In 1911, the fictional Dink Stover arrived at Yale, “leisurely divested himself of his trim overcoat” and coolly strolled into campus life. “He had come to conquer,” writes Owen Johnson in the 1912 novel called Stover at Yale, “and zest was in his step.” Stover’s zest has little to do with intellectual inquest, as Johnson makes perfectly clear: “Four glorious years, good times, good fellows,” this was in store for Stover. Much of the novel is indeed concerned with Stover’s jockeying for social position, even if, by the end of the affair, he tires of the “unnecessary fetish” of the secret societies that defined life in New Haven for much of its tercentenary existence.

William Deresiewicz arrived at Yale nearly 90 years after Stover did, a real person who reveled in fictional things: an English professor. He taught in Yale’s vaunted English department for the next 10 years. In the half-decade since, he has been writing about higher education, most notably in The American Scholar, where two of his essays, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” and “Solitude and Leadership,” garnered the kind of attention that suggests that he’d hit not a raw nerve but a diseased organ. Now comes his book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, whose title makes crushingly clear just what Deresiewicz thinks of Johnny Harvard and his buddies in the Ancient Eight. To say the least, Stover’s “great university dedicated to liberty of thought and action” has become, in this telling, little more than a funnel into the junior ranks of Goldman Sachs. An excerpt from Deresiewicz’s book was recently aNew Republic cover story, illustrated by a burning Harvard flag. “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League,” that cover said.

Two books written by Ivy League graduates bolster the arguments in Deresiewicz’s impassioned philippic. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace was written by Jeff Hobbs, a young novelist and Yale graduate. Peace was Hobbs’s roommate and his friend. After the two men graduated in 2002, Peace returned to East Orange, New Jersey, where he resumed the drug dealing that had netted him an estimated $100,000 at Yale. But East Orange, which bleeds into Newark, is no verdant college quad; Peace ran afoul of a local gang and was shot dead in 2011.

Newsweek Magazine is Back In Print 

Andrew Lohse is also from New Jersey, though from a middle-class family, not a destitute one like Peace’s. His grandfather attended Dartmouth, as did his older brother. Lohse went to Dartmouth, too. There, he descended into the basement of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and wallowed in its beery muck before emerging, somewhat improbably, as a self-described “frat whistleblower” who has also railed persuasively against the allure of corporate jobs for Ivy Leaguers. His memoir, Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy, is based on aRolling Stone article of the same name by Janet Reitman that chronicled Lohse’s tortuous search for Augustinian redemption.

Together, these three books make a persuasive case that the Ivy League is, collectively, a moribund institution, a triumph of marketing whose allure far exceeds its social utility. After all, if our finest colleges can neither turn relatively privileged men like Lohse into models of society nor vault someone like Peace out of the urban destitution from which he’d so nearly escaped, then what are they good for? Perhaps what Will Hunting says to a pompous Harvard scholar is really true: “You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda’ picked up for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.” Except, of course, an Ivy League education has become even more obscenely expensive in the 17 years since Good Will Hunting romanticized Southie autodidactism.