Thursday, June 11, 2009
One of my favorite professors in college was perhaps one of the more pompous individuals I have yet to meet. And that's saying something. As a sophomore in a class filled with seniors, I took a class with Dr. P, we'll call him, titled "Personality, Power, and Politics."
The last week of class, he invited our class up to his cabin - chateau if you will - for a wine and cheese seminar (I kid you not) upon one condition. Prior to the class letting out, he asked whether anyone was under the age of 21. I winced, raised my hand, and endured the wrath of pernicious eyes waiting to tear me a new one.
Dr. P pulled me aside after class, gave me a good-ole-boy hand around the shoulder, and told me as an early high school graduate, he empathized with my predicament, and offered to let me into his home despite college rules to the contrary. Born that afternoon was my first, albeit unlikely, mentor.
In discussing world leaders, during a class break, one day, I asked him whether he deemed it likely that a student from Emerson - or any non-Ivy academic institution - could ever become the President of the United States or, for that matter, a Justice of the Supreme Court. Dr. P thought it unlikely. He cited statistics offered much like in a recent New York Times article, 'An Ivy-Covered Path to the Supreme Court,' at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/us/politics/09ivy.html .
In short, 70 percent of Supreme Court justices graduate from undergraduate, graduate, or law school in Ivy league schools. That percentage is much higher when factoring in 'fringe' Ivy's - such as the inferior law schools at Georgetown and the University of Chicago (I kid, and digress). Moreover, the last four U.S. presidents graduated from either Yale or Harvard.
Despite obviously wide ideological differences after exiting these institutions ( See Scalia v. Ginsburg), there is a perception of qualification that is engendered simply by graduating from these prestigious colleges. And, perhaps for good reason. But for every creative argumentarian such as Scalia, whose critics duly recognize the quality of his writing, there is an absolute Ivy dud (See Ivy graduate Clarence Thomas, who last asked a question at an oral argument on February 22, 2006).
Much has been made of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina and only third woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court. As a product of a Hispanic background - my mother and sister both being born and raised in Ecuador - I could not be more proud of the heritage, life experiences, and qualifications of Judge Sotomayor.
Diversity in 2009, though, needs to go beyond, while still being inclusive of, racial and gender qualifications. The notion that highly qualified potential Supreme Court nominees are somehow superior because of SAT and GPA scores attained in high school is laughable. Conversely, public universities and private-non Ivy league institutions are, or should be, insulted given the high quality of instruction that can take place across the country. Educational diversity is also more reflective of the tableau vivant that stretches across the landscape of this country.
So let's celebrate the nomination of Judge Sotomayor. At the same time, the idea of uniformity along any vein seems dangerous, if not a poisonous attribute for a coequal branch of government of, by, and for the people.
Posted by Andrew Wishnia at 9:12 PM