The best way to control is to make people mindless. The best way to keep them mindless is to keep them illiterate and unaware.

Education is the base of any development. Compare the rich nations with the poor ones, and the striking difference in literacy levels tells the story. Education stimulates curiosity to know, to investigate, to learn, to create and to debate.

That is why places of learning are so important. That is why schools and colleges are the preparators of knowledge.

The American universities have become the beacon of the opportunities to know, to grow, to research and to develop. Names like Harvard, Stanford, Columbia are awe-inspiring. They present the possibilities of ultimate opportunities. This image brings immense power. And that is why the tag of elite universities has started exposing the game inside.

The present unrest in the American universities has really taken the world by surprise. The Universities themselves seem to have been taken by a shock. They are so adorned by the décor of a hall of fame alumni who bestow funds on them that student unrest, and that too for so long, and that too on being labelled as hypocrites, is rather embarrassing.

The Economist in its January 4th 2024 publication wrote “like all of America’s top universities, Harvard has taken on an unhealthy role in the US economy and society. America’s best universities need to return to their original mission: producing academic excellence, not just signalling it”. This is some statement for a University which produces ministers and presidents in politics and CEOs, etc., in top corporates.

The previous controversy of their Dean Larry Summers and recent resignation of President Claudine Gay have laid bare the moral and academic crisis in US universities. This has led to a new wave of resistance in the hitherto fairytale bliss of these places of excellence.

The recent furor on the University campuses has laid bare the following power struggle of these seats of learning:

1- Superpower universities— The US universities are positioned as a class apart. The top are known as “Ivy League”. The true face of these 8 powerhouse universities is revealed through a film Exclusion U.

The admissions scam in an earlier Netflix series had revealed the bribe racket of wealthy families getting their children in these universities. The Netflix documentary “Varsity Blues” shows the scam of Competitive Admissions by exposing an independent Admissions Counsellor Rick Singer’s network, known as the “Key”. Rich parents would donate thousands of dollars to the Singer Foundation of Rick Singer, who in turn would send money to University coaches, etc. These coaches would give false accreditation to rich applicants on an athletic basis.

The documentary Exclusion U exposes the discrimination of the universities to get the wealthy and privileged in. These elite kids will then be placed in power broker positions, creating this vicious cycle of the University superpower status. The endowment fund of these Ivy League universities is approximately 193 billion dollars. “They also serve as a “pipeline for who will be ruling us,” notes Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution and author of Dream Hoarders.

2- Chip on the shoulder output— The class apart image of these universities is what makes them the elite club. The whole process of admission, education and then placement is elitist.

The world is tough and diverse. Post Pandemic EQ, i.e., emotion quotient is more in demand than ever. The Ivy League school’s exclusivity makes the graduate unfit for a world that is now crying for inclusivity, diversity and equity.

The attitude of knowing it all and doing it “their” way is creating a great appetite for students from a more humble background. These public University students are used to accommodating all situations and backgrounds in their way of working and living. “Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is really important,” says Laura Bier, a San Diego-based management consultant.

“Kids who’ve been to a public school have had a broader diversity of friends from different backgrounds, teachers from different backgrounds, and are better able to be nimble in those situations.”

A recent survey published in Forbes on 29th April 2024 evidenced this trend. In a corporate survey, 42% are saying they are more likely to hire public university grads and 37% saying they are more likely to hire grads of non-Ivy League private colleges than five years ago. This has dented the Ivy League’s monopoly.

3- Student journalism through digital activism— According to Mckinsy and Company, 58% of students rely on digital means to know and decide. Some students spend half of their free time on social media.

The student of today after the hardships of online and secluded years of Covid-19 is more rebellious than a normal teenager. They seek disturbance diffusers and are rebels in search of causes. Social media provides them with the dopamine opportunity.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in pleasure and motivation, is released when we engage in pleasurable activities and its effects are powerful. Social media with its gaming, videos and variety gives this relief to the youth.

When the student protests started, the government described them as acts of anti-Semitism. Under this pretext, congressional hearings of college presidents were held and Harvard’s President resigned. The police have been rounding off hundreds of students who are protesting. This state oppression has triggered more protests thanks to social media.

While the government can control electronic media, social media is uncontrollable. These prestigious universities are held in high esteem as they have newspapers published by student journalists.

These journalists have done an excellent job of covering it through student radios, blogs, WhatsApp groups, Facebook, Instagram. Columbia University has the famous “Daily Spectator” publication. As the police hounded and rounded off students, these publications became a live media for the world.

The young mind loves to defy control. The exploring mind hates to be curbed. The curious mind breaks all censors and barriers. That is why the current protests are nothing the world has ever seen. The normal censors that suppress the coverage are futile in front of thousands of students’ adeptness on making everything viral.

Ivy League is more of the G8 Club, where these universities become arms of the power pullers. Recent events have stripped these universities off their proclaimed values. Columbia proclaims that they want to produce global citizens who are creative, curious and ethical. This has been severely criticized by their student body.

The young are fearless and unapologetic. They are demanding for their President to resign. Written boldly in their daily newspaper, this sentence creates a defining moment. “This is your legacy,” the Spectator wrote, “a president more focused on the brand of your university than the safety of your students and their demands for justice.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Andleeb Abbas

The writer is a columnist, consultant, coach, and an analyst and can be reached at [email protected]


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