Yale vs Brandeis: a comparative study

September 28, 2018

The controversy surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court has perhaps surprisingly spilled over into academia, with my alma mater Yale and my new home Brandeis taking up seemingly opposing sides. While both schools seem diametrically different in some aspects, in others, they are extremely similar.


Kavanaugh, a brilliant legal mind, who is accused of assaulting multiple women, has defended himself by publishing a list of women he has not assaulted. His defense has been bolstered by Yale professor and self-proclaimed Tiger Mother, Amy Chua. On the other hand, Brandeis professor Anita Hill (WGS) has advocated for a thorough investigation of Kavanaugh to get to the heart of the matter.


Outside of this incident, I have had occasion to compare these two prestigious universities in a number of dimensions, and what follows is the result of my careful comparative study of Yale and Brandeis.


First, the names. Yale University, founded in 1701, was named after philanthropist Elihu Yale, who only occasionally traded slaves during his business endeavors. Brandeis University is named after Louis D. Brandeis, a former Supreme Court Judge known as the “people’s lawyer” for his commitment to public causes.


A constituent college at Yale was named after a notable advocate of slavery for 84 years, and its windows were decorated with stained glass scenes of happy slaves picking cotton. Brandeis, in contrast, does not have separate colleges with undergraduates, nor are its windows stained glass.


Despite lurid stories of the escapades in Kavanaugh’s former fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE), reported recently in the press, Yale University has done much to improve its image. For example, it has instituted several steps to combat the false perception that it is a thinly disguised Battle Royale for the ultra-rich, in which they score points by one-upping each other in callousness and the winners are then rewarded with access to entrenched power.


For example, Yale severely castigated DKE for chanting “No means yes, yes means anal” on the streets, by not suspending anyone. Brandeis, meanwhile, has failed to convince this elite fraternity to establish a chapter here—and undergraduate students at Brandeis are at grave risk of actually learning something useful.


Both universities are private and depend on fundraising from wealthy benefactors. For example, Yale recently received a $150 million dollar gift from a close confidant of Donald Trump. A spokesperson for Brandeis University refused to comment on rumors that a check from Donald Trump himself was currently in the mail.


The institutional ethos of a university can often be inferred from its guests and from its members. Yale has been the haunt of several brilliant political leaders and war criminals like Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair, while there are no known war criminals at Brandeis at the moment. Black students are so rare at Yale that a student called the police when she spotted one on campus last year; while Brandeis is known to have some black students, especially in the basketball team, where they face no harassment.


Despite their differences, the two venerable institutions do have some things in common. A distinguished faculty and colorful personality at Yale won the Nobel Prize and subsequently avoided controversy. At Brandeis too, a distinguished faculty and colorful personality won the Nobel Prize and subsequently avoided controversy. When you are asked where you went to college, a “Yalie” can answer “New Haven,” and preppy white kids will know what you’re talking about. Students at Brandeis, meanwhile, can say “Boston,” and preppy white kids will think you meant Harvard.


The universities may differ, but what makes a graduate is more than the sum of what they learn. In my opinion, both institutions try to grant every student with skill and power, but most importantly, with the choice to use them for good or not.

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