In response to “Why it’s good to be an ‘Ivy League Reject’”

I was disappointed and appalled when I read Dr. Bendik-Keymer’s sycophantic and unprofessional letter to the editor in The Observer. I too have heard students say that they were “Ivy League” rejects, though they say this wryly or with amusement, rather than with chagrin. Alas, the letter’s attempt to flatter Case Western Reserve University students fails terribly and reads more like unsolicited, servile and superficial fluff.

While I am sorry that the author had unpleasant experiences at Yale University and the University of Chicago, the letter’s broad generalizations about those institutions read like childish and unprofessional ranting. Calling Yale “corrupt” and bereft of social justice is libelous, as is calling Chicago “abusive.” How is criticizing those academic institutions, their faculty and their students “intrinsically good?” How, again, does condemnation in this way make one a “good person?”

Or is the attempt of the letter merely to curry favor with potential students?

There are lots of great places to teach, to learn, to make friends and to become a good person, and CWRU certainly is among them. There are also corrupt and abusive people at every one of those institutions, CWRU included.

Some institutions (faculty but also students) are known for a relentless pursuit of truth and knowledge. This dream may be a Sisyphean task, a quest for a Holy Grail, or itself an instrument, a skillful means, eventually to be abandoned. Some institutions make this pursuit plausible and possible.

As I have written elsewhere, it is very easy to give banal or trite answers: that a so-called “Great University” provides an environment where “people can grow,” or can be “exposed to other cultures,” or, “can live up to her or his greatest potential.” Instead of offering such boring, predictable and palliative answers, I would argue that a really Great University is characterized by the degree to which it fosters, permits and encourages argument among its members.

Moreover, such worlds ought to be pervaded by “audacious irreverence” rather than by obsequious populist nonsense, as has been portrayed in Bendik-Keymer’s letter at the expense of our academic friends and colleagues at other educational institutions.

Deepak Sarma

Professor of Religious Studies