Ted Frier

Ted Frier
April 02
Ted Frier is an author and former political reporter turned speechwriter who at one time served as communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, helping Bill Weld become the first Bay State Republican in a generation to be elected Governor. He was Chief Speechwriter for Republican Governor Paul Cellucci and Lt. Governor Jane Swift. Ted is also the author of the hardly-read 1992 history "Time for a Change: The Return of the Republican Party in Massachusetts." So, why the current hostility to the Republican Party and what passes for conservatism today? The Republican Party was once a national governing party that looked out for the interests of the nation as a whole. Now it is the wholly-owned subsidiary of self interest. Conservatism once sought national unity to promote social peace and harmony. Now conservatism has devolved into a right wing mutation that uses divide and conquer tactics to promote the solidarity of certain social sub-groups united against the larger society while preserving the privileges of a few.


Ted Frier's Links

AUGUST 26, 2014 2:54PM

Taking On Snobs

Rate: 13 Flag

Throughout most of the country (but especially in the all-created-equal Midwest) when someone asks you where you went to school it's most likely to ascertain your football allegiance, whether it's "Roll Tide!" Alabama, "War Eagle!" Auburn, "Go Blue!" Michigan or those crazed Ohio State Buckeyes who will "fight all the way for the Scarlet and Gray of O-hi-o."

But that is not the way it is in the blue blood Northeast.  As I quickly discovered when I moved to Boston more than 30 years ago, here old school ties are proxies for those carefully nurtured networks and ancient and honored pecking orders of class and privilege that have always distinguished this part of the country.

But maybe I am biased. I am a graduate of Eastern Michigan University. Eastern is a fine school whose more than 20,000 students had the advantage when I went there 35 years ago of being taught by full professors 98% of the time instead of by teaching assistants. But no one is going to mistake Eastern Michigan for an "elite" school or put Ypsilanti (the town where EMU is located) on anyone's map of leading centers of academic learning.

As an EMU alum, I am also sensitive to academic snobbishness, having gone to school just a few miles down Washtenaw Avenue from the world-famous University of Michigan whose home town, Ann Arbor, bills itself as "the Athens of the Midwest."  

Yesterday, I learned on my way home on the MBTA Blue Line that at least one Boston area university has decided to strike a blow against Harvard Yard-style pomposity.

Suffolk University is a working person's school. Located on Boston's Beacon Hill it is perhaps best known by those of us who worked at the State House as the place where legislators and their young aides go at night to get their law degrees.    

But Suffolk may soon be known for something else. An edgy advertising campaign launched this summer to set the school apart from its Boston competitors "takes a sharp poke at academic elites and snobby students," writes Taryn Luna in the Boston Globe. And with 34 colleges and universities that enroll more than a quarter million students in the Boston area alone the competition for Suffolk is steep.

One ad I saw on the subway portrayed Suffolk as "a university whose students have their nose to the grindstone instead of stuck up in the air."

Another described Suffolk as a school for students who "rely on their will to succeed, not their father's will."

Take that all you pretentious and pampered Boston Brahmins!

Other taglines that had me nodding and chuckling in agreement included:

* "We offer a degree program in rocking the boat."

* "A university shouldn't just help you get your foot in the door. It should help you kick it down."

* "Can someone climb the ladder of success in something other than penny loafers?"

* "For students who believe college is a privilege not a birthright."

On substance, Suffolk brags that it has produced more Massachusetts state judges on the bench today than Harvard, Yale and Columbia combined - though with so many conditions in that statement you have to believe copy writers were given a statistic that was badly in need of stretching.

The ad campaign was the school's first in eight years and was necessitated by a projected $11 million shortfall due to a "challenging enrollment environment" that produced a smaller-than-anticipated law school class, a slight decline in the ranks of their new undergraduates, and flat graduate enrollment, the Globe reported.

The ad campaign draws on the school's history serving local students who may not have received a university education otherwise, writes Luna, noting that Suffolk began in 1906 as an evening law school educating young immigrants in the parlor of founder Gleason L. Archer's Roxbury home.

