to grad school after my beer soaked seven years of undergrad at the KA house. And I’ve always said that I value the years I spent working part-time in a men’s haberdashery as well as time on my paternal grandparents’ farm as factors equal to my formal education—life skills development wise.
So the title of this drivel and any half-baked premise I could make from it are flawed from the get-go. And I won’t even try to shore it up. What I’ll say is that as I pondered who’d attended the Ivy League; I simply scratched my head and said “who’d a thunk it?” But that wouldn’t have made for a good title.
I think that the reason I kinda think these first few examples are more likely Ivy is because they’re from the era of deportment and swathing that just seems to convey more easily the aesthetic and morphological stereotypes of Ivy Style. Oh, and a lot of these folks received an undergraduate degree in English or Literature. I think the ideal “education combo” is an undergraduate degree in English and a graduate degree in a more specialized discipline. First up… Jack Lemmon: Phillips Academy and Yale
Cole Porter: Yale, then on to Harvard Law School. Roommate of Dean Acheson. Porter dropped out. Acheson finished. Porter went on to be Secretary of State. Acheson wrote show tunes.
Jimmy Stewart: Princeton
Sam Waterston: Groton and Yale

And on to the “who’d a thunk it?” crowd…based solely on my stereotypical biases…
Jimmy Smits: Cornell
David Duchovny: Princeton
The little man in the boat...the Love Boat...Fred Grandy: Harvard
And Ron Livingston of Office Space fame: Yale
Edward Norton: Yale
Tommy Lee Jones: Harvard
John Krasinski from The Office: Brown
Paul Giamatti…the stellar but sometimes too angst laden actor: Yale
Oh and here’s a non-Ivy collateral to my story…Kris Kristofferson. Not an Ivy guy but a Rhodes Scholar none the less.
And I’ll close this out with my favorite discovery. One Frederick Hubbard Gwynne. Groton--then Harvard ’51.
A member of the Fly Club and a fondly remembered bon vivant.
Harvard Lampoon President …
…and a cappella crooner with the Harvard Krokodiloes.
But I mostly remember him as the affable and anything but scary Herman Munster.

Ok, that’s it for now. I’ve gotta get the finance and transportation machine up and running pretty soon. Princess LFG is with me this weekend and she’s gonna wake at any moment. With demands. Oh, and why aren’t there any women in my story? Because all women—any women—who are Ivy spawned—are likely.

Onward. ADG II. Shrubbery League.


Richard M said...

Lovely post! Fred Gwynne was actually a fine actor. Of course, GF and Cole set the scene for some of us. And one must mention the Porcellian....

ADG said...

Richard M. ... Thanks. I was just thinking the other day that some of my recent edgy, angry, foul mouthed musings have probably--and rightfully so--a bit to "down market" for you! So I'm glad this one resonated in a good way.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, but it points out very quickly the difficulty we have separating the many meanings of Ivy League. Are we talking academic excellence, WASP privilege, or nice clothes? Going to school with the sons of captains of industry, even grandsons of captains of industry, might make somebody talk and walk like them, but it couldn't do much more. Even buying the clothes won't make you somebody's cousin. Ask Tom Ripley. The mythos, if you will, really springs from the Kennedy era, though Mr O'Hara surely did his share. The ivies started getting harder to get into along about the time Other People started expecting to get in. Granted, it really is mostly achievement these days- and many an alum complains when his grandchild can't make it- but there goes your Tradition, your Privilege, and your Nice Clothes.

It is interesting that you show so many actors. For a long time, the difference ( well, one difference) between the US and the UK was that smart people there went to prestigious schools and became famous performers ( the Pythons, the Blackadder crowd, et al.) while smart people here mostly became WRITERS for performers. The back rooms at Letterman and SNL are full of Ivy guys.

But here is the deeper point, I believe, and it comes from Faulkner, not Fitzgerald or O'Hara: If my (great) grandfather knew your (great) grandfather, I am going to do what I can to help you, socially, professionally, etc. That is as true for WASP society in the mid twentieth century as it is for the South for the last 200 years or so. The lucky ones can even span from one group to the other- Southern boys and girls seem to be forever straying North and making friends and then returning home.

You allude to some who benefitted from connections where Meritocracy might have culled them. Moral Codes and the like might always have been mostly lip service, but I can cite at least one late 60s Georgetown/early 70s Yale Law grads who got in on grades who might have thought a little more about morality and less about lips...

Sumter Colleton Marion

PS, it is raining in Camden today.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

I'm scathing, as you know, about the so-called 'Ivy League' institutions and those who hold them in awe. I simply don't share it. And none of the individuals pictured particularly interests me. Big deal. Must be a Trad thing.

The older I get, the more I recognise that what really matters is who one's parents are, who one's People are, what sort of blood flows through one's veins. Blood will out.

In the end, it usually does.

Anonymous said...

