Sunday, December 28, 2014

The "Meat" of the Matter: For-Profit Peace Corps and Unmet Needs

by Dr. Ellen Brandt

As related previously, the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project's first priority for 2015 is getting the eight Ivies - followed by the rest of the top-tier university community - to set up plans for salvaging the economic fortunes of their own financially-at-risk graduates and alumni, many of whom are over age 40 and all of whom belong to the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" population.

As an adjunct to this part of the project, we hope we can find a permanent office for Bring Back the Meritocracy! on one of the eight Ivy campuses or as part of an All-Ivy office focused on financially-at-risk alums, possibly either in New York or Washington, D.C.

Our second big priority for 2015 is launching the first of what may eventually become several "new-old-style" venture capital funds focused on experienced and highly-educated entrepreneurs over the age of 40, working across a broad spectrum of business sectors and industries.

We will launch these venture funds in conjunction with respected and experienced venture capital groups - likely headed by or with principals who are themselves over age 40 - or 60 - or 80. And we will base the funds created within the offices of these venture capital groups, with Bring Back the Meritocracy! providing assistance, administration, publicity, and - one believes - a steady stream of competent, highly-educated, highly-experienced founders and early-stage entrepreneurs who hope to get funded.

The "Meat" of the Project

Exciting as the above endeavors should prove to be, they are admittedly not the "meat" of the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project in a long-term sense.

That "meat" - the overall project's main focus for what we hope will be literally decades to come - is two-fold: 1) encouraging and helping to initiate long-term research projects studying the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in the United States and abroad and 2) applying that research by getting the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" population - estimated to number at least 400 million individuals worldwide - back to working at their full intellectual and creative capacity, thereby helping not only themselves, their communities, and their countries, but the entire world economy as well.

The long-term research component of Bring Back the Meritocracy! will be aimed at persuading distinguished researchers at universities, foundations, think tanks, corporations, international organizations, and media groups to start doing the studies we believe now urgently need to be done and assisting these researchers in every possible way.

The job creation portion of Bring Back the Meritocracy! will focus on launching various "For-Profit Peace Corps"-like entities, aimed at matching the current extremely large Talent Pool of the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" with "Unmet Need" development projects in the U.S. and abroad - crucially-needed development projects in manufacturing, infrastructure, education, healthcare, and social services.

Clearly, both of these long-term aims are complicated and difficult to achieve, requiring the support and assistance of a wide range of groups and constituencies.

We will take the first steps on this long and significant journey in 2015.

Now that we've outlined our Agenda for the coming year,  we once again urge readers who like what we're doing to send copies of the three-part Agenda blog sequence to others in their networks they believe should know about Bring Back the Meritocracy! and its positive implications for top-tier universities, higher education, venture capital, job creation, and international development.

We promise to give readers frequent updates on our progress over the coming months.

The next blog in this series will talk about the relationship between Meritocracy and Political Centrism, placing the core democratic value of Meritocracy within the context of our political life and the concept and collective vision of the American Dream.

Agenda 2015, Part One: All We Want For Christmas - and Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and Winter Solstice: The Meritocracy Agenda, Part One:

Agenda 2015, Part Two: Venture Capital Looks Backwards - and Forward: Time to Fund the Mature and Highly-Educated Once More:

Read about and consider joining with us in the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project, a non-profit, non-monetized, non-partisan, and non-controversial long-term project helping the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in the U.S. and abroad.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Venture Capital Looks Backwards - and Forward: Time to Fund the Mature and Highly-Educated Once More

by Dr. Ellen Brandt   

The second high-priority Agenda item for the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project in 2015 is persuading top-tier venture capital groups to launch "new-old-style" venture funds, focused on founders and early-stage entrepreneurs over the age of 40, and participating in the administration of such funds once they are launched.

We're calling these funds "new-old-style," because far from being an aberration, they represented the historical norm up to a very few years ago, when venture capitalists seem to have lost their collective sanity - or at least, their collective common sense - and began to focus way too large a part of their efforts on funding extremely young entrepreneurs, some still in their teens.

In conjunction with what can only be called a major age-shift in funding practices, the venture community also began collectively to shift much of its funding to software "apps," including gaming, in the process draining substantial funding from other worthy sectors and industries.

We are far from the only ones calling attention to what we believe has been a massive misallocation of capital. And that's a very good thing for the proposed efforts of Bring Back the Meritocracy! in this arena.

We've already received indications of strong interest from respected venture capitalists and expect this part of the project to appeal especially to venture capitalists who are themselves graduates of the Ivies and other top-tier universities - our main target "audience" - as well as those who are themselves over age 40 - or age 60 - or perhaps age 80.

Although we hope the launching of these "new-old-style" funds will be tied to the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project name, we believe it makes sense to base them at the offices of the venture capital group or groups which decide to work with us.

I would very much like to be named an administrator of such funds, working to publicize their existence and what they are doing and helping to guide their progress. But not being a venture capitalist myself, I don't wish to participate in the raising or administration of capital, nor in making decisions about fund allocation, although I'd love to be an observer.

In fact, like many of those who will read this article - and a large proportion of those in the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" group - I have an entire portfolio of ideas for new enterprises I would myself like to found and have funded at some point.

I believe many mature and highly-educated business people have been neglected and frustrated so long as potential founders, there will likely be an avalanche of interest and enthusiasm from sophisticated, experienced, creative, talented, and deserving entrepreneurs over age 40, as we work together to correct this grievous recent imbalance in capital allocation and venture funding.

And 2015 is the year we begin.

The next blog in this series describes the real "meat" of the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project  - our long-term plans for research and job development. While these components of the project will require much concerted effort and the building of wide coalitions of participating groups, we hope to begin the journey towards their establishment in the coming year.

Agenda 2015, Part One: All We Want For Christmas - and Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and Winter Solstice: The Meritocracy Agenda, Part One:

Agenda 2015, Part Three: The "Meat" of the Matter: For-Profit Peace Corps and Unmet Needs:

Read about and consider joining with us in the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project, a non-profit, non-monetized, non-partisan, and non-controversial long-term project helping the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in the U.S. and abroad:

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

All We Want For Christmas - and Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and Winter Solstice: The Meritocracy Agenda, Part One

by Dr. Ellen Brandt

There still seems to be some confusion about what tasks the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project is going to tackle first - because they are easiest to tackle first - and which components of the project will require substantial coalition-building before we can move forward with them in any significant way.

So we thought it might be a good idea - at this point in the blog series and at this point in the project - to outline Bring Back the Meritocracy!'s two highest-priority Agenda items for the New Year 2015, followed by a discussion of the longer-term tasks we hope to begin tackling in the next twelve months.

We're going to put forth our Agenda as a three-part blog sequence, so readers can easily copy and send individual parts of the whole to those in their networks and circles who they believe might be interested in and need to know about the project. Those friends and acquaintances may include university administrators, professors, and researchers, as well as elected officials, foundation, think tank, NGO, and corporate executives, and media and Internet leaders.

This blog covers Priority Item One on the Bring Back the Meritocracy! 2015 Agenda: Persuading all eight Ivy League administrations to set up on-campus offices focused on helping their own financially-at-risk graduates and alumni, many of whom, we believe, will prove to be over the age of 40 and all of whom will fall into the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" category.

We also hope the Ivies will agree jointly to set up an All-Ivy Office focusing on financially-at-risk graduates and alums, which might also serve as our central office for the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project.

This office can be based on one of the eight campuses or, for purposes of convenience, in New York or Washington, D.C. As the project's Founder, I would naturally hope to be asked to administer this office and am willing to relocate to do so.

Among the major tasks of these offices, both on- and off-campus, in 2015:

*** Telling everyone they are there! Ivy alumni have to know they are finally welcome to be alumni, even if they are going through difficult times financially. The Ivies - and all the other schools which will subsequently launch such programs - desperately need to be proactive about this growing problem right under their noses, rather than dawdling and having to react only after the problem has turned into a bona fide worldwide crisis.

*** Setting up pools of (eventually substantial) funds from existing endowments or brand-new dedicated endowments which can grant immediate cash to alumni for extreme financial emergencies and later offer them more substantial funds under loan programs akin to existing student loan programs - albeit more efficient.

*** Offering emergency medical and dental services to alumni at low or no cost - programs already offered, in many cases, to "underserved populations" which have no real ties to our universities other than geographic proximity.

*** In certain cases, providing emergency housing on campus for alums in dire need, who would otherwise go homeless.

*** Working creatively to make sure no Ivy League alum, of whatever age, stays in a position of extreme financial distress for an extended period of time. This means helping each and every at-risk alum find lasting, productive work somewhere in the world to provide for his/her continued ability initially to survive and eventually to thrive once more, based on her/his education, experience, intelligence, and talents.

*** Working with each university's faculty and research staff to launch creative long-term studies which will identify at-risk alumni around the world - who they are, where they are, and why they are - and how top-tier universities can work both individually and collectively from this point on to ensure that in the future, there will be fewer and fewer "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" individuals - until there are none.