"Suffolk came to be the place where smart, hard-working, dedicated people could get an education and do something with it," Suffolk President James McCarthy said. "These were people who came from the Boston neighborhoods. That's still the case."

Fifty-four percent of undergraduates are in-state residents, and 69 percent of alumni live in Massachusetts, says Luna.

Ever watchful for the reputations of Boston's elite institutions like Harvard and MIT, however, the Globe also notes that despite its hardscrabble, working-class roots Suffolk ranks among the more expensive universities in Massachusetts for undergraduates.  That's provided you only look at "net" tuition costs that recalculate the high tuition charged elsewhere by accounting for the generous financial aid packages these heavily endowed universities (like Harvard and MIT) are able to provide students of modest means.

Nevertheless, "the voice that comes through in Suffolk's advertising is a defiant one, underscoring the university's commitment to hard work and impatience for moneyed dilettantism," writes Charlie Tyson of the Inside Higher Ed blog.

It is probably unwise to make too much of a single marketing campaign. Still, advertisers are famous for being canaries in the coal mine who are able to unfailingly intuit subterranean currents in the popular zeitgeist that can be captured and packaged to sell soap - or seats in a college classroom.

And when an institution as notoriously cautious and conservative as a university hires a New York advertising agency to re-brand itself as a bomb-throwing incendiary pitted against the plutocratic pretensions of our time, you begin to think that maybe the public's anger against inequality and unfairness runs deeper than first thought, and is lying in wait for some populist leader or party to mold into a force to be reckoned with.

How else to explain why an imposing 700-page tome, written by an obscure French economist, and with the uninviting title Capital in the 21st Century has become such a surprising runaway best seller -- unless it might be the book's simple message that the rich will always get richer and everyone else struggle to just to break even unless some one or some thing outside the capitalist free market system steps in to reshuffle the deck.  


Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
For the time being, I'm not particularly disturbed by the prospects of Hillary as POTUS. She of course, has all of her credentials. But you know as well as I know that the kind of president we have at any particular time is dependent on the overall conditions in the USA.

Here's hoping that the zeitgeist is on the cusp of changing radically. It would be a refreshing change of pace!
I remember the less than enthusiatic response to my degree from Western Michigan U. when I came to NYC. "Kalamazoo," they'd say. "Is that really a town?"

Yet, I had a great education even if it was totally a fluke. The school had so few good students they formed a special honors college for 13 of us, and the teachers fought to teach us. The real value came then in the life long relationships formed with three of those teachers. Sadly, only one is left.

We sent my daughter to one of the fancy private, formerly all girls Eastern schools. It scared me to death because I felt certain she'd come out calling me a misogynist pig, but somehow by the grace of God that didn't happen either, and I've come to believe it was a decent education because she actually learned how to think. She recently got a graduate degree from the best school of its type in Ca. and found it was a piece of cake. (Though she's found she's considered a threat to the locals in Southern Ca.)

I'm not sure, however, that's what's happening at a lot of these prestigious Eastern schools. How many of them actually know a teacher let alone know how to do anything but regurgitate the material stuffed down their throats? Why anyone would spend a dime on these educational factories is beyond me, and certainly shows up in the intelligence demonstrated by the average voter in this country.

But these are the folks for the most part who rule America. That's the truth of it--the inequality to which you refer. It's one of the reasons why so little ever changes.

Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti. What is it about Michigan that it likes to locate its colleges in the most ridiculous-sounding towns possible!

When I went to EMU I was living with my Uncle Ted who was a labor law professor and dean of the University of Michigan law school at the time. He actually advised that for undergraduate work I stay at Eastern rather than transfer to U of M as planned precisely because there was greater contact between professors and students at a "second tier" university like Eastern that placed more emphasis on teaching than research. There were advantages to going to a school that had the top minds in their field like U of M, he said, but you paid the price in the 350 student lecture halls and lack of personal contact between students and the superstars of academics.

