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Is the University of Chicago "socially irrelevant"?

Crescat Sententia's Sudeep Agarwala cites approvingly to a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell in which the University of Chicago is described as "socially irrelevant":

Should our goal be to select a student body with the highest possible proportions of high-ranking students, or should it be to select, within a reasonably high range of academic ability, a student body with a certain variety of talents, qualities, attitudes, and backgrounds?” Wilbur Bender asked. To him, the answer was obvious. If you let in only the brilliant, then you produced bookworms and bench scientists: you ended up as socially irrelevant as the University of Chicago (an institution Harvard officials looked upon and shuddered).

I'm not sure what exactly this is supposed to mean. I'll ignore for the time being that it isn't at all obvious that Chicago has been more obsessed with "brilliance" at the expense of other qualities than Harvard has -- if anything, the opposite is true.

But it can't possibly mean that Chicago is societally irrelevant. Its extraordinary influence in economics is well-known. No one can say the free-market slant of "Chicago school" economics hasn't had a profound effect on domestic politics and policy, and on the policies of foreign nations (especially in latin america). Is Chicago's influence in the physical sciences "irrelevant?" Have you heard of self-sustaining nuclear reactions, and their possibly influential role in the development of nuclear weapons?

Perhaps Sudeep means to say that no one would make a movie like Legally Blonde where the main character goes to law school at the University of Chicago. Yeah, yeah; that must be it.


Although I cited the article, it may be misleading to say that I cited approvingly.

Tounge-in-cheekedly, perhaps, or perhaps, more accurately, disappointedly (cf. the "Zing, indeed" at the bottom of the post).

Approvingly, positively not.

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