Recently, on YouTube, I watched a stage performance of the musical, “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying”. One of my favorite scenes in the play is the one in which Ponty the window-washer worms his way into the Executive Suite by convincing the company president he is a Groundhog, i.e., a graduate of “Old Ivy”. Together, they sing the fight song, which exhorts the football team to “rip, rip, rip the Chipmunk off the field.”

Later, Ponty gets rid of a corporate rival by exposing his competitor as a secret Chipmunk, a graduate of hated Northern University. Obviously, the company president isn’t interested in whether Ponty knows anything or not. All he needs to know (he thinks) is that Ponty went to Old Ivy.

Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? The present collegiate admissions bribery scandal tells us that, whichever way it is, the play captures a mentality that is still very much with us. Degrees from elite universities are considered patents of nobility that admit their holders to the fanciest salons, the most exclusive company.

The participants in this scheme will be prosecuted. They may go to prison. They may be fined. But don’t look for the system to reform itself. The Old Ivy mentality doesn’t operate at the conscious level. It’s ingrained.

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