*** Coming up with a plan to replicate the eight Ivies' successes with the above program Agenda and extend it, first, to other top-tier universities in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world and subsequently to all universities and colleges in the U.S. and abroad.

Again, readers should feel free to copy and circulate this three-part blog sequence to anyone they wish, in the hope of getting greater and greater exposure for this important Agenda.

Part two of the blog sequence continues with a discussion of Bring Back the Meritocracy!'s second high-priority Agenda item for 2015: the formation and launch of "new-old-style" venture capital funds for founders and early-stage entrepreneurs in the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" group.

Agenda 2015, Part Two: Venture Capital Looks Backwards - and Forward: Time to Fund the Mature and Highly-Educated Once More:

Agenda 2015, Part Three: The "Meat" of the Matter: For-Profit Peace Corps and Unmet Needs

Read about and consider joining with us in the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project, a non-profit, non-monetized, non-partisan, and non-controversial long-term project helping the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in the U.S. and abroad:


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

And On the (Painfully) Thoughtful Side . . .

(A Serious Addendum to Alma Merit: Meritocracy and Universities) 

by Dr. Ellen Brandt

With the publication of On the Lighter Side . . . , a humorous addendum to Alma Merit: Meritocracy and Universities, we hope we've shown we can laugh at ourselves and that we wish the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project to proceed in a cooperative, collaborative, and inclusive fashion, shunning rhetoric for rhetoric's sake or the sowing of discord, when there badly needs to be a new consensus and a unified vision for our collective alma maters.

One part of this new vision should be recognizing, rather than denying, that a very large group of "Best and Brightest" alumni, generally through no real fault of their own, may now be teetering on the brink of extreme financial distress.

This is especially true of "Best and Brightest" alums over age 50, many with multiple degrees and distinguished careers behind - and potentially in front of - them.

These alums, particularly those who are part of the Baby Boomer generation, only in our 50s and 60s and numbering over one billion individuals worldwide, have borne the brunt of every serious economic dislocation of the past 20 or 30 years: outsourcing, downsizing, managerial shrinkage, housing crises, market crashes, and the hollowing out of both manufacturing and Main Street small business.

One can, of course, add extreme and unjustified bias to the mix, since this country has lately witnessed a  highly organized campaign of anti-Baby Boomer rhetoric - closely akin to propaganda used to disparage the dreams and the progress of other groups in the not-very-distant past: religious minorities, racial and ethnic groups, and, of course, women, despite their being a clear majority of U.S. citizens. (For my latest discussion on the ongoing propaganda campaign against Boomers, see Anti-Boomer Rhetoric: Time to Can (If Not Ban) It, Once and For All)

This is a topic we'll discuss further in upcoming articles on Meritocracy and Political Centrism and Meritocracy and the Baby Boomers.

In this brief piece, however, we'd like to get the ball rolling by talking about some of the things the Ivies and other top-tier universities can and should do right now to help their own At-Risk Graduates and Alums.

We believe strong action is required immediately, before what is now a problem escalates into a crisis and disaster, not only for those individuals directly involved, but for top-tier schools themselves and their continued position of respect and utility in our country and our world.

Here, then, is my personal take on some of the things the Ivies and other top-tier universities need to do as quickly as possible:

*** It Has to Start with Research: As we all know, action within the world of academia needs to be backed up by cold, hard research.

So let's do some! In fact, a lot. Let's shine the coldest and hardest and most far-reaching light possible on the problem, discovering just how many top-tier university and professional school alums are at the point of struggling - many unsuccessfully - to survive, let alone thrive, in this Brave New World dominated by the Dark Pools of Capital and their harsh agendas.

Let's focus on alumni of all generations. But let's especially look at top-school alums over age 50, researching who they are, where they are, why they're struggling, and what kinds of help they believe they need.

Perhaps we should establish an all-Ivy center of research examining At-Risk Graduates and Alums. Or perhaps individual schools should set up their own research centers or projects. Perhaps there should be nationwide or worldwide projects focused on the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed." And perhaps major foundations and think tanks or international agencies, governmental and NGO alike, should be doing this kind of research.

There are many possibilities, and we need to start exploring them.

*** Open on-campus centers for At-Risk Graduates and Alums:  I'd like to see every top-tier university in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world open its own office or center on campus, whose target population is financially-struggling graduates and alumni of all generations, with a special focus on over-50 alums.

Make these centers welcoming and non-judgmental places, where At-Risk Graduates and Alums can discuss their situations, connect again with their university communities, and be recognized and validated once more for what they truly are: well-educated, intelligent, talented, and creative individuals who have lost their way in a purely financial sense, often because of economic trends and forces which in no way should impact their ability to rebound and resume productive and successful lives.

*** Publicize what we do:  The Ivies and other top-tier universities should embrace these efforts proudly, showing that as in other areas of research and action, they are being proactive and on-the-offense, not reactive and on-the-defense.

As on-campus centers and comprehensive research projects are initiated, make sure the entire university community - and the world-at-large - knows about them. Write and talk about them in university publications and other channels of communication. Get the story out to media outlets in the U.S. and abroad. Influence both major parties and local, state, and federal governments to approve of, embrace, and possibly participate in these efforts.

*** Get immediate, concrete help to At-Risk Graduates and Alums on the edge of disaster: Here's something the cadre of Mega-Donor financiers can do for their very own intellectual peers, the "under-served population" in their midst, too long unacknowledged and, in fact, totally abandoned.

Set up pools of emergency funds of various kinds, which At-Risk Graduates and Alums can apply to draw upon when faced with clear financial disaster, like the loss of their homes or lack of money for such "frills" as food, heat, electricity, and the like. Preferably, set up these pools of funds as low-interest loan programs, akin to student loans - albeit perhaps better managed.

*** Set up additional programs to deal with medical or dental emergencies: Top-tier universities boast some of the finest medical and dental schools in the world. Low-cost or free programs providing medical or dental care have long been available to "under-served populations" located geographically close to our alma maters, but not actually connected with them. Yet ironically, such programs have not yet been made available to destitute or struggling At-Risk Graduates and Alums. We need to correct this imbalance right now.

And it might also be worthwhile to set up emergency housing programs for "Best and Brightest" graduates on the brink of homelessness - perhaps on campuses themselves.

*** Get At-Risk Graduates and Alums back to work: Of course, when the emergency stage is past, the best thing top-tier schools can do for their At-Risk Graduates and Alums is to get them - every one of them - back working productively and earning enough money, if not to thrive, at least to survive.

Do so in creative ways, showing that top-tier universities deserve their status as bastions of innovation in political and economic policy and far-reaching social programs.

We have started to discuss some creative forms of job creation in our Bring Back the Meritocracy! project, still in its initial stages.

For instance, we are calling for the formation of one or more for-profit Peace Corps-like entities, tasked with matching the superb pool of the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" with all those "unmet need" development projects at home and abroad - in infrastructure, manufacturing, education, healthcare, and social services - which everyone always talks about, but no one does very much to implement.

Very soon, we hope to have a concrete agenda for re-launching the kinds of venture capital funds which existed just a few short years ago: focusing not on uneducated teenagers with catchy software apps, but rather on experienced entrepreneurs in the prime of their lives, many over age 50 and from top-tier university backgrounds.

Not only do we expect these kinds of new-old - or is it old-new? - funds to be very helpful in getting over-50 founders back on our nation's center stage, we expect them to be both profitable to those who back them and a source of renewed energy and pride among At-Risk Older Alums, especially those from "Best and Brightest" top-tier university backgrounds.

But clearly, our Bring Back the Meritocracy! project is not the only possible "hook" on which to base programs to get our At-Risk Graduates and Alums back earning money and out of crisis mode. We strongly encourage the widest possible discussion of creative and innovative and collaborative ways to get this particular ball rolling.

*** It's crucial to dispel any stigma attached to being "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" or, more broadly speaking, highly-educated but in financial distress.

At-Risk Graduates and Alums should no longer have to feel that they are somehow unworthy Graduates and Alums, because their pockets are no longer "deep;" because they have somehow failed to "play the game properly;" or because - in a surprising number of cases, which need to be documented via hard-nosed research someday - they have been callously targeted as victims by many kinds of financial predators.

The Administrations and Trustees of top-tier universities need to understand that all the new buildings they're erecting; all the sports and recreation and arts facilities they're touting; or all the endowed professorships and fellowships in the world won't help our alma maters' reputations and standing or earn us public and political support, if we're a few short years away from the possible spectacle of armies of the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" haunting the world landscape and proclaiming that the Thugs are, indeed, in charge, while Meritocratic values can no longer prevail.

We urge our beloved alma maters to begin to take action before it's too late. Right now!

Please also see Alma Merit: Meritocracy and Universities


On the Lighter Side . . . , a humorous addendum to Alma Merit: Meritocracy and Universities

Sunday, September 14, 2014

On the Lighter Side . . .

