Financial TimesFinancial Times

The moral bankruptcy of Ivy League America

By Edward Luce

05 Jul 2023 · 3 min read

Editor's Note

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in higher education has little practical impact. The real issue is the perpetuation of privilege among America’s elite universities.

If Rome’s oligarchs could have travelled to the future, they might have learned a trick or two from the US Ivy League. It is hard to think of a better system of elite perpetuation than that practised by America’s top universities. Last week the US Supreme Court ended affirmative action in US higher education — a ruling mourned by the heads of each of the eight Ivy League schools. Dartmouth even offered counselling to traumatised students. An ancient Roman might have thought something radical had changed. Little could be further from the truth. 

Of the 31mn Americans aged between 18 and 24, just 68,000 are Ivy League schools undergraduates — about a fifth of a per cent. Of these, a varying ratio are non-white beneficiaries of affirmative action. Many of those are from privileged black or Hispanic backgrounds, as opposed to Chicago’s South Side or the wastelands of Detroit. That is the basis on which the Ivy League lays claim to being a deliverer of social change. It is an optical illusion. In that respect the Supreme Court has done America a favour. Any disruption to this status quo is a plus.

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