Is RI Drowning in Ivy?


Although one might reasonably wonder about the choice of a far-left institution like Brown University for such a donation, somebody’s donating money for this purpose is a fine thing:

Brown University has received a $25 million gift from an alumnus which it will use to launch a center for entrepreneurship to provide students with academic expertise and real-world experience in innovation.

The gift from Jonathan M. Nelson, founder and CEO of Providence Equity Partners, will support the creation of a program with an “action-oriented and interdisciplinary approach to entrepreneurship,” the university said in a statement.

How thoroughly this Ivy League venture will integrate with Rhode Island’s new “trickle down” economic development strategy only time will tell, but the potential for links between the university’s students and faculty and the government of Rhode Island (and the growing shadow government of Rhode Island) is substantial.

Also, yesterday, Governor Gina Raimondo gave a scrum of reporters some sense of how talks with General Electric came about:

The governor, a Yale Law School graduate, said she initiated the state’s pursuit by contacting a fellow Yale board member who also serves on GE’s board. That led to multiple phone conversations with GE’s CFO, and ultimately to conversation with GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt. Raimondo said she told him, “Just let us compete.”

During dozens of phone calls and meetings, she said, she hammered a message that Rhode Island is a good place to do business, in part since taxes have generally been lowered over the last 20 years and other costs have been stabilized due to changes in the state pension and the state’s Medicaid program. Raimondo declined to specify a dollar figure, but said the state’s offer was “in the same neighborhood” of roughly $140 million in incentives granted to GE by Massachusetts and the City of Boston.

Is this how government works, now, under progressive leadership?  Ivy League chums call each other up and make secret deals with taxpayer money?

Brown alum Neil Steinberg uses money from the Rhode Island Foundation to buy a report from Brown and Yale Law alum Bruce Katz while Harvard and Yale Law alum Gina Raimondo hires Yale and Yale Law alum Stefan Pryor to run the state’s commerce efforts, and meanwhile Brown alum Jonathan Nelson donates money to the university positioning future Brown alums to take maximum advantage of the design-the-world, public-private-university-and-nonprofit economic strategy put into place by their Ivy League forebears.

Reflecting on the top-down schemes of Raimondo and Brookings, I’ve been asking what happens to people who don’t get with The Plan, it appears we should also wonder whether there’s an even larger gap between those in and out of the club.  In the Era of Obama, people have frequently raised the specter of Orwell’s 1984, but in Rhode Island Huxley’s Brave New World might be more apt:

Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I’m so glad I’m a Beta.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Justin, swimming against the tide. “It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know”. It was old news when Jesus was in diapers. As they used to comment on success in New York, a generation ago, “His uncle is a Rabbi”.

  • Mike Rollins

    It probably should be mentioned that for many the elitist sorting, and grooming begins years before college. I still remember the day when my Henry Barnard classmates, and I took the test to get into the middle school at Moses Brown. (We all were specifically told to list Henry Barnard as being a public school, not a private one.) Those of us who got into Moses Brown knew we were better than those who didn’t.

    The system is also less rigid than one may assume. Among my Henry Barnard classmates who didn’t attend Moses Brown was later Brown University graduate, and now Washington Trust CEO Edward “Ned” Handy. I have no idea where Ned attended junior high, or high school, but he rather obviously did well by himself while doing so.

    With regard to the specific issue of Ivy League networking, it can get interesting. Among my own passing acquaintances at Columbia was a guy from Hawaii named Barry. (He was probably the first person from Hawaii whom I ever met.) I sometimes wonder if President Obama ever remembers meeting a computer science student from Rhode Island.

    As for comparing “1984” with “Brave New World,” it is an interesting question. My eighth grade classmates, and I actually read, discussed, and compared both of those books in English class. Our general consensus back then was that “Brave New World” was more likely to actually happen here in the USA. These days I unfortunately see growing elements of both potential dystopias all around our state, and nation.

    BTW, when you dis Ivy League graduates are you including your boss Harvard alum Mike Stenhouse, or his boss Brown alum Dan Harrop?

    • OceanStateCurrent

      I’m not dissing Ivy League graduates. I’m questioning whether we should be concerned that our government and its heavy-handed economic development operations (notable for the number of backroom deals not announced until everything is set, if announced at all) seem to be explicitly tied to networking by Ivy League graduates.

      • Mike Rollins

        My personal observation, and experience is that elitism is at least as much about mindset as it is about anything else. In my own situation dealing with a lifetime of chronic health issues had the one positive effect of eventually teaching me greater humility. With most people from a similar background there is both an assumption, and an expectation of allegedly being a superior breed.