(A Humorous Addendum to Alma Merit: Meritocracy and Universities)

by Dr. Ellen Brandt

I knew our just-out story, Alma Merit: Meritocracy and Universities, would ruffle a few feathers among those with a stake in preserving the (unfortunate) status quo and preventing top-tier universities from returning to their (recently abandoned) Meritocratic core values. But I may have underestimated the reaction.

Within hours of publishing the story, I may or may not have received the following letters, which I now share with readers for their edification and amusement:

***** Dear Ellen Brandt: Yes, we Libertarians have criticized so-called top-tier schools for failing to succeed in their only real purpose - producing Do-ers, who can Do what they Do to everyone in sight. Our Do-ers need to Do what they Do, because if they didn't Do it to us, who would? Yours sincerely, Jon E. Tremain

***** Ms. or Mr. Brandt: How typical! Pretending there are Ivy Leaguers struggling financially, when everyone knows that immediately upon your graduations, every last one of you people is given several million dollars, a McMansion in the suburbs, and lifetime membership in the Dark Pool of Capital Cabana and Swim Club. You're all puppetmasters, marionette-masters, karate-masters, chess grandmasters, and masters of the solar system, galaxy, and universe, including Brooklyn. I have your number - Yes, literally, I have your number,  because I am a very good hacker, and you better watch out. Anonymous, Anonymous Pro-Progressive Proselytizers (APPPs)

***** My dear Dr. Brandt! What a terrific article. We enjoyed it immensely here at the Dark Pool of Capital Cabana and Swim Club - so much so, we wish to offer you a complimentary lifetime membership to our main facility, 79 stories under lower Manhattan.

Please do attend our orientation meeting and group swim for new members next Thursday morning at 11 A.M. When you get to the anteroom - it will be pitch dark - take off all your clothes and anoint yourself with the sweet-smelling substance in the large amphora. (No, of course, it's not blood. And Yes, that is our club song playing in the background, but it is absolutely not the theme from Jaws.)  Beale Zebub, Esq., Club President

***** Hi, Ellen: I am delighted that you mentioned our important work at Meerkat Amalgamated Funds, Ltd., in your compelling story. You may be interested in hearing about our latest contributions to the world of higher education, which are outlined in the attached newsletter. We are now lead or senior donors to 378 projects at 299 universities, colleges, and technical schools, in 107 countries, plus Mercury and Saturn. And we expect nothing in return, other than occasional help with licenses, patents, key pieces of legislation, and a few minor wars and invasions, which you'll agree is only fair. Please let me take you out to dinner the next time you're in Luanda, Asuncion, or Thimphu. Best regards, Algernon Fitzalgernon, Founder and Chairman

***** Dr. Brandt: We don't know where you heard about it, since the project is still under wraps. But Yes, indeed! We at Capybara Consolidated Fund of Funds, Ltd., are about to donate private planets - well, technically planetoids - to all eight Ivy League schools, plus Stanford, M.I.T., the University of Chicago, and 18 top-ranked schools in Europe, Japan, and Singapore. It may be a few years before recipients, their faculty members, and key donors can enjoy these gifts, but we're sure they'll appreciate knowing that they are being reserved for their future enjoyment.

Perhaps if you write a follow-up to your original article, you will kindly mention us, rather than our friendly rival, Meerkat Amalgamated. And please let me take you out to dinner the next time you're in Casablanca, Port Moresby, or Iqaluit. All best wishes, Earnest Fitzearnest von Earnest, Chairman and Founder

***** Dear Ellen: As a former college teacher, I hope you did not mean to imply that being the holder of a professorship endowed by a financier, working in a department funded by a financier, in an office contributed by a financier, with furniture and books and computers and lighting fixtures provided by a financier would make one in any way dependent on such a financier, nor biased in any way, shape, or form towards the interests or agendas of such a financier.

Absolutely not!

Jack Blue-Green, Ph.D., Roberta and Robert Robinson-Roberts Professor of Interdisciplinary Disciplines, Department of Cloud Computing for Physical Therapists  

***** Ms. Brandt: How dare you?!!! Saving the Purple Millipede is clearly a top priority for the world right now, as we in Hollywood - and Bollywood - and even Dollywood - appreciate. The entire cast and crew of the upcoming blockbuster-to-be, Palladium Man 3: Return of the 12-Toed Zombies, will be donating one full percent of their salaries and/or percentage cuts towards this extraordinarily vital cause. And you coddled Ivy Leaguers should be doing the same. Bradd Mc-Z, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer, and auteur

***** Ellen, We were happy to be mentioned in your story and sent copies of it to our entire graduating class of 1983 - even the dropouts.

However, we have now decided to move up from the Urchin donor level to the more prestigious Geoduck donor level, where we understand we will have access to the private planetoid about to be donated to our school by Capybara Consolidated. In fact, we are already making plans to hold our 40th class reunion there.

In light of this change in our donor status, we have also legally changed our names. George and Greta Geoduck (formerly George and Greta Urchin)

***** Dr. Brandt: Thank you for mentioning our significant international project, co-funded by 17 firms at "Careful Funds Which Care to Care," providing better school lunch programs throughout the  island nation of Tuvalu. This is an important project to our particular firm, since we are now extremely active in the surrounding Tuvaluan Strategic Basin, although we are not yet at liberty to say what we are doing there. Suffice it to say, there are national security implications. Best wishes, Jane Crabbe-King, Dugong Amalgamated & Consolidated, Ltd., South Pacific Division

***** Hey, Brandt! We didn't read your story, but we saw the title and are not happy about it. Meritocracy is Elitist and Evil. Universities are Elitist and Evil. Professors and  researchers and administrators are Elitist and Evil. And students and alumni are Elitist and Evil. Plus, we hear you like Baby Boomers, which is even worse, because they're not just Elitist and Evil, they are TO BLAME. For absolutely everything.

We hate you. A lot. In fact, oodles. Joan E. Tremain  (Non-Anonymous Pro-Progressive And Libertarian Proselytizers, NAPPALP)

Oh, my! Well, I guess reactions like these go with the territory, if you are hoping to make things better.

Now that we've softened our readers up, by proving we can laugh at ourselves, please proceed to some serious - in fact, dead serious - suggestions about what top-tier universities need to do as the first steps towards protecting their most At-Risk Graduates and Alumni and showing that Meritocracy begins at home.

Please see:

And On the (Painfully) Thoughtful Side . . .

Friday, August 29, 2014

Alma Merit - Meritocracy and Universities

by Dr. Ellen Brandt

When top-tier universities fail to embrace Meritocratic values, their very reason for existence comes into question. And it's happening right now.

It's become a frequent phenomenon the past few years, accelerating since the Great Crash of 2008-09 focused the sharpest of sharp spotlights on the gaping economic chasm between the very, very few who are very, very rich and everybody else everywhere on earth.

Every week or two, a major publication or TV news show comes out with a story disparaging top-tier universities in the strongest of terms, with the author or commentator declaring that he (it's usually a he) would never upon pain of death send one of his offspring to an Ivy or other top-tier school - despite the fact that he went to one of them himself and maybe taught there as well.

These "we hate elite universities" screeds usually fall into one of two distinct patterns, depending on the political orientation of the writer or speaker.

Critics with a supposedly Libertarian (too casually branded as Conservative) focus are generally upset because their alma mater or multiple maters "aren't preparing graduates for the real world" - meaning, it turns out, as the story or broadcast unfolds, that many top-tier graduates are not earning as much money; founding as many app-de-jour startups; or getting as much attention in the business media as graduates from second- or third- or eighth-tier schools - or people without college degrees at all.

But many supposedly Progressive critics believe the exact opposite is true: that Ivy and other top-tier university grads are, to a woman or man, the Evil Puppetmasters who have taken all wealth and power unto themselves, splashing delightedly in Dark Pools of Capital, while the 99 percent of 99 percent remain stranded on the shore, mired in despair and crawling towards economic Armageddon.

What these two seemingly disparate approaches have in common is that they are both, at base, vocational arguments. They posit the hypothesis that the core purpose of a top-tier university education is producing a graduate who will make more money - and via that money wield more power - than those who attend less prestigious universities or don't go to college at all.

Some see this supposed "vocational edge" of top schools as positive, as do the Libertarian critics cited above. Some see the supposed vocational advantages of a top-tier education as negative and unfair, as some Progressive critics do.

But critics from both sides of this essentially false debate are clearly deep believers that top-tier universities are, have always been, and always will be part and parcel of a Thug-ocracy of Wealth for Wealth's Sake.

Whether they're in awe of this Thug-ocracy of Wealth and the power derived from Wealth - or whether they hate it and want it dismantled - both groups of vociferous critics now consistently and insistently link the Thug-ocracy of Wealth for Wealth's Sake with top-tier universities in the U.S. and abroad.

Those who are in awe of Wealth for Wealth's Sake have lately become almost deafening in their demands that if the Ivies and other top-tier schools cannot produce a steadier stream of "one-percenters," they are simply of no use to anyone. Shut them down and turn them into diploma mills, specializing in the few skills that appear to be relevant these days, like coding, hacking, and gamification.

