Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Letter From Reader

With permission I am posting this letter from a reader both because it is interesting and he would like comments from others.

"Dr. Harrison;

I came across your blog while doing some research on the relationship between SES and higher ed. I am Phd candidate. . . in political science and public policy. Coming from a working class background I have always been interest in how class factors in both to student and faculty existence. Depending upon my career trajectory I would like to eventually conduct some type of research related to this topic. From what I can tell this topics is sort of an 800 lb gorilla in the room that no one bothers to recognize. Relative to what I have read of your work thus far I have a few comment and a few questions.

First, based upon what I have seen your analysis and perspective is almost completely accurate in most of academia outside of law. Frankly, I found it uncanny how many of the topics you have discussed I have seen first hand.

Second, you had mentioned considering SES in terms of hiring etc especially relative to administrative positions. Have you ever considered the civil service model of hiring and promotion as a method of resolving what essentially is corruption in academic hiring? For instance, academics might be required to actually be trained to teach much like k-12 teachers (which presumably would include a union or professional organization to set standards) in addition to the hiring process being more transparent and formal, (as found in federal and state govt. hiring)

Third, One of the larger issues in many non-professional disciplines is the issue of the casualization of the work force. As it stands the majority of teaching now is done by grad students and adjuncts who tend to be underpaid and lack job security, in addition to possessing disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged groups. Is there such a trend in legal education or in law in general? Also, you might, if you already have not done so, check out Mark Bousquete's website on academic labor: www.Howtheuniversityworks.com

Fourth, I am curious to hear your take on the rationale of the elite for ignoring job applicants from non-elite institutions. Specifically, if there is a good if not superior candidate from a lower tier school how is the justification for not hiring them constructed? This, incidentially is something that is quite prolific in most academic disciplines often to the point where inferior candidates will be hired almost soley on the basis of their pedigree. A good article on this was done a couple of years ago by Val Burris at the University of Oregon.

Thanks, and I enjoyed reading your work."

Two quick comments in response to the writer. The most important authority I know of on the issue of class and administrative posts is Ken Oldfield. On the rationale for excluding non elites, at least in law, the issue is not addressed directly. Instead a committee composed largely of elites, filters them out. As far as I know they have never been challenged enough to offer a rationale but there are many codes law professors use to elevate people that are socially and politically comfortable above those they are not. Usually in comes in the form of criticism of a job talk or applying an higher standard to non elites than to elites in other ways. The number of pretenses is limitless and quite transparent because there is very little opposition.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday, March 01, 2010

Rules or No Rules: Maybe Rawls Really Was Wrong

Recently at my school a proposal was made to alter the sabbatical policy in a minor way. A faculty member would qualify for the alternation by meeting fairly specific conditions. I liked the proposal and the conditions because it seemed to create some level of certainty. In short, you knew where you stood. Your standing might be good or bad but you probably would not know until the time for your sabbatical arrived.

I would say that half or maybe most of the faculty had the opposite reaction. They preferred less precise rules and more discretion for the decision makers. In a way the whole thing had a Rawlsian feel to it almost like creating the rules behind the veil of ignorance.

As I thought about it, you were most likely to oppose the rules -- even ones you thought were fair-- if you felt you could make a better deal without them. In the case of the sabbatical plan, it seemed clear that most people felt they could cut a better deal if there were no rules that applied to all.

So what would explain a person's believe that they could do better than a pre set rule. One possibility is they they learned this to be the case. In other words, they have been able in the past to cut a deal that was better that following the rules. Another possibility is not seeing themselves and equals with respect to other faculty. This is along the line of "Those rule are suitable for the average Joe but not for me." It's that old sense of entitlement rearing its head once again. When you combine that sense of entitlement with experiences that suggest you really are special, it creates the type of chaos and stress that is found among academics.