Expropriate Yale

Here’s what I said before and after my interview with Shamus Khan about elite schools on my October 4 radio show. Someone on Twitter asked me to post the comments, and here they are.

First, elite schools. I have some personal experience with them. I grew up in a mediocre suburb in northern New Jersey and went to mediocre public schools. But since I did all the things you’re supposed to do, I got admitted to Yale in 1971 and spent four years there. It was quite a shock to me to confront all those generations of institutional power—Yale was then 270 years old—and a stratum of people I barely knew existed, preppies. People like me had only begun going to Yale in the early 1970s; starting in the late 1960s, under the admissions director R. Inslee Clark, known in classic WASP style as “Inky,” the university began admitting middle class kids from public schools, and women as well. (A few years ago, Clark was revealed to be part of a ring of sexual predators at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx during the 1970s and 1980s.) The legacies, those whose fathers and grandfathers went to Yale and whose names sometimes appeared on buildings, were still there in quantity, but the days when Yale and the other Ivies were mere finishing schools for rich young men were over. They became much more meritocratic (a problematic word worth a show in itself) institutions for ruling class recruitment.

As part of that molding of future leaders, a word such institutions like, places like Yale inculcate the sense, if you weren’t already born into it, that the world is yours for the taking. That attitude came into gross public view with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. My first guest, Shamus Khan, had an op-ed in the Washington Post about that culture. Khan is the author of a book about a prep school he was both student and teacher at called Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School, published by Princeton University Press in 2013. He’s also chair of the sociology department at Columbia. Shamus Khan.



The tales of Kavanaugh’s time as a member of DKE, the gross fraternity, reminded me of the only guy I knew who was a member. Frats had almost died at Yale in the early 1970s; the culture of the 1960s undermined them—though sadly not fatally since they underwent something of a revival during the Reagan years. The major undergraduate achievement of the DKE guy I knew was throwing a burning couch out of his dorm window while quite drunk. That’s Brett Kavanaugh’s set.

I had a great time at Yale, I must say, but it should not exist. It’s too rich, and it is mainly an instrument of ruling class reproduction. Expropriate it, I say, and give the money to broke public universities.


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