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The Collapse of Credentialism


For many years, the United States has been effectively a technocracy, run by unelected “experts.” Former Harvard president Claudine Gay’s fall from grace may mark the end of that era.

Technocrats have long told us what we can and can’t do, what we’re allowed to own, what our kids must learn in school, and so on. For the most part, we never voted for any of that, yet we have gone along docilely, not noticing or not caring or, at best, unwilling to make waves.

The result has been the rise of self-selected “experts,” the credentialed class, who exist primarily to impose their will on others. Their ranks have swelled recently with the exponential growth of government and education bureaucracies and the emergence of “academic” programs designed not to increase knowledge but to feed those bureaucracies.

This is what I refer to as “credentialism:” the pursuit of dubious credentials, like degrees in pseudo-sciences and quasi-academic subjects, solely for the purpose of advancing one’s own career and personal policy preferences. The term might also apply to those with legitimate credentials who in their hubris believe being an “expert” gives them the right to tell everyone else how to live.

Much to the dismay of the credentialed class, Americans’ tolerance of this system began to wane about four years ago, when it became apparent to many that a) the experts don’t always know what they’re doing, and b) they don’t necessarily have our best interests at heart.

Anyone who was paying attention could see, as early as April 2020, that much of what the “experts” were telling us—about masks, “social distancing,” school closures—had no basis in science. Anonymous social media accounts routinely exposed the technocrats’ contradictions, statistical errors, and bold-faced lies.  

That trend continued into 2021, when the much-ballyhooed “vaccines” failed to prevent people from contracting or transmitting the virus—just as the “conspiracy theorists” had predicted. Attempts to suppress this information were to some extent stymied by lawsuits, FOIA requests, an aggressive alternative media (including Campus Reform), and Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter/X.  

The truth, bit by bit, came out. The “experts” were discredited. And credentialism began to implode as people realized that merely having a degree or title is no guarantee of anything.

The collapse was hastened by the medical and scientific establishment’s embrace of “transgenderism.” As the “transgender activists” constantly reminded us, virtually every major medical association in the country has endorsed the idea that people can change their sex.

But since literally everyone knows that’s not true–people can’t actually change their sex—the self-righteous harangues of the credentialed class fail to persuade. Instead, they just further discredit themselves and their entire profession.

Which brings us to the latest and perhaps pivotal episode in the slow-motion train-wreck that is the fall of credentialism: Claudine Gay’s resignation.

Gay was the quintessential “diversity hire,” a mediocre scholar by Ivy League standards who rose to power based on her race and gender, along with (apparently) a fair amount of ruthlessness.

She is also a classic example of credentialism—what academics sometimes refer to as “careerism”—parlaying her advanced degrees into a series of leadership roles as she climbed the administrative ladder. The derivative nature of her “scholarship,” combined with her meteoric rise, suggests that she was always focused more on her own ambition than on the pursuit of truth.  

Unfortunately for Harvard, for the Ivy League, and for the entire credentialed class, her appointment as president proved to be a disaster. When the leader of the most prestigious institution in the country, the one at the very top of the credentialism heap, turns out to be a proven plagiarist and a potential fraud—well, that doesn’t exactly inspire the rest of us to put much faith in degrees and titles.

Indeed, today people tend to trust higher education less than ever. They put less stock in credentials. And that is generally a good thing—unless you genuinely need a credential to work in your field. What should you do, in that case? I plan to talk about that in my next column, so stay tuned.    

Republished from Campus Reform

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  • Rob Jenkins

    Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Georgia State University – Perimeter College and a Higher Education Fellow at Campus Reform. He is the author or co-author of six books, including Think Better, Write Better, Welcome to My Classroom, and The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders. In addition to Brownstone and Campus Reform, he has written for Townhall, The Daily Wire, American Thinker, PJ Media, The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. The opinions expressed here are his own.

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