Now, I'd hope that most of my fellow Ivy Leaguers and graduates of other distinguished institutions of higher learning in the U.S. and abroad would disagree strongly with the vocationally-oriented arguments of both admirers of the Thug-ocracy and those who detest it.

I'd hope that all of us - alumni, matriculants, administrators, teachers, parents, and friends - would dismiss the vocational thesis by proclaiming that:

*** The purpose of a top-tier university education is producing graduates who are well-educated in the broadest possible sense, people who will make a difference in the world as scholars, creators, and citizens.

*** The task of a top-tier university education is helping students discover, develop, and refine their innate intelligence and talent, so they can put this intelligence and talent to work in the world after they graduate.

*** Alumni of today's finest universities have a value to the world far beyond accumulating Wealth for themselves and their companies. Their value to the world depends upon their hard work, diligence, and creativity in applying their intelligence and talent to the various endeavors they decide to pursue, on whatever stage they choose to pursue them.

*** Highly-educated and broadly-educated people are the world's most precious commodity, because they have the ability, as they gain skill and experience, to transform the world around them and make it a better place.

Yes, I hope that's what everyone is proclaiming. But I'm no longer sure, nor are many who will read this story.

In the past several years, believe many alumni, students, teachers, and administrators alike, our beloved alma maters have shown signs of losing their way. And in losing their way, they may be en route to betraying the faith so many generations of Americans and other world citizens have had in them as bastions of scholarship, civilization, democracy, and the general good.

In a previous story (see Meritocracy Has Eleven Letters, Not Four), we talked about accusations that top-tier universities have been playing fast and loose with "legacy" admissions policies, favoring less qualified offspring of wealthy alumni over more qualified applicants without such legacy credentials.

As we stated in that story, we do not believe such accusations are valid, based on either the statistical or anecdotal evidence. Alumni themselves would almost certainly rise up in outrage if such "legacy cheating," favoring their wealthiest peers, was found to exist at their own schools. If even a hint of this kind of corruption is found at any top-tier university, it needs to be rooted out immediately.

But other trends involving the Mega-Wealthy do seem to be increasing the past few years. These are disturbing trends - anti-Meritocratic trends - and our university communities need to have the courage to discuss them, to debate them, and if necessary, to eliminate them for the sake of our alma maters and their important place in the world.

In the wake of my Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation series five years ago and since launching this current blog series and the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project this year, I have talked to or corresponded with literally tens of thousands of fellow Ivy grads and alums of other top-tier schools at home and abroad. Here are some of the trends which disturb them, highlighting the "Thug-ocracy versus Meritocracy" issue:

*** Far too much space and/or airtime in university channels of communication has been devoted to sometimes painfully gushing stories about Big Donors and their efforts to "give back" to their alma maters by endowing classrooms, dorms, parks, sports stadiums, zoos, space stations, private planets . . . . OK, I made up the last three, but you get the picture.

And Yes, this emphasis on an exalted cadre of Ultra-Donors is new. There always were a few fabulously rich alums or friends of our schools who left big bequests and gave their name to a laboratory or library or professional school. But these worthy benefactors stayed in the background and rarely called undue attention to themselves - nor did administrators nor anyone else fawn over them.

Perhaps it's just an unfortunate extension of the same worship of celebrities and media-anointed "thought leaders" that has plagued the developed world's culture the past few years. Perhaps reality TV producers are already working on "The Real Donors of Dallas/Nagasaki/New Delhi" or "Idol Philanthropist," which will let viewers vote for their favorite financier's favorite college building.

But maybe it's something a tad less funny - and a tad more unsettling.

***  Of course, many I've talked with believe there is suddenly way too much effort devoted to fund-raising - period. It seems seven out of eight pieces of mail or E-mail one receives from one's alma mater these days is a plea for donations; a summary of donations; a "special tear-out supplement" about donations; or one of those very annoying lists of fellow alumni donors, dividing them into Giant Squid, Octopi, King Crabs, Geoducks, and Urchins - or some similar scheme meant to encourage you to get out of that selfish Urchin category and move up to the Octopi pool, where three of your former roommates are swimming.

The possible excuse here is the extreme suffering which numerous university endowments  - and those who ran them - went through in the turbulent economic times just past. The scuttlebutt is that even some top schools looked Ruin in the face - and they clearly didn't like it.

But the emphasis on hard-sell fund-raising once again raises the spectre of alumni being valued for the size of their pocketbooks, rather than their distinction in other facets of their lives.

*** Part and parcel of the Celebrity Donor syndrome is an extraordinary new habit of naming things - pretty much anything and everything - after them. This seems to be a sore point among a clear majority of top-school alums, judging by the volume - and vehemence - of commentary in the "Letters to the Editor" and guest editorial sections of alumni publications.

The name-it (brand-it?) mania has strayed very far from the major gifts province of yore - i.e. recently yore. Besides naming or re-naming such things as specialized professional schools, libraries, stadiums, and mass scholarship programs (like it or not, that's always been with us), we're now seeing every inch of space - concrete or intangible - plastered over with perpetual reminders of whose targeted endowments are paying for it.

Is there any scholarship, fellowship, internship, or professorship that isn't currently the subject of financial bragging rights? Is it just a matter of time before individual desks, the beds in dormitory rooms, dishes in the cafeteria, and possibly chalkboards, staplers and paper clips are acknowledged as the gift of some well-heeled alum or another?

Already Chloe-Zoe Smith-Jones, promising undergraduate, has been awarded an Algernon Fitzalgernon scholarship (named for the chairman of Meerkat Amalgamated Funds, Ltd.) to matriculate in the new department of Cloud Computing for Physical Therapists, where she will study under such luminaries as the "Roberta and Robert Robinson-Roberts Professor of Interdisciplinary Disciplines" Jack Blue-Green. Young Chloe will live in the Allison Wombat Dormitory; eat in the Class of 1978 Javelin & Key Cafeteria; and attend concerts in Peter Piper Pickedpepper Hall, where she may sit in balcony row 7C (endowed by Katherine King Crabbe, a King Crab-level donor), before noshing at intermission on pate sandwiches and sparkling water, compliments of George and Greta Urchin (Urchin level donors).

Perhaps none of this will affect young Chloe, psychologically, ethically, or otherwise, as she moves through her academic career and on to the rest of her life.

Or perhaps it may.

*** For some alums - and matriculants, teachers, administrators, and parents - part of the uneasiness with Mega-Wealthy Donors per se is where the overwhelming majority of these Donors come from.

In those days of yore - i.e. recently yore - top schools' biggest benefactors tended to be those who had made their money founding major manufacturing or services companies or perhaps by inventing something important. In general, then, these Moguls were legitimate Moguls, whether or not one liked a particular one.  They were people who had come by their assets in what might be called a Meritocratic manner, because they'd done something important that had benefited their fellow citizens and the world around them.

That seems to have changed abruptly within the past (very) few years. All of a sudden, 70 or 80 or 90 percent of many top schools' Mega-Donors come from just one sphere of endeavor - and that sphere of endeavor is the sphere of Finance.

Overwhelmingly, today's biggest "gifters" come from the realm of investment banks and hedge funds and other kinds of funds, whether at home or abroad.

Undoubtedly, many of these Emperors and Empresses of the financial world are honest, decent, humane, and thoroughly lovely people we'd all be proud to have as friends, colleagues, or members of our softball or bowling teams.

If one believes the world of high finance, as it currently stands, is squeaky clean, honest, fair and pure, and that its denizens have operated with the best intentions and in the best interests of their fellow Americans and fellow world citizens . . . then perhaps this trend of our alma maters being seemingly helplessly dependent on the largesse of financiers will not upset you.

And perhaps you've been fast asleep the past 20 or 30 years. Or living in an antiseptic bubble, where the concerns of the hoi polloi, including most of your fellow alums, can't reach you.

*** One great concern shared by many observers of the Celebrity Mega-Donor trend is that fabulously wealthy benefactors may start to shape the overall agendas of universities: which professors they hire and promote; what kinds of scholarship they do; and what sorts of projects, domestic or international, our universities decide to initiate or participate in, delineating their footprints - and influence - in the world.

Some think the last is already happening - enough so, at least, that it should become an active topic of discussion among our university communities.

Sophisticated and well-educated people tend to laugh at Hollywood and its "causes" - pet diseases or social projects that rise up geyser-like and become the focus of widespread media attention, because a handful of Hollywood stars or producers use their skills for hogging the limelight and proclaim that the Heartbreak of Toenail Fungus or Saving the Purple Millipede is an urgent matter that needs to engage the human race right now.

Lately, we've seen the same exact thing in many top-tier university publications and other media channels, except that those whose pet projects are featured - often exhaustively - aren't Entertainers. They're our Benefactors-Reborn-as-Celebrities. And if they proclaim that our universities need to promote, say, better school lunch programs in Tuvalu or smartphone giveaways to lost tribes in the Amazon Basin . . . Hey! they've individually amassed more money than 60-percent-of-their-graduating-classes-combined. Clearly, they are smarter and better than the rest of us. Clearly, their focus should be our focus, their insights our insights, their wishes our commands . . . .

