Ivy Leaguers, and the institutions themselves, have been given much; many Americans turn to them for leadership.. And yet, they have often failed catastrophically.
Americans have for generations lauded our Ivy League universities and granted their graduates top leadership positions in our government, almost by default. Eight of the nine current Supreme Court justices are Ivy League graduates.
As Manhattan Institute President Reihan Salam (a graduate of Cornell and Harvard Law) recently wrote, “To defenders of America’s elite universities, the notion that they are anything other than the crown jewels of our stratified educational system amounts to sacrilege.” And indeed, these elite institutions have brought much acclaim and prosperity to our nation. Harvard alone leads the world in Nobel laureates.
As Stan Lee’s Peter Parker puts it, “With great power comes great responsibility.” But the underlying principle is much earlier found in Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Ivy Leaguers, and the institutions themselves, have been given much; many Americans turn to them for leadership, for direction. And yet, like all of us, they have often failed catastrophically. It is as if poison has been injected into their brains, and indeed it has.
Six of the seven original “Ivy League” colleges founded prior to the American Revolution were founded or initially dominated by Christian ministers. All gradually dropped their faith-based foundations and all too often followed the political aberrations of the day.
An early sign of poisoning the Ivies came via the progressive movement of the early 20th century, whose leaders included President Woodrow Wilson. As president at Princeton from 1902 till 1910, Wilson raised huge sums and transformed the quiet institution into a major university, doubling the faculty almost overnight.
But Wilson was a racist, a fact that Princeton finally dealt with in 2020.
In stripping his name from Princeton’s school of public policy, current Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber explained: “Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time. He [re]segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades…. He… added to the persistent practice of racism in this country.”
Wilson’s racism also led him to strongly support the eugenics movement. Historian Allen Cornwell states that, “Wilson, like Adolph [sic] Hitler and others, whole-heartedly believed in the science of eugenics. Eugenics was a field of science created for one and only one purpose, and that was to legitimize racist beliefs.” And Wilson used his political clout to turn his beliefs about race and eugenics into legislation.
Wilson was by no means the only Ivy League supporter of these horrendous views. Knowledge economy strategist David Vickrey reminds us that, “The seminal work of the American eugenics movements” was Yale graduate Madison Grant’s 1916 book, The Passing of a Great Race, which extolled the superiority of Nordic stock and warned against its “corruption” by Jews, Blacks, Slavs, and others. In 1930 Adolf Hitler sent Grant a letter of thanks and appreciation.
According to Vickrey, Harvard was “the center of eugenics research.” Harvard-trained biologist Charles Davenport was the leading figure in the American eugenics movement, and a key advisor to the American Eugenics Society. Early Hitler advisor Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl was also “a Harvard man through and through,” says Vickrey.
As racism led to eugenics, and thus to Nazi Germany, many American academics were early champions of Adolf Hitler (while others were enamored by Josef Stalin’s Communist regime).
In his 2009 book The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses, historian Stephen H. Norwood singled out Harvard for its failure to understand the dangers posed by Hitler and the Third Reich. Genocide expert Hilary Earl, in her review, points out that Harvard President James Bryant Conant “openly sympathized with Nazi Germany.”
According to Dr. Earl, Norwood’s work reminds us “that not only do universities not always inoculate us against poor judgment and immorality, but …the best and most prestigious institutions may in fact be the most dangerous for society.”
Norwood’s book, she admonishes, “is a cautionary tale about the role of universities in American culture and the power and influence they wield.” Over and again [Norwood] demonstrates that “resources and intelligence do not necessarily translate into political insight or moral fortitude.”
Sociologist Jerome A. Chanes notes that Norwood;s book “provides an indictment of Hitler symphathizers in power at the heart of American education.” He found “a chilling pattern in the Ivy League and the Seven Sisters, as well as in some state universities and Catholic colleges” that ran from callous indifference to concrete instances of complicity with the Nazi regime. The aftermath of World War II led to a lot of soul searching.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and it is the oppressive, opportunistic government of China that today’s academics refuse to criticize and indeed with which they have colluded. China has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into American universities — much of it hidden. Its Confucius Institutes have been labeled as propaganda conduits.
