An address prepared for the Association of General and Liberal Studies Conference, 1976

Much has been written by academic historians about anti-intellectualism in North America, but the same academic brotherhood has had little to say on the subject of academic elitism. This subject may be too close to home. Elitism has been rife among North American academics for 300 years. The term elite springs from the French. It is related to the Latin for the elect. It refers to one who is chosen - to the flower, the cream, the aristocracy. Political scientists have extended the term to its natural base in power in relations. Most academics who hope to be numbered among the elite within the volatile stratification structure of North American society maintain an unconsciousness about their power surgencies. Or, at least they have the decency - for in the humanist tradition this is a virtue to be associated with the elitism implicit in the classic personal style of balance and cool civility - to mask their appetite for power with the humility of merit.

General education, ironically, did not evolve as an antidote to academic elitism. Rather it began as an attempt to restore and protect elitism from the ravages of professionalism and specialization. Although general education has come a long way since its early days, its agents have most often had to co-exist among those academics who continue to be the most virulent carriers of the elitist ideal. But more of this later.