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 . . .