Academic elitism

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Academic elitism is the criticism that academia or academics are prone to elitism. The term "ivory tower" often carries with it an implicit critique of academic elitism.


Economist Thomas Sowell's Intellectuals and Society claims that intellectuals have an undeserved "halo effect" and face fewer disincentives than other professions against speaking outside their expertise. In Sowell's estimation, academics respected for their contributions in their particular discipline often become known to the general public by commenting on policy issues outside that discipline.

Critics of academic elitism[specify] argue that highly educated people tend to form an isolated social group whose views tend to be overrepresented among journalists, professors, and other members of the intelligentsia who often draw their salary and funding from taxpayers. Economist Dan Klein shows that the worldwide top-35 economics departments pull 76 percent of their faculty from their own graduates. He argues that the academic culture is pyramidal, not polycentric, and resembles a closed and genteel social circle. Meanwhile, he claims, academia draws on resources from taxpayers, foundations, endowments, and tuition payers, and it judges the social service delivered.[clarification needed] The result is a self-organizing and self-validating circle.[1]

Another criticism[by whom?] is that universities tend more to pseudo-intellectualism than intellectualism per se; for example, academicians may be charged with over-complicating problems and expressing them in obscure language (e.g., the Sokal affair, obscurantism).

Academic elitism suggests[clarification needed] that in highly competitive academic environments only those individuals who have engaged in scholarship are deemed to have anything worthwhile to say, or do[attribution needed]. It suggests[clarification needed] that individuals who have not engaged in such scholarship are cranks. Steven Zhang of the Cornell Daily Sun has described the graduates of elite schools, especially those in the Ivy League, as having a "smug sense of success" because "It makes us believe gaining entrance into the Ivy League is an accomplishment unto itself."[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Klein, Daniel B. (2005). "The Ph.D. Circle in Academic Economics". Econ Journal Watch 2 (1): 133–148. 
  2. ^

Further reading[edit]