Or not. Because if a handful of Uber-powerful alums and other Benefactors are given the right to decide anything - let alone a lot of things - about how and when and where our alma maters concentrate our support and influence in this country and this world, are not said alma maters precisely where our most vociferous critics say we are - firmly in the hands of the vaunted Thug-ocracy of Wealth for Wealth's Sake?

Instead, shouldn't our beloved and still respected alma maters rest firmly in the much broader and more inclusive - and arguably far more prudent - hands of their entire alumni - and student - and faculty - and administrative - base?

The loud and persistent emphasis on top-tier universities' wealthiest and most financially-generous Donors has at best diminished the interest of a significant proportion of alums and others in their broader communities of support. At worst, it has outright alienated some of this base, to the extent that they've become completely non-supportive - witness the extraordinary attacks from alumni and even faculty commentators that we referenced at the beginning of this story.

Note, too, that there is one kind of aid and development project the Titans and Titanesses of Finance dominating our Donor streams seem to have studiously stayed away from these past several years: Pretty much anything and everything that might help their fellow alumni who have not been as financially blessed as they have been.

This strikes one as an extraordinary state of affairs. First of all, at no other time in our top universities' histories, with the possible exception of the Great Depression of the 1930s, have so many members of the "Best and Brightest," especially those over age 50, been teetering on the brink of complete financial extinction.

Anecdotally, there may be hundreds of millions of those we've dubbed the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in the United States and the rest of the  world.

Note that Baby Boomers, the generation most at risk, make up fully one-third of the population of the U.S., the rest of the developed world, and China and about 1/7 of the population of the entire world. In other words, there are over 1 billion Boomers.

Note, too, that the principal reason so many "Best and Brightest" alums, particularly those over age 50, are at risk is because of broad and seemingly inexorable economic trends which those Dark Pools of (Badly-Allocated?) Capital and those who have run them either put into motion in the first place or, at the very least, have benefited from greatly: downsizing, outsourcing, managerial shrinkage, housing crises, market crashes, and the hollowing out of both manufacturing and Main Street small business.

Of course, one can't force any self-respecting Titan or Titaness of High Finance, Mega-Donor or otherwise, to act in a responsible or prudent or humane or compassionate way - even towards his or her fellow alums, their families, and their communities.

But I would contend, along with a large proportion of my fellow alums, that our alma maters themselves should act in a responsible and prudent and humane and compassionate fashion. That they should, because they need to. That they should, because it is in their best interest to do so. That they should, because they will have betrayed their purpose for existing if they do not.

For starters, top-tier universities need to begin actively discussing the growing problem of Alums-at-Risk, particularly alums over age 50, many with multiple top-school degrees and decades of superior work behind them. Until our universities simply acknowledge that a very big group of such alums exist, rather than sweeping all cognizance of them under the proverbial rug, the problem of what to do about them remains both a festering sore and a potential disaster for the Ivies and similar schools.

In a follow-up blog, we'll make some suggestions about specific programs - starting with some hard-nosed research  - that we'd like top universities to initiate. (See And On the Painfully Thoughtful Side . . . )

In both conceptual and practical terms, as we have emphasized throughout this series, we believe one of the best -  most decent, least controversial, most logical, and simply smartest - ways to steer our alma maters back on track and back on goal is by embracing and proudly proclaiming our commitment to Meritocracy.

The Meritocratic values - education, talent, intelligence, hard work, and experience - must be reinstated at the core of top-tier universities' internal and external value systems.

They need to be recognized. They need to be publicized. They need to be celebrated. They need to be inculcated throughout each university's community of students, alums, faculty, administrators, and supporters.

Continuing to fawn over - or perhaps just tolerate - any Thug-ocracy of Wealth for Wealth's Sake, even if some of its prominent members are "our own," is not, has never been, and will never be in the best interests of top-tier universities and those who care about them.

Yes, it may get them a few more endowed paper clips and staplers.

But it won't win them the love and gratitude and respect of the people of the United States or the people of the world.

In upcoming stories, we'll explore the relationship between Meritocracy and Political Centrism and why the vast and influential Baby Boomer generation has become the lightning rod for discussions and debates about Meritocracy and the pressing need to restore its luster.

For two Addenda to this article, one humorous, one serious - and we believe, important - see:

And On the Lighter Side . . . 


And On the (Painfully) Thoughtful Side . . .

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dirty Tricked

by Dr. Ellen Brandt

A few more bits of "housekeeping," before we return to the core of this series and already promised posts on Meritocracy and UniversitiesMeritocracy and Baby Boomers, and Meritocracy and Political Centrism.

First, the distressing news that the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project is already attracting its unfair share of Internet Trolls and Dirty Tricksters, especially at Linked In, where I have a superb and very large network of business and academic leaders and where, therefore, the most - however temporary - harm can be done.

We've experienced plain vanilla Trollism: Flamers Flaming Flame-boyantly on posts featuring the project or the blog. Typically, these irate commentators seem less-than-bright; use poor grammar; can't spell; and generally don't include photos with their profiles, an almost-sure sign that they're Bots, not Humans.

Some Dirty Tricks require solid hacking skills - and could be prevented, if Linked In tweaked some of its most controversial rules and regulations.

For instance, there are several "Honk, if you're willing to accept invitations from fellow Group members" threads at Ivy League (and other Alumni) Groups. These threads have been popular, since many Alumni honestly do wish to expand their networks to "those they don't (yet) know," based on their having been vetted as fellow grads by Alumni Group managers.

Like most other veteran members of these Groups, I have been pleased to invite new Linked In members from the Ivies, especially new grads, to join my excellent network (almost 3,000 strong and 70 percent Ivy) based on their participation in these threads.

But lo and behold! some skilled Hacker-Trolls have somehow made their way into these "open-to-connections" threads - via faux bios and faux Group membership, one believes -  for the sole purpose of rejecting the invitations of Group members who sent them, based on our politics, our company affiliations, or, quite possibly, our eye color, hair color, nail polish color or which sports teams we do or do not root for.

They've made these rejections, not with the neutral "Ignore," but with the dread "I don't know this person" entry, which goes against the entire purpose of this type of thread and which will immediately wreak havoc upon one's Linked In "invitations status" - sometimes leading to the casting of stones, hexes, multiple parking tickets, and being pricked with radioactive umbrellas in London Tube stations.

There's another Linked In Star Chamber-like rule that can get you in even worse trouble. And this one doesn't even require hacking skills. All an organized group of users - or more likely, Bots (see above) - has to do is "flag" the postings that their supposed Enemy-victims make within Groups, which are the meat and potatoes of the Linked In system.

The simple act of "flagging" a post knocks it out of Discussion - the posts people actually consider reading - and into Promotion, which no one in his/her/its right mind ever visits, because it is the province of cultists, life insurance salesmen, and people from countries you've never heard of who want you to fund their three younger brothers' prep school education.

Too many such "flags," and you will be knocked into the gulag of Post Moderation, which means your postings will stagnate in an in-box the majority of Group managers don't know even exists, let alone look at regularly.

Linked In doesn't tell you how many "flags" will knock you into this Post Purgatory, but most of us surmise it's somewhere between 3 1/4 and 5 5/8 - in other words, something even one Crazy-Person-With-a-Grudge can accomplish in twenty seconds flat, blindfolded and with nine of ten fingers (or claws) tied behind his/her/its back.

One illustration of how effortless it is to Moder-rape someone is the fact that it has happened to at least a dozen friends of mine who are Group owners or managers - the stalwarts of Linked In (as I am), who were its earliest initiators and may own three or more Groups. These friends have said they've been pushed into Moderation by (probably faux) members of their very own Groups! Clearly, the Mad Hatter walks tall at Linked In - and various other social media sites which have similar "flagging" or "tagging" rules.

In any case, since the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project was first announced - around last Thanksgiving, although the structure of the Landing Pages, Communities, and Groups was only put into place a couple of months ago - my posts about the project, plus some of the blogs in the related Destitute Ivy Leaguer series, have been Moder-raped to near-death, with 9 or 14 or 861 bouts of gang-flagging - I forget which - having occurred.

Of course, there are many ways to get articles to your intended audience besides their being posted in Groups. But I'd like the (already many) fans of the project to ponder the extraordinary occurrence of so much pure hatred being aimed at a project which is totally and completely non-monetized, non-profit, non-partisan, and essentially non-controversial and which will utilize no government funds of any kind.

So just which Trolls and Hackers despise this project so much, they'll go to any lengths deemed necessary to prevent it  gaining the attention of even a few more readers, thinkers, and potential participants?

Pretty much all the proposed elements of the project should appeal widely to Conservatives, to Progressives, to Centrists, to Independents, and even to the difficult-to-please Libertarians, since the project will depend not on government funds, but rather on the good will, hard work, and focused attention of those who choose to participate.