I've also had the pleasure of knowing a couple of Harvard professors personally. One said that if Harvard was honest with itself it would acknowledge that the education it provides is not exponentially superior to that provided elsewhere.

The brilliance of its students does have an impact, which leads to the point made by the other professor, who often worried about the psyches of many of his students who he said were wound way too tight -- having always succeeded spectacularly at everything they did (like founding successful companies before they were 18) but who were also unhappy and mental basket cases. It's just not worth it.

Ambition and accomplishment are good things, but I've often thought the pressure to succeed we impose of ourselves and our children in this country is nuts. I look at my co-workers who are afraid to take more than one week vacation (I always take two!) and I sometimes wish I lived in France where BY LAW people have to "go on holiday" for a whole month.
A lot of them don't have lives and we wonder why suicide is becoming so common, even though it's often covered up at that level.

There's nothing more disgusting than a well "educated" fool and I've met many. I'm not sure it isn't more the problem than the solution to so many of our social and cultural problems.

We are hardly the meritocracy we claim to be, which is why Obama is such an anomaly--a man of color gets a degree from Harvard, opening doors otherwise closed, leaping past the rest. That is an American story. The resentment he's had to face isn't that hard to recognize.
The thing about major universities is you get the real advantages in grad school, aside from connections and cachet. These laces are not primarily organized around undergraduate education, unless you're in an honors program or something.
Sorry, "places". Not "laces"
There's a good chance your Uncle Ted knew my grandfather who was an attorney who started a labor union, and then as a Democrat elected as DA in a number of counties in Southern Mi. though it may have predated him. He then practiced law for many years in Detroit, and was counsel to the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Maybe I told you this story: but when I told my grandfather I was accepted at U of M and asked if he'd help pay for it he turned me down flat and said "If you're going to go to a heathen school like that you'll have to pay for it yourself."

Hence, I went to WMU. I couldn't afford U of M on my own even with a National Merit Scholarship. I used to fantasize what would have happened if I'd come to NYC with a U of M degree, but it's all ancient history now. I've survived worse decisions than that.
I've just bought a widely reviewed new book, Excellent Sheep, by a former Yale English prof whose view is close to yours. One recent review of the book noted that in the run up to the Great Recession, nearly half of Harvard's college graduates were headed for careers in finance or consulting. Apparently they had discovered where the wealth and power lies. Or Daddy told them.
Eastern Michigan University, eh? I would have figure you for a Boston Brahmin. That little school up the road from EMU has a pretty nasty reputation as uppity, too. I know -- I'm a Michigan State/Grand Valley alumnus.

The hard truth is it isn't the education alone that makes top-tier universities desirable -- it's the connections one makes at these institutions that pay off handsomely after graduation -- not to mention that one is much more likely to marry well -- as the used to say.

I've often wondered what the prospects would have been for someone like George W Bush had he been born black and educated in an inner city school. I think it's safe to say there would have been no chance of him becoming our first black President.
[r] an interesting blog, but my question is does Suffolk deliver or is this just clever advertising delivering little? look at the Trojan Horse Obama that promised to push back against the establishment with its profiteering militarism and fraudulent banksters. Impression management is the game. Respect for humanity, education for education's sake, integrity, courage, in short supply.

As for ONL's Hillary comment, I have to leave now in search of a vomit bucket.

best, libby
In my daughter's first semester at Tufts she earned all A's. When she called to tell me she said that "everyone" was telling her now was the time to apply to transfer to Harvard - now she'd get in, no question. She said, I think I'm the only one who went to Tufts because I wanted to go here, not because I didn't get into Harvard. (She didn't apply to Harvard, the east coast academic nerd's mother that remains in me is required to say because before the fact, it's not where you go, it's where you're accepted.)

And I know Tufts is no Suffolk. Every year my kid was there, the letter they sent to parents announcing the next year's tuition increase pointed out that it was one of the 5 most expensive schools in the country, costing more even than Harvard or Yale. I swear that's true and, yes, it made me question the place.

Myself, I've always liked the land grant university.