Ferocity Amidst the Ivy

Speaking of competitiveness, Saturday's FTmagazine (Financial Times) served up a cover story titled "Oxford Blues: How U.S. Academia Left Britain's Elite Universities in Its Wake."

America's answer, in short, is fiery, out-in-the-open, no-holds-barred competitiveness. Competing for Alumni bucks. Competing for Profs. Competing for Students. Competing for Grants. Competing for Recognition. Competing for the right to use the word Excellence per se. The competitive ferocity is most clearly exemplified, the FT reports, by Harvard's relatively new president, Larry Summers. (Academic superstar, former Clinton Treasury Secretary, energetic and aggressive in ways that give new meaning to the words.)

The results of the drive evinced by Summers and his determined peers—competitors, from Cambridge (Massachusetts/MIT) to Palo Alto (Stanford)—can partly be measured by the fact that the U.S. bags three-quarters of all Nobel Prizes, and is home to 700 of the world's 1,200 top academics, as measured by scientific citations. Also, a research study conducted last year by Shanghai University (they're watching!) concluded that the four "best universities" in the world are American: Harvard (#1), Berkeley, Cal Tech, Stanford. The UK's Cambridge bagged the 5th slot. The new chief at Cambridge acknowledges the Americans'/our competitiveness, which she contrasted to the British cast of mind. "Americans," she said, "are not embarrassed by ambition."

Which could lead me to segue back to my first comment—our generic unabashed, "energetic" approach to life wins Nobels in medicine, and probably explains more than a little about gun violence, Hummer-love and warrior tendencies as well.