Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Informal World of Non Elites

A friend suggested to me that class bias is so powerful that it never really wears off. What he meant was that even if a non elite cracks through, somehow gets a law teaching job, and then tenure, many things remain the same. The clique of the elites is never open to the non elites. You know this by the way the elites "connect" on a social level, drop the same names, and observe the same social mannerisms. It is not something I had thought about. The humorless and dull world of elites has never been attractive to me. I just cannot get the hang of the minuet.

Reflecting in this idea, though, made me realize that sometimes the treatment of non elites who do sneak in is quite damaging. I recall one non elite recruited early in my career who was quickly assigned administrative duties that placed his scholarship in jeopardy. He obviously was not taken seriously as a potential scholar. Other non elites got tenure with flying colors but just never seemed to get the recognition they deserved. The celebrations and congratulations seemed to be reserved more for elites.

On the other hand, I cannot say that I have seen a non elite run into a higher or different standard for tenure and promotion. And, at my school, the market has worked to the advantage of non elites since they have been recruited away in relatively greater numbers than elites. This I regard as supporting the idea that mid level law schools like mine would do better to recruit highly ranked non elites.

So what does this add up to. First, non elites are virtually closed out of law teaching. Second, if they somehow get their foot in the door, I cannot say that I have seen any out and out discrimination in terms of tenure and promotion. This may simply be a part of the overall characteristic of elites never to admit they have made recruiting mistakes. Third, I am convinced that non elites do work in a very different world. For example, law reviews make publication offers on the basis of credentials. Elites can call on the elite networks and old professors to read their work and to be thanked in the name-dropping acknowledgement footnote. And elites seem far happier to see elites succeed than they do to see non elites succeed. It is an affirmation of their own claims to be entitled.

Mainly, as I told my friend, "Why worry about this?" Would you really rather be one of them?

1 comment:

A Student At UF said...

The issue is who holds power and there is at least one way to gain power as a non-elite. The way to gain power is to come up with truly new and revolutionary ideas. The fact of the matter is that the Law is going to need this, especially in any area that is effected by technology. With the advent of the Tech boom, the Law has just been unable to keep up with pace of new technology. The only way for the Law to overcome this and prevent itself from becoming stale and ultimately useless is to listen to smart young talent with new and revolutionary ideas. Luckily, I believe that this benefits most students in non-elite schools. For instance, an example (not from the area of law) Harvard likes to pretend as a school that they welcome revolutionary ideas but the history of the school has shown quite the opposite. If the person comes up with a truly revolutionary idea, if they are professor they are fired (Tim Leary) or if they are a student they ultimately end up dropping out (Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, the latter is the creator of Facebook). Mark Zuckerberg was actually punished by the university for one of his early webpages. This type of environment does not foster revolutionary ideas. I think this is true of a lot of non-elite schools. That because they are so afraid of protecting their reputation, they in fact sometimes stymie creative thought. One exception within the elite schools is Stanford (Google is a good example). Stanford has tried to take away every obstacle in the way of creative thought and seems to have succeeded rather well. This is to the benefit of non-elite schools if they choose to act as an environment that fosters creative and revolutionary thought. If UF Law decides to do everything possible to foster this, I feel UF will ultimately earn the respect of the Law community that most people here feel we deserve.