My latest for the Chronicle of Higher Education is on institutional bias, which has come, in academia, to function something like inherited wealth:
What that means is something every Ph.D. from a less-prestigious institution knows all too well: No amount of publishing, teaching excellence, or grants can compensate for an affiliation that is less than favorable in the eyes of a search committee. The fate of aspiring professors is sealed not with job applications but with graduate-school applications. Institutional affiliation has come to function like inherited wealth. Those who have it operate in a different market, more immune from the dark trends – unemployment, adjunctification – that dog their less-prestigious peers.
The Great Recession is notable not only for its relentlessness – many people, six years later, are still waiting to feel the effects of the “recovery” – but for the way a tiny elite was able to continue their luxurious lifestyle while the livelihood of the majority was turned upside down. During the first two years of the “recovery,” the mean net worth of households in the upper 7 percent of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28 percent, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent. With wages largely stagnant and cost of living soaring, it made less difference what one did during the recovery than what kind of money one had before the crash. More and more, the American Dream is a foregone conclusion, a tale told in reverse.
The same trend holds true in academia: career stagnation based on institutional affiliation. Where you come from remains cruelly indicative of where you will go. What you actually do on the journey is, to the status-obsessed, irrelevant.
With institutional bias in hiring now proven by multiple social scientists, why don’t prospective graduate students simply limit their applications to favored elite institutions? The answer is often financial, and, again, speaks to privilege and discrimination endemic to academic culture.
Read the whole thing, Academia’s One Percent, at the Vitae section of the Chronicle of Higher Education.