How does the idea of prestige in academia impact student success?
- The topic of academic prestige, and specifically how "class" differences among institutions impact hiring mobility, took center stage in a recent essay for Inside Higher Ed, as two scholars discussed the "homophily" and misplaced values evident in faculty hiring priorities.
- The author noted that the academic structure exists for the middle and upper class, and the presumption in academia is that individuals, from graduate students to full professors, have uninterrupted access to family wealth, or at least to sufficient financial resources to keep them afloat.
- Canadian professor Lynn Arner posited the notion that "middle-classness is somehow conferred with a doctorate" has created "blind spots" among hiring committees, which shut out those who do not have PhDs from Ivy League institutions. The idea that institutions don't "hire down" is still very much an issue, despite rhetoric to the contrary.
This idea of classism in academia is not limited to the professoriate; it is an issue which also plagues administrators, including presidents, looking to move between institution types. Though we would like to believe one's accomplishments would speak for themselves, it is highly unlikely that a community college campus president would ever find himself leading the state flagship, or that someone from a small state school would find herself leading an Ivy League institution.
But this is why the idea of succession planning and grooming those in positions which traditionally could lead to the presidency for that next step is so critical. Investing in the professional development of academic deans, provosts, business officers and others on campus not only ensures your campus has the top talent at those positions, it helps to prepare a pipeline for leaders across academia.
As Arner pointed out, however, it is equally important for hiring committees at all levels to examine their own implicit biases and reconcile the rhetoric around diversity with the actual value demonstrated. As more and more students coming to campus are first-generation and from working class or lower middle class families, having a professoriate — and even administrators — who can identify with those students will allow the college to better serve them. In many cases, successful student service initiatives are born of individuals who see themselves in their students and feel personally compelled to ensure the success of those students. And as more states look to tie funding to student success, it is incumbent upon institution leaders to look inward and realize their biases may be the primary hindrance to that success.
- Inside Higher Ed Blue Collar PhD
Follow Autumn A. Arnett on Twitter