        • Mike Rollins

          While I think about it, we probably can concur that even to the extent there is a valid meritocracy involved, superiority in one aspect is not automatically correlated with superiority in all aspects.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            I think I understand Justin’s point and will try to restate it from a wide experience with Ivy League graduates (my daughter is one and it was several years after graduation before she would talk sense again). For openers, in my generation Brown was just a local school, more expensive than others. I remember a talk to prospective students that began with “We know why you are here, we’re half way between Yale and Harvard”. In the prior generation, much the same could be said about Harvard. In any case, many, but not all, subscribe to what has to be called an “artificial consensus” about intelligence and elitism. Probably mostly those whose curriculum included “critical thinking”. Those who continue on to law school and enter politics seem to be particularly vulnerable to the artificial consensus. They probably seek out like minded people. Those who enter business, or the STEM fields, discover competition. They can develop an attitude of “Well, you went to Harvard, fine. What have you done lately?” Those in STEM fields come to a realization that an IQ of 130-140 makes pretty good lawyers and doctors, in silicon valley, they are doorstops, and that schools outside the Ivy League produce some pretty smart people. Duke (a/k/a American Tobacco), the Wharton School, Cal Tech, etc are not for dummies.

            In any case competition to get in has become very stiff, those people who make it are pretty intelligent, hard working and dedicated to what they are doing. “Birds of a feather”, etc. Unfortunately the selection process seems to be skewed by quotas. Lately it is Asians, prior to that it was Jews. It wasn’t so long ago that college applications required a color picture, so they could see what you looked like.

            “Background and breeding”, tell me what prep school you went to.

            When I delivered my daughter to her first Ivy League campus, there was sign on her dorm room door. It read “Keep door locked, high theft rate”.

            I wonder if I actually made my points here. Look into why there was a tidal wave of firings at the Harvard Management Co. (their financial arm) back in the 90’s.

  • OceanStateCurrent

    I have no problem with philanthropy, as I started the post saying. Moreover, I’m sure Mr. Nelson already gives generously to a wide variety of charities (although I have no way of verifying that assumption). The pictures changes, though, when government gets involved… particularly when it gets involved in a way that aligned with an elite class, rather than as a counterbalancing force to it.

    • guest

      The picture is not changing, Justin. YOU are the only one asserting that the government is involved with Mr. Nelson’s gift.

      • OceanStateCurrent

        No, but the government is getting involved in picking industries, paying for “innovation” and “entrepreneurship,” and redirecting the entire economic development apparatus of the state to pick industries and fund specific projects. When that’s the broader picture, the Ivy League connections start to point to a pattern and an opportunity for replacing representative democracy with a sort of feudalism.

  • David Durfee

    I usually find your articles interesting but this one was one I felt I had to comment on.

    It would make sense for you to do a little homework on the entrepreneurship efforts at Brown University before you attempt to relate their fundraising efforts to something that is going on with the governor. I have knowledge of them and I can’t see how you can be relating them with the governor’s activities at all.

    Yes, I’m a Brown alumnus. But, no, I don’t think the good old boy network is a positive thing. There are other fine institutions in RI that we can (and do) tap for talent as well.

    So, rail on the governor for hanging out with Ivy League types if you like. (Although I think some homework on the individuals and their actions is more productive.) But, you have made a “stretch” to relate separate issues that is really unfounded.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Thanks for the comment, David. I do as much research as I’m able on these things. Often, they’re simply meant to be quick posts pointing out curious observations, and it’s up to readers to determine whether there’s anything there or not.
      In this case, specifically, it seems pretty clear to me that looking at existing efforts would be of limited use. The article is explicit that this is a “launch” of a new “center” that will provide “real-world experience.” This means two things:
      1) Any analysis is entirely speculative until the center begins doing things.
      2) It’s not at all unreasonable to suggest that one thing for which people should watch is the integration of this new center with the Brookings-suggested innovation activities.
      Indeed, all of the talk from Brookings, Raimondo, and others has been about integrating the activities of all of these different sectors. The chief innovation officer (over whom Rhode Islanders have almost zero oversight) has said his role is to break down “silos” in this regard.
      The connection strikes me as so obvious that I feel I should ask: What exactly makes you think that this program won’t quickly become part of the state’s top-down “innovation” efforts?

      • David Durfee

        Brown does not have a business school. It has, however, had some success for its entrepreneurship program that is run out of the school of engineering. Identifying additional funding sources and expansion of it to include those in liberal arts has been going on for some time. This effort has certainly preceded the present governor.

        • OceanStateCurrent

          Sure (and I have to acknowledge I’m putting a lot of weight on the news reporting), but the article doesn’t say it’s to “expand their efforts.” It’s to “launch” a new “center.” Could be very different.

          • David Durfee

            Yeah, I think that a visit to Brown’s school of engineering would be enlightening. Believe half of what you see, none of what you hear … how much of what you read??

  • Max

    A little off topic but the Governor’s ‘Just let us compete’ comment is pure cliche. Rhode Island couldn’t make it out of a round robin with it’s border states. Unfortunately for us, GE wasn’t buying her smoke and mirrors act.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I wonder if the whole Ivy League thing matters outside of Ivy Leaguers, and sports fans. After my daughter decided against Harvard and Brown and selected Dartmouth, I asked “Why didn’t you pick an Ivy League school?”. I really didn’t know, I just thought it was a pretty good school in cow Hampshire.