College Degree Snobbery
A thinker I've long respected, Wendy McElroy, never went to college. Yesterday, I learned that Matt Welch, the brainy ed-in-chief of reason, never finished. He lost a job because of it. Investors Business Daily unhired him in '98 when they found out. He writes about it here:
[July 13, 1998] -- What do I, an obscure free-lancer, have in common with the exalted likes of Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite, Pete Hamill, Mike Royko, Hunter S. Thompson, Nina Totenberg and Ken Layne?
We are, all of us, ineligible to work for Investor's Business Daily, the nation's 49th largest newspaper. Why? Because none of us has a college degree.
...Ironically, I had originally been attracted to Investor's Business Daily because of its spirited help-wanted ads in the trades, seeking candidates who "go against the grain" or "think outside of the box" or whatever.
Pardon me for stating the obvious, but what in living hell does sitting in classes between the ages of 18 and 22 have the slightest fucking bit to do with "going against the grain?" Or maybe the argument is that William Randolph Hearst would have really made something of himself if he had only stuck it out at Harvard. Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Robert Capa, Theodore Dreiser, Ted Turner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Edward Albee ... they all managed a little of the old "outside the box" without benefit of a four-year education.
Investor's Business Daily (whose motto is "For People Who Choose to Succeed") in fact spills much of its ink covering the doings of dropouts -- Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, David Geffen. Its editorial page is a living homage to Barry Goldwater (dropout), and echoes the saner sentiments of Rush "dropout" Limbaugh.
You could easily throw together a list of cretins and heroes with or without a bachelor's or master's degree, depending on your politics. It's a pointless exercise, proving only the uselessness of making a hard rule.
Before Matt became ed-in-chief of reason, he wrote for the UCSB paper, was a founding editor of Prague's first English-language newspaper, Prognosis, a correspondent for myriad wire services and European papers, managing editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a reporter for reason, and associate editorial page editor of the L.A. Times.
I've been a nerd and a voracious reader and student all my life -- outside of the realm of school. The book in my bathroom right now? Biostatistics: The Bare Essentials. I nearly dropped out of school after three years at the University of Michigan, but I recognized the dumb prejudice employers have, and finished my last year at NYU, thanks in part to a scholarship I wrote my way into.
Two friends and I started giving free advice on a Soho street corner as a joke, but when people started asking my friends and me serious questions, I read through all of psychology, decided Freud was largely a fraud (just making up stuff and saying it was true) and I became very influenced by Albert Ellis, who co-founded cognitive behavioral therapy with Aaron Beck.
I started thinking I should get a Master's or something and Ellis, who was a fan of my column in the New York Daily News, talked me out of it, telling me, "You know what you need to know; it would be a waste of time."
Later, I started studying evolutionary psychology and anthropology and going to their conferences and those of Council on Contemporary Families, and others, and reading their journals. Again, sans college degree. People still sometimes sneer, "What are your qualifications?" And they're basically that I know my shit, and read and study every week of my life.
UPDATE: Yet another talented, successful pal of mine just told me he doesn't have a degree -- screenwriter Josh Olson, who was nominated for the British Academy Award, the Writer's Guild Award, the USC Scriptor award and the Academy Award for his adapted screenplay for "A History of Violence."