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Academic elitism is the criticism that academia or academicians are prone to elitism, or that certain experts or intellectuals propose ideas based more on support from academic colleagues than on real world experience. The term "ivory tower" often carries with it an implicit critique of academic elitism.


Some of economist Thomas Sowell's writings (Intellectuals and Society) suggest that academicians and intellectuals have an undeserved "halo effect" and face fewer disincentives than other professions against speaking outside their expertise. Sowell cites Bertrand Russell, Noam Chomsky and Edmund Wilson as paradigmatic examples of this phenomenon. Though respected for their contributions to various academic disciplines (respectively mathematics, linguistics, and literature), the three men became known to the general public only by making often-controversial and disputed pronouncements on politics and public policy that would not be regarded as noteworthy if offered by a medical doctor or skilled tradesman.[1]

Critics of academic elitism argue that highly-educated people tend to form an isolated social group whose views tend to be overrepresented amongst journalists, professors, and other members of the intelligentsia who often draw their salary and funding from taxpayers. Economist Dan Klein shows that the worldwide top-35 economics departments pull 76 percent of their faculty from their own graduates. He argues that the academic culture is pyramidal, not polycentric, and resembles a closed and genteel social circle. Meanwhile, academia draws on resources from taxpayers, foundations, endowments, and tuition payers, and it judges the social service delivered. The result is a self-organizing and self-validating circle.[2]

Another criticism is that universities tend more to pseudo-intellectualism than intellectualism per se; for example, to protect their positions and prestige, academicians may over-complicate problems and express them in obscure language (e.g., the Sokal affair, a hoax by physicist Alan Sokal attempting to show that American humanities professors invoke complicated, pseudoscientific jargon to support their political positions.) Some observers argue that, while academicians often perceive themselves as members of an elite, their influence is mostly imaginary: "Professors of humanities, with all their leftist fantasies, have little direct knowledge of American life and no impact whatever on public policy."[3]

See also


  1. Sowell, T. (2009). Intellectuals and Society. Basic Books, pp. 16-18
  2. Klein, Daniel B. (2005). The Ph.D. Circle in Academic Economics. Econ Journal Watch 2 (1): 133–148.
  3. Paglia, Camille. (1992) Sex, Art and American Culture : New Essays, ISBN 978-0-679-74101-5, p. ix.

Further reading

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