In addition, LBF asked me to remind you that miscegenation is flourishing in our time, and he calls upon all white people to protect his heritage!

Anonymous said...

You just never know, do you? Loved this.


Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Anon @08:44 ~ Feel free to pollute your bloodline. My descendants will thank you for it.

Brohammas said...

As one with absolutely no pedigree and also as one who questions the importance of "blood", I should point out that a certain selective institution that I have intimate knowledge of, has an acceptance rate of less than 10% overall. Strangely, somehow, the acceptance rate for the children of legacies is over 60%. This is not by mistake.
So I guess I would say heritage does matter in outcome, but a better question would be if it should.

Hilton said...

Is the following Ivy?

ADG said...

Ok y'all settle down. I've allowed a couple of snipes back and forth-including a counter retortalation from Laguna Beach Himmler! Now don't get your feelings hurt if I don't publish comments that further swizzlate the dooky storm.

I've created a lovely, insightful and erudite treatise on whitey and his beloved institutional thang. Don't be jumpin my story with y'alls's junky ass op ed hoochie coochie nonsense.

And remember...from one of my favorite movies..."...the Jew-is using-the black man-as leverage. What are you gonna do about it? Whitey."

Anonymous said...

Legacy still matters a little (only if you give, duh), but actually much less than being a recruited athlete. (I read this somewhere reputable, and recently.) That explains the mysteries of the rich parents with dud kids who get shipped off to lacrosse camp for months/years at a time, as well as the children who suddenly develop intense interest (i.e., fear of mom and dad) in fencing or rowing or falconry or whatever at the beginning of high school.

Ivy League now means little more than you worked your ass off, probably at knifepoint, for at least four years of high school. And I don't think it ever meant much outside of HYP. Anyone who's been on campus lately can confirm that there's no Ivy League culture any more. And that's fine; there's not much to be made off of the WASP despondency these days. As to the captains of industry and the super-rich (a different demo altogether), their children can't be bothered to do the work required for admission, and end up at places like Trinity. I think the real Ivy League is now at the small liberal arts colleges, and may always have been.

Anonymous said...

There's an "Ivy League Culture" and there will always be one. Just because you only saw dreadlocked hippies or badly-clad oafs on your last trot across Brown or Yale's campus doesn't mean that the blazer and Brooks set doesn't exist. The sons and daughters of "WASP elites" are still very visible and still dressed like their predecessors were 10, 20, 30, 40, or even more years ago.

Columbia '13

Anonymous said...

"I hate Illinois Nazis."

Anonymous said...

Columbia '13: blazers and Brooks don't a culture make--rather, they can be found at pretty much any school. I'm guessing you were one of those exiled to shot-putting camp or something for your childhood. I promise: it gets better. BTW, my family first attended your claimed institution over 100 years ago, not that we're keeping track.

--Anon 2:52 (NYU '08; rejected Columbia admission offer, '04)

Anonymous said...

Columbia? Please. Thank God for Penn or you'd be on the bottom of the Ivy pile.

Anonymous said...

As for "places like Trinity", the hardest thing several decades ago was the admissions process. Little has changed since the 1980s; I am told that today two admission tracls exist- one for those requiring financial aid and one for those not requiring aid. I do agree with Anon. 2:52 in that the Ivy League presence is stronger at the small liberal arts colleges, particularly in New England.

Trinity '87

poloist12 said...

@ADGMar 31, 2012 01:26 PM Ahhhh; he says with a big smile on his face, now that some funny shit! "Laguna Beach Himmler!" Also, don't know the flick, but how true, "...the Jew-is using-the black man-as leverage. What are you gonna do about it? Whitey."

This was a great post. I too don't understand this nonsence about the Ivies. My father attended USNA, and went on to have a very good Marine Corps career. He started like you on my Grandfather Ranch in East Texas. I know nothing about your family history,but his was rather humble beginnings, and there's something to be said about that. My mother on the other hand, her story is a little different. Her father was a business man who held several degrees, and was quite affluent for a black man in his day.

I guess the point that I'm tryng to make is this. It really doesn't matter if you are WASP, or what "Blood" you have running through your veins. It's about what we call here in the South; "Try" if you have it you'll do well in whatever you do, if not, well then you'll just end up at the bottom of the heap. OH, and I knew about Tommy Lee Jones. Infact he begain playing polo when he attended Harvard I think, before that he was a good ol' Texas Team Roper like me.

poloist12 said...

OH, and since everyone seems to want to post Grad dates.

UNM, 93. It ain't Ivy, but I loved it just the same.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

"Himmler"? Oh noes! I may as well hang up my keyboard now, because the famous dandy (and father of LFG and friend of Alan Flusser) known as ADG has just called me a, gasp, nazi. :(


ADG said...

Fogey...I didn't call you a Nazi. Himmler? I was referring to Delontae Himmler--my best friend in elementary school.