So who in this wide world - or World Wide Web - could hate Bring Back the Meritocracy! this much?

I think we got our answer over the past three weeks, during which I've been posting - or trying to post - a nice, neat, and, I believe, witty and well-written little story about the recent rash of Hate Speech aimed at the Baby Boomer generation.

I'm going to give a link to it, in case you haven't seen it, for the purpose of demonstrating just how unreasonable, biased, and perhaps clinically cuckoo the actions of those responding to a plea for an end to Hate Speech with - Yes, you guessed it! - more and more Hate Speech might be.

The first time I tried to post this story at Google+, I was greeted, minutes later, with a response from a Script Kiddie Bot, which claimed to be a high school sophomore from California. This supposed young lady, whose accompanying photo looked a great deal like Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, charmingly told me, "You have gone too far this time, and we are going to get you."

Unfortunately, this delightful message appeared just before I was set to leave for a dinner appointment. I "muted" it, in Google+ parlance, but did not delete it, and I wrote down the name of the Lisbeth-look-alike, with the intention of reporting her to someone or other - Interpol, the Dalai Lama, Larry Page's chauffeur - when I returned from dinner.

Alas, it was not to be. When I made it back to my Google+ stream, the sweet threat had been "disappeared," along with the profile of the sweet young thing who had purportedly written it.

But the threat has proved very real. The efforts to remove this nice little article - read it, and you'll agree it is as logical and reasonable as possible - have been utterly Herculean. It has been somehow "ghosted"  - now you see it, now you can't - in Google and other threads; gang-flagged for Moder-rapetion all over the place; and when they don't succeed at making it invisible, Flamers have come out of the wormwood-work, ranting and raving about how Boomers have destroyed the country, the planet, the solar system, the galaxy, and other galaxies far, far away - undoubtedly populated with little green Millennials.

A quick digression here: If you clicked on the "Stop Anti-Boomer Hate Speech" story, you will have noticed that I did not make it part of the Destitute Ivy Leaguer blog, but have set up a new blog series, EllenImpromptu, for shorter pieces, which may or may not be directly relevant to the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project. I thought this would be a good idea, because such stories may attract wider and sometimes different audiences from those with an interest in the project, depending on their specialized subject matter. I plan to circulate one or two more short articles in this new series over the next few days.

But back to the Boomer Hate Speech story:

I think the extraordinarily violent and possibly crazed reaction to a story pleading for an end to anti-Baby Boomer Hate Speech shows that the ranks of those trying to "Dirty Trick" Bring Back the Meritocracy! may be heavily populated with The Deluded Ones who think any project that benefits Baby Boomers automatically harms other groups of people they favor.

We'll examine why this mindset is not only ridiculous, but downright dangerous, in our coming blog on Meritocracy and Baby Boomers.

But Boomers are not the only large group of human beings some Hatemongers enjoy hatemongering.

Some who disapprove of Bring Back the Meritocracy! seem to do so because it aims to be "too Centrist," which in this context is synonymous with non-partisan.

Sad to say, there is a substantial subset of politically active people, particularly very young ones, who don't want to try to work with those who are at different points in the political spectrum. They're the folks who prefer posturing and creating sound-bites to trying to effect compromise and reach consensus on any and every issue.

Since Bring Back the Meritocracy! truly seeks the participation and help of Conservatives, Progressives, Centrists, and Independents alike, it has drawn some wrath - and Dirty Tricking - from those who relish dissent for dissent's sake over cooperation and collaboration. More on these points in the upcoming Meritocracy and Political Centrism story.

Of course, there are some (strange and disturbing) Trolls and Tricksters who don't like Bring Back the Meritocracy!, nor any blog or Group or Community connected with it, because they don't like me, the project's Founder.

Like so many others who are visible on the Internet, I've been dealing with these Creepy-Crawly Ones for over a decade, and nothing I do or don't do seems to shake them off. Call it an Anti-Fan Club. Or call them what they actually are: cowardly Bullies and Stalkers.

As I stated vehemently in a previous blog post: Under no circumstances do I wish to make this project about me. And any supposed "opponents" who do try to impede a potentially valuable project like this, which may help hundreds of millions of their fellow human beings, because they don't like its Founder should be profoundly ashamed of themselves - provided Shame is in their emotional repertoire, which is doubtful.

So be it. As I promised previously, I am going to start posting a Private Blog about my own situation: Why I gave up incipient efforts to help the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in 2010 (out of pure frustration) and why I think it is important - to me personally and to everyone in a similar situation - to get on the ball and do something right now, no matter how many Dirty Trick boulders are placed in our path.

This Private Blog will be a heartfelt and "naked" recounting of the scope of what I - and so many others exactly like me - have suffered. It is possible that some of us, particularly visible over-50 people like journalists, academics, and older entrepreneurs, have been directly targeted by organized predators because of our "Meritocratic" qualities: experience, intelligence, talent, strong educational backgrounds, and decades of hard work and perseverance.

That is what needs to become understood more widely: So many of those formerly acknowledged as "Best and Brightest" have been deliberately targeted for economic destruction in a fashion both calculated and casual. Calculated, because unless one has the deepest of deep pockets, it is fairly easy to do. But Casual, since the entire enterprise - hurting so many millions of people who have so much to give back to the world - is at its base incredibly stupid and harmful politically, economically, culturally, and in every other way one can think of, a theme we'll explore further in the Meritocracy and Baby Boomers story.

On to more pleasant topics:

The Bring Back the Meritocracy! project landing page has now gotten about 150,000 views from interested observers, even before we've chosen to seek active press coverage.

The project's Venture Capital component is doing extremely well, in terms of attracting interest from experienced and well-known practitioners. And we expect to have an announcement that will please Project proponents by late summer or early autumn 2015.

As for the Dirty Tricks: I am not going to post this particular blog entry widely, except to direct members of my network, since it will undoubtedly make the Crazy Ones crazier still.

But within my network, there are many people with managerial level responsibility at Google, LinkedIn, and other key social media sites. I hope they will ponder the apparent flaws within their systems which allow Dirty Tricks to occur on such a regular basis, even aimed at those of us who manage, moderate, or own Groups and Communities; have superb social media networks; and are working hard to create projects and entities benefiting our fellow human beings.

The next blog in this series looks more closely at the topic of Meritocracy and Universities: Why every top-tier university in the world needs to defend the concept and ideal of Meritocracy to the hilt, because without it, their very reason for existence would be lost.  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fortune Favors the Ambitious

by Dr. Ellen Brandt

At least we hope it does, because we have broad-ranging and ambitious plans for the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project. As promised, here's a progress report on the baby steps we've taken so far and what we hope lies ahead over the next several months.

Project Landing Page

Our first step was to set up a project landing page at Google+. We did so, because this blog is based at Blogger, and because we like the ease of setting up Communities at Google. We've established 6 of them: Research, Foundations, Venture Capital, Job Creation, Political Action, and Media Initiatives. We've also set up a Bring Back the Meritocracy! Group at Linked In, an omnibus Group meant mostly as an observation post for those who wish to keep their eyes on the project, before deciding to join one of the Communities.

If you have not yet visited this landing page, please do so as soon as you can and follow its links to the Communities, if you're interested:

Persuading People to Get Involved

As the project Founder, I've just finished a mailing to those in my large (and superb) Linked In network, established over many years, after conscientiously revisiting everyone's profile and trying to figure out which Communities they might most enjoy becoming part of.

So far, the big winner is Venture Capital, probably because its stated mission is the easiest to understand. I want to remedy that with this blog post, further explicating what we're hoping to do in the other Communities, although in some of them - like Foundations - the agenda is necessarily "open" at this point and will take more concrete form based on the decisions of its participating members.

Please note that because this is an extremely serious and ambitious project, we need to make sure that every participant is, first of all, human - no Bots or Avatars - and someone whose background and experience will allow them to contribute intelligently to a collaboration which will begin with universities, on the one hand, and a top-tier group of researchers, venture capitalists, foundation managers, and company Founders, on the other.

For this reason, I hope that all those wishing to participate will first connect with me at Linked In, which has a rigorous and aboveboard process for ensuring that people's university credentials are real and where the full-connection linking process - as opposed to the less reliable followers/followed or friends/non-friends kinds of links - can enable me to vet you via those with whom you are associated.

I fully understand that this project is not for everyone. But its purpose and its agenda do resonate with a very large, significant, and important group of U.S. and world citizens, many of whom, we hope, will join with us as the project evolves.

The Communities and Their Agendas

Once we have large enough core groups of participants in the 6 Communities, we can begin to collaborate via those Communities on Discussion-into-Action agendas for the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project.

Since some readers seem to remain a bit baffled about what we are hoping to accomplish, here's a rundown on how each Community might wish to proceed:

Venture Capital

I'm starting with Venture Capital, since that's the one most current participants do understand.