At the same time pseudo-scholars are promoted at Ivy League and other cherished institutions who espouse socially disruptive identity politics, critical race theory (and the hate-inspiring 1619 Project), and a cancel culture whose most recent idea, put forth by University of Iowa history professor Sarah Bond, is that entire academic fields — notably the classics — be “dismantled and burned” in order to smother white supremacy. Shades of the torching of the library in Alexandria!
Penn alumnus and journalist Cornelius Range, curious that his alma mater censored his article on reeducation camps in Xinjiang Province, cited reports that Penn, Harvard, Yale, and many other U.S. academic institutions had reportedly failed to disclose hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign donations that impacted their own research and support for human rights.
Freedom of speech has been under attack at U.S. colleges for quite a while. In 2009 the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) called out 270 of 364 universities for having policies that significantly restricted free expression by students and faculty. A follow-up survey in 2015 gave “red lights” to Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, and Cornell.
Heritage Foundation scholar Mike Gonzalez unmasks identity politics in his new book, The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics Is Dividing the Land of the Free. Identity politics undermines the entirety of “E pluribus unum,” the idea that the United States is founded on the principles of equality of humanity and that by sharing that common humanity we can create a unity that celebrates and honors our diverse histories.
National Association of Scholars President Peter Wood links the 2020 violent protests in America’s cities to the shutting down of free expression of ideas on American college campuses. Wood says that street protest and campus protest have three important connections. First, the activists who show up in both places; second, the ideology crafted on campuses and exported to the streets; and third, the fiery anger ignited on campuses and intensified by the street mobs.
Wood notes that many of these riots appear to be planned, organized, staffed, and scheduled — not spontaneous uprisings, but run according to well-rehearsed scripts. And who writes those scripts? The campus activists who have been taught that gaining power by any means necessary is a legitimate path to “social justice.”
Wood warns that, “Those of us who cherish Western civilization need to hold higher education accountable for the systemic change it has actually accomplished, in the form of the misguided people in the streets, some of whom have an Ivy League diploma in one hand and a Molotov cocktail in the other.”
In his inaugural address, President Joe Biden stated that, “We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect.” At the same time, the entirety of academia, media, and others who have long preached “tolerance” of unpopular views continues to excoriate half the U.S. electorate while ignoring the fact that Antifa on Inauguration Day marched in Seattle in opposition to the President their violence helped elect.
The late historian (and Harvard graduate) Dr. J. Rufus Fears often stated that while politicians rule by instilling fear and division, statesmen must exercise “four critical qualities: a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision, and the ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision.” Or, as Isaiah [29:18] put it, “Without a vision, the people perish.”
The Vietnam war was perhaps the beginning of America’s questioning of its often sordid, often noble past and the principles upon which this nation was founded. In conversations with Dr. Vickrey, he cited the Vergangenheitsbewaltigung movement in which postwar Germans examined their nation’s Holocaust and suggested that the U.S. face up to slavery, genocide of Native Americans, and other sad moments in our own history.
But we cannot do that while people are pointing fingers, playing “gotcha,” shouting obscenities, even inflicting violence on each other. Instead, we need statesmanship of the kind Ivy Leaguers have been taught to exhibit.
Up till now, though, far too many have tacitly (or openly) celebrated the poisoning of our national discourse via the censoring of political or even ordinary speech, which further empowers the divisive forces of the cancel culture that seeks to end our 400-year experiment in championing human freedom (that admittedly began when only the few were truly free).
The “crown jewels” of our educational system ought to be adhering to their mostly Biblical roots and demonstrating the kind of leadership they are surely capable of. But if they refuse to lead, then we must all pray that someone else will rise to that immensely important challenge. It is time for the doctors to get the poison out of all our institutions.
Duggan Flanakin, a contributing writer for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, is a veteran journalist and policy analyst with a Master’s in Public Policy from Regent University. He has served as editor of Progressive Vision, the newspaper of Judeo-Christian Restoration Ministries, and as Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout.
Image: Kennetth C. Zirkel