Sunday, May 18, 2008

On The Ivy League

I have been in the USA long enough to understand the implications of the term Ivy League. Here, a country where the social hierarchy, or system of castes if you prefer, is still rather mobile, it is important to establish an elite of some kind.

As a matter of fact elite schools have been around since times immemorial, and they still go strong: suffice to think of the French Grandes Ecoles to know it all.

A few months ago, I had the sudden desire to know what is really old, in the world university system. I thought of Oxford and Paris, of course, but also of Bologna (1088), and (I am a native of Italy) of the Schola Salernitana, a medical school of the late middle age.

Old? Yes, but one can do better. As it turns out, the oldest extant university in the world is
the University of Al-Karaouine or Al-Qarawiyyin ( جامعة القرويين‎), founded in 859 CE. Not bad, right? Amongst its renowned alumni, the greatest jewish medieval philosopher Maimonides.

To be sure, there were centers of learning back in the far past, for instance the buddhist university created under the indian king Ashoka, and other schools tied up with some form of priesthood. Whether we would cast them into the modern label of universities is, of course, matter of taste (I would).

So, here is my question:

If you are a graduate of, say, Bologna, Coimbra, Toulouse, Oxford, you belong to which league?

I would suggest the Stalactite League, but perhaps someone here will come back with a better name :)

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