What we hope to do here is begin work on establishing brand-new venture funds and the mechanisms to run them, geared to the target groups of Founders and early-stage Entrepreneurs over age 50 and Founders and early-stage Entrepreneurs from top-tier university backgrounds.

We are not talking about crowdfunding, nor other kinds of non-traditional venture funds, at this point. We are, in fact, talking about target groups which were favored by traditional and successful venture capitalists long, long ago - i.e. 10, 15, or 20 years ago - before the current trend to fund only very young Founders took hold (with, some believe, a corresponding bias against the well-educated and experienced, especially in areas like gaming and other "apps").

One real advantage of once more supporting mature Founders in their "prime of life" years is that it may allow venture investors to tap more successfully into the so far elusive Baby Boomer marketplace, representing fully 1/3 of the populations of the U.S., the rest of the developed world, and China. We think Boomers overwhelmingly believe they've been sorely neglected by marketers, who not only don't know what they want, but don't seem to have the faintest idea who they are.

Similarly, new funds geared towards supporting Founders who are graduates of top-tier universities in the U.S. and abroad should encourage more "Best and Brightest" graduates to opt for entrepreneurial careers. They will tend to hire their fellow "Best and Brightest" grads, just as Boomer entrepreneurs will tend to hire more of their fellow Boomers than non-Boomer entrepreneurs do. The add-on effect of increased job creation for these groups should be jump-started effectively via these "new" kinds of funds - which until recently were the historical norm.

Job Creation

We are just as excited about the possibilities for the Bring Back the Meritocracy! Job Creation Community - and we hope this blog post will get others excited as well.

What we hope to initiate via this Community's efforts are not one, but several, new entities - new companies, new non-profits, new divisions within established companies and non-profits - whose major purpose is matching the now immense talent pool of the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed," especially those over age 50, with all those "Unmet Needs" throughout the world that every development conference talks about, but which no one ever seems to make a real dent in. These "Unmet Needs," which exist in both developed and less-developed countries and regions, include projects in infrastructure, manufacturing, healthcare, education, and services of all kinds.

Efforts, many of them government-related, which seek to develop such projects via work forces which are volunteer or very low-paid are not what most in the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" talent pool want or need.

They need to earn decent pay for the superior work they have been educated to do or which, in the case of the older "Highly-Educated," work which they have in fact been doing, perhaps for many decades.

The people we are talking about are experienced, intelligent, talented, and creative professionals and managers. They are engineers and scientists and teachers and IT professionals. They're lawyers and doctors and nurses and journalists. They are agriculturists and resource specialists and inventors and small business innovators.

They did not suddenly lose their talent and intelligence and creativity and zeal for hard work, because they passed a certain birthday and suddenly became dispensable. Nor should their exceptional skills and experience be scorned, because they forfeited much or most of their life's savings to the extraordinary economic tumult of the past 30 years: wave after wave of downsizing, outsourcing, managerial shrinkage, housing crises, market crashes, and the "hollowing out" of both manufacturing industries and Main Street small business.

Exceptional People. "Unmet Needs." Does that not sound like a Match Made in Heaven? Then let's work towards coming up with ways to wed them. That will be the basic work of the Job Creation Community.


Many of us feel one important reason the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" have become well-nigh invisible, even as their numbers have grown and grown, is that there's been a dearth of major research projects focusing on this group, just as there have been way too few research studies focused on at-risk Baby Boomers.

In the case of the latter group - again, 1/3 of the population in the U.S., the rest of the developed world, and China - the fault lies partially with extremely skewed statistics. Boomers have been thought to have remained a "wealthy" generation because their large numbers have made their aggregate wealth look impressive compared to generations with fewer individuals. They are known to have inherited assets from their thrifty parents' generation. And they have made up a very high percentage of homeowners, particularly in the U.S.

We think future research studies will prove that much of that supposed wealth has disappeared into thin air - or Dark Pools - with the tumultuous economic events outlined above. We believe that the wealth-skewing phenomenon which has gifted the vaunted One Percent with more and more of the planet's assets, while everyone else has lost out, will be shown to apply in more, not less, stark outline within the Baby Boom generation itself, with an immense gulf having opened up between the relatively few Boomers in superb financial shape and the very many Boomers teetering on the financial brink - one or two crises away from economic extinction.

And the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" of all generations, we believe, may be shown to be more, not less, financially vulnerable than the rest of the developed world's population, because they have tended to make up a very large proportion of those groups hit hardest by economic dislocations: investors, homeowners, managers, professionals, and small business owners.

In any case, there is fertile ground here for talented and determined researchers willing to investigate the current status and ongoing trends specific to the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed," without bias and with the expectation that such studies should prove immensely useful.

The Bring Back the Meritocracy! Research Community will encourage and support such efforts among researchers working within universities, think tanks, political groups, and companies, as well as those working independently.


The Bring Back the Meritocracy! Foundations Community has an open-ended agenda, because we want the experienced non-profit managers and consultants who choose to become involved in the project to have as much scope as they wish, coming up with initiatives to support the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in creative and productive ways, either within well-established foundations or in new non-profit entities yet to be formed.

Research-oriented foundations may wish to offer grant stipends to institutionally-based and individual researchers studying this cohort.

Education-focused foundations may want to match the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" talent pool with existing or new educational development projects, where they can act as teachers, trainers, or administrators.

Foundations whose mission is economic development may participate in some of the "Terrific Talent-Unmet Needs" match-up work of the Job Creation Community.

Some foundation-based projects may focus on the topic of Meritocracy per se: why certain political cadres have been propagandizing against it, how such attacks undermine a core tenet of the American Dream, and what we can do to encourage open discussion and turn the tide.

The above are simply suggestions. The Foundations Community is meant to become a launching pad for a wide range of non-profit initiatives and may inspire the formation of entirely new foundations focused on the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" - who they are, what they need, how to help them.

Political Action and Media Initiatives

We conceive of the last two Bring Back the Meritocracy! project Communities, Political Action and Media Initiatives, as service Communities, assisting the other four Communities in their work, while possibly also launching sub-projects of their own to aid the overall effort.

Political Action's main task is communicating the project's aims to both major political parties in the U.S., major parties in other nations, and interest groups and activists across the political spectrum.

We wish to stress once more that Bring Back the Meritocracy! is completely non-partisan. In U.S. terms, its agenda is equally Centrist, Conservative, and Progressive, because Meritocracy per se is a basic tenet of American thought, central to the concept of democracy and to the ideal of the American Dream.

Moreover, assisting the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" is a goal which every part of the political spectrum should share, as should specifically helping those in the "Highly-Educated" group who are part of the vast Baby Boom generation, whose dwindling economic prospects pose a serious threat to the U.S. and world economies.

Meritocracy, as we have shown, is also closely connected to the concept of higher education, the future of top-tier universities, and their continued ability to contribute to the nation's and the world's store of shared knowledge.

Note, too, that Bring Back the Meritocracy! does not and will not seek government funding at any level, which should appeal to every prudent legislator and activist. We hope that Bring Back the Meritocracy! will benefit hundreds of millions of people, beginning with those who become active in the project. But it will depend solely on the goodwill, hard work, and focused attention of those who choose to become involved.

The Bring Back the Meritocracy! Media Initiatives Community will likewise play a helping role to the project as a whole.

Its job is to encourage favorable coverage of the project in all forms of media and to report the progress of the various Community agendas as they evolve.

We're hoping the core participants in this Community will include Communications and Alumni Affairs adminstrators at all eight Ivy League schools and other top-tier universities throughout the world.  Getting the higher education establishment on board will, we believe, ensure the success of the overall project and encourage those from other realms to jump on the bandwagon.

So that's where we are right now. We hope this summary has encouraged you to consider joining with us whenever you feel comfortable doing so. By our next progress report, we expect several of the standing Communities will be working on their Discussion-into-Action agendas and that word of the project and its purposes will have reached a much larger audience.

A bit more housekeeping in the next blog. Then on to discussions of why top universities have such a crucial stake in preserving and protecting Meritocracy as a cornerstone of their influence and viability and why, in different ways, political Centrism and the Baby Boom generation have become lightning rods in the Meritocracy debate.        

Friday, May 9, 2014

Meritocracy Has Eleven Letters, Not Four

by Dr. Ellen Brandt

It takes some pretty convoluted anti-logic to turn the term Meritocracy into something less than wholly admirable. But that's exactly what some political activists have done recently, with motives ranging from sincere-but-poorly-conceptualized to downright retroactive and thuggish.

Let's start by explicating the term Meritocracy. Choose any standard dictionary or thesaurus, and you'll find a definition along the lines of "a system in which able and talented persons are rewarded and advanced" ( or "leadership whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on privilege or wealth" (

Not very controversial, is it?

In fact, until very recently, the concept of Meritocracy was acknowledged as a central tenet of modern democracies, tied closely to the goal of a class-free society, in which every citizen should be granted an equal opportunity to survive and thrive based on her/his education, experience, intelligence, talent, and hard work.

A Meritocratic system supports education, especially higher education, as a means of unleashing and developing one's natural intelligence and talents.

