“I’ve graduated from Harvard.” Most people would think this is one greatest rewards to achieve in higher education. And the Times Higher Education ranking clearly shows that Harvard is by far the strongest higher education brand. So, it must be the greatest reward, right? Well, a very recent conversation about the Ivy League universities in the United States got me thinking in an act of sacrilege: could graduating from Harvard not also be seen as a stigma?
In Germany the debate about introducing quotas for women on company’s board of directors is still going strong. And while recent studies mostly suggest that gender diversity pays off in terms of corporate performance, there hasn’t been much action to ensure more women than before are given their fair chance to participate in highest executive committees. Especially the way to achieve more gender diversity that is well debated upon. This holds true for all sorts of diversity issues in general.
The underlying problem with any taken action is the potential of stigmatization. Imagine two almost identical candidates applying for just one spot, let it be a job or a place in a prestigious institution, with the only difference of one diversity-relevant feature. If the candidate with this particular feature is picked over the other, they face a dilemma: not knowing if they were chosen for their personality respectively profile or for this feature. And because this mostly isn’t concealed behind impenetrable walls stigmatization by fellow colleagues or such is likely.
Now consider to apply this scheme to Harvard. Taking a step back from the glorious reputation Harvard enjoys to declutter your sight: couldn’t having graduated from Harvard make you prone to (maybe positive in the consequence, but still) stigmatization? Would it be a stretch to imagine the situation in which you are not sure why XYZ hired you, because of your personality or because you graduated from Harvard, the most prestigious university in the world? Would it be a stretch to imagine your colleagues whispering behind your back that you only got this position because with your admission to Harvard you were also admitted to a well functioning, worldwide network of influential people to help their peers out if the time was to come?
This is just a rough sketch of some sudden thoughts, so bear with me. And this issue would probably apply to all Ivy League universities—yet foremost to Harvard nonetheless. Though for sure offering a great education and environment for their students, one has to keep in mind that they also nurture a perpetuating circle of some kind of social elite which comprises of the most wealthy and influential families. For an outsider there is just no other way to explain how else certain offsprings of influential political families in the US made it to Harvard (or else) at all.