A Meritocratic system favors those who continue to learn and perfect their skills and talents throughout their lives, acknowledging that most worthwhile accomplishments do not come easily and may require many years of effort and experience to reach fruition.

A Meritocratic system respects and values those citizens, workers, and creators who have taken the time and made the effort to develop their skills and talents, for their own satisfaction and for the greater good of the society in which they live.

Yet there are now various political cadres claiming to be either Progressive or Conservative - with strong emphasis on the "claiming" - who don't like the idea of Meritocracy one bit. That's because deep down, they don't really want a society in which experience, accomplishment, education, and hard work are properly valued. They prefer a society that rewards people who belong to certain groups over people who belong to other groups - although their definitions of which groups to reward vary greatly, based on which biased prisms they're looking through.

What's new quite recently is their daring to deprecate Meritocracy - both the word and the concept - outright, in the process deprecating what America and other modern democracies have been all about since their founding.

Sincere But Poorly-Conceptualized

As we said, some of these attacks seem sincere, just poorly-conceptualized, while others are out-and-out retroactive and thuggish.

In the first category, I'd place the brouhaha, heavy with competing propaganda, about Silicon Valley being a "Meritocracy for white men only."

This highly-publicized "conflict" began with a medium-sized northern California company placing a rug in its lobby proclaiming itself a Meritocratic entity. A group of young feminists took exception to this proclamation-by-floor-covering, stating to every reporter who would listen that the company - and by extension, every tech company in the state - had a terrible record hiring, helping, and promoting women and minorities.

If this is so, by all means, work to correct it and campaign to correct it. (And I wish to state here, as anyone who has ever met me certainly knows, that I was a feminist in my mother's womb and believe wholeheartedly in equality of opportunity in employment, education, the legal system, and everywhere else.)

But the phrase "Meritocracy for white men only" is utterly ludicrous. If a company or industry or other entity favors one sex or one race or one ethnic group or one religion or . . . pretty much any other arbitrary criterion besides the Meritocratic criteria of experience, accomplishment, talent, intelligence, and hard work, it is simply not a Meritocracy, period.

If you wish to attack said company or industry or other entity, do so on the basis of its not being a Meritocracy, rather than attacking the concept of Meritocracy per se, which is the ideal you should want them to embrace.

A similar brouhaha arose recently at Stanford University, where a study revealed that "legacy" applicants  - i.e. the children of alumni - were being allowed into Stanford at "three times the rate of acceptance" of non-legacy applicants.

This revelation led to an outpouring of outrage by commentators at a number of publications, large and small, several once again attacking Stanford as a "Meritocracy for the rich and privileged" - the same mistake the Silicon Valley feminist group made. Once more, there is no such thing as a "Meritocracy for the rich" or a "Meritocracy for the privileged." Systems favoring the rich or the privileged are anti-Meritocracies, using standards that should rightly be scorned and criticized.

The Stanford "legacy" brouhaha, like the tech company floor-covering to-do, belongs in the category of "sincere but poorly-conceptualized" for several reasons - the first being simple statistics.

Only about 5 percent of Stanford applicants have been accepted for admission in recent years, a percentage that also has applied at all eight of the Ivy League schools and similar top-tier universities in the U.S. and other developed nations.

So if "legacy" children of alums are being accepted at three times that rate, that  means that only 15 percent of them are being accepted. Put another way, 85 percent of children of alums are not being accepted - a pretty hefty rate of rejection, especially if you consider that aside from genetics (smart parents tending to have smart children) or "privilege" (attending good high schools and being encouraged to engage in enrichment activies like music, art, and sports), children of alums will probably know the ins and outs of university admissions, having likely attended the (generally free) workshops for potential applicants local alumni groups hold.

Stanford is also a special case, even among top-tier schools, because it includes not only very good graduate schools of law, medicine, and engineering, but also one of the consistently top-ranked business schools in the world. "Legacy" children's parents, therefore, include not only those who attended Stanford as undergraduates, but also those who attended one or more of the prestigious graduate schools. You are talking, then, about an exceptionally well-educated group of "legacy" families - although, again, 85 percent of their children are rejected at the undergraduate level.

Quite aside from poorly-interpreted statistics, several commentators on the Stanford "legacy" brouhaha veered off on a tangent-with-an-agenda, accusing the university - and then, by extension, all top-tier schools - of trading admissions slots for cash contributions by alumni parents.

If this accusation can be proven - at Stanford or anywhere else - by any standard, it is a detestable practice, akin to any sort of bribery, which certainly needs to be stopped.

The way to proceed, however, if one believes the above practice exists at a given university, is to do some rigorous and unimpeachable research which proves beyond a doubt that "legacy" families' progeny are accepted or not accepted at said university based on whether or not a family contributes substantial cash to the school.

By all means, use anecdotal evidence in your study: Sally Smith, "legacy" daughter, whose parents contributed $150 to Stanford's medical school over the past decade, was rejected for admission, despite being valedictorian of her high school; captain of the field hockey, tennis, chess, and debate teams; three-time class president; and an accomplished classical cellist. But Julius Jones, "legacy" son, whose parents contributed $150,000,000 to Stanford's business school over the past decade, was accepted for admission, despite having a C- average in high school, no extracurricular activities to speak of, three stays in drug rehab, and a sealed juvenile justice record.

To be quite frank, I don't think you'll find very many - if any - anecdotal pieces of evidence like the above. Nor do I believe your research is likely to come up with a grand hidden admissions protocol which links a "legacy" family's amount of financial contribution to a top-tier university to the chances of their progeny getting admitted to the school.

But if you do find such a scheme, by all means, reveal it to the world and propagandize about it as loudly as possible. It would be a decisively anti-Meritocratic scheme and would go against the core principles of what a top-tier bastion of higher education should be all about. Alumni and their families would - and should - be angrier about it than anyone else.

Attacks Which Are Retroactive and Thuggish

While the to-dos in Silicon Valley and at Stanford may be classed in the "sincere but poorly-conceptualized" category, some attacks on Meritocracy are blatant, retroactive, and thuggish.

Possibly the most glaring example is occurring right now during the hard-fought and drawn-out Indian election process, in which the concept of "reservations" - or out-and-out quotas - is a major issue among the principal parties.

As its population has become more prosperous and better educated over the past 50 years, India has aggressively embraced Meritocratic principles, favoring its citizens based on their accomplishments, experience, talent, and intelligence, rather than on the circumstances of their birth. And judging by the prominence of Indian nationals in  worldwide academic and entrepreneurial ranks, the concept of Meritocracy has clearly taken hold with a vengeance.

In the past few national elections, however, some prominent politicians have tried to turn Meritocracy into a curse word, claiming that the growing group of well-educated Indians are somehow a threat to the interests of the rural and urban poor and calling for more and more "reservations" - or quota systems - wherever one can put them, in political representation, in hiring, and in academic placement.

In this year's election, the former head of one of India's biggest companies - a company known for hiring and promoting the brightest grads of the best universities - has made front-page headlines, now that he's running for office, by saying he now favors hiring and promoting more people based on their ethnic, religious, and "class" background, rather than on Meritocratic principles.

Being neither Indian nor an expert on Indian politics, I don't wish to comment specifically on whether India is somehow a special case, as this particular politician believes. He told reporters a few weeks ago that, “in India, certain sections of the society, because of historical reasons, were handicapped and thus require a leg up through reservations" - i.e. quotas.

But no matter which country, region, industry, or other entity is in question, I find this kind of thinking extraordinarily backwards-looking and thuggish. Not only does it not promote equality of opportunity, it tends to do exactly the opposite, as groups are pitted against one another, fighting for crumbs, rather than cooperating and seeking consensus on how to grow the economic pie.

Meritocracy, Aye - "Thug-ocracy," Nay

And that may be the real, badly-hidden reason behind every attack on the concept of Meritocracy in recent years: The Super-Wealthy in the vaunted 1 percent - which worldwide is more accurately possibly 1 percent of 1 percent - understand that Meritocracy is an extreme threat to their "Thug-ocracy" of Wealth for Wealth's Sake, just as it has always been.

The "Thug-ocracy" is the main beneficiary, when groups of people within a country, a region, or a world are spurred on to compete with one another, like pit bulls in a dogfight, on the basis of sex versus sex, generation versus generation, ethnic group versus ethnic group, religion versus religion, or tribe versus tribe.

Only when the Meritocratic criteria of education, intelligence, talent, experience, and hard work are properly honored and rewarded does a society have the chance of closing gaps in opportunity, political participation, influence, and income.

That is the goal of a Democracy. And when we forget it, we do so at our very great peril.

After a couple of "housekeeping" posts about the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project and its progress, we'll begin to examine how and why the Baby Boomer generation has become the center of the Meritocracy debate and why helping Boomers regain our financial and professional footing could well be the key to a prosperous world economy for decades to come - as well as the best way to close the worldwide income gap and begin to defeat the "Thug-ocracy" of Wealth for Wealth's Sake.