The velvet rope?

| | Comments (2)

IHE makes note of a study published this month in Academe by Stephen Wu, called "Where do Faculty Receive Their PhD's?." It's notable for me mainly because it's an initial stab at a network analysis of the largely invisible prestige economy that operates in the academy.

The results aren't especially surprising: top schools hire from top schools:

This study shows that graduates from the top-rated PhD programs continue to hold an overwhelming share of faculty positions at leading colleges and universities. Still, there is a fair amount of variation by field as well by institution type. The reasons for these disparities are unclear, but they merit further investigation.

One of the reasons for disparity is the blunt instrument that Wu uses for his data, namely the USNWR rankings. English is one of the "fields" that he looks at, and English departments include all sorts of areas that aren't articulated by those rankings. The presence of comprhet in most departments guarantees, for example, that the percentage of faculty from the Ivies will decrease. The absence of comprhet from USNWR rankings means that our program at SU is basically invisible.

I have more to say, but I wanted to jot down the observation that what "merits further investigation" is the degree to which the USNWR rankings (among other, similar, "objective" tools) function as a velvet rope to keep subdisciplines and interdisciplines marginalized and unrecognized. I like the basic direction of Wu's piece, but there are really fundamental problems with treating English as monolithically as he does, and even though it's the initial fault of USNWR, he perpetuates it here by not inquiring into the powerful ways that those rankings help to produce his results.


I don't know about this study and I don't have the time or interest to read it now, but I will say this. First, I of course think you are right about the USNWR thing. Second, I have always heard that one cannot really rise above the level where one received their Ph.D., and, in my experience, this is basically true. You can go the other way (though, to be honest, when we interview folks at EMU with degrees from the ivies, we're always a bit suspicious that we're just being used), but it is really REALLY hard to go the other way.

I am a good example of this. I have a Ph.D. from Bowling Green State, and I am at EMU. I am officially done with my job searching process, but I doubt I could get a job at a big 10 school with a comp/rhet program (say Michigan State, Purdue, Penn State, or Ohio State), and I am pretty sure I wouldn't be able to get a job at a place like say Syracuse.

There are other factors, of course. I believe that Sharon Crowley has a Ph.D. from Northern Colorado, which I don't believe has any Ph.D. program in comp/rhet anymore. She has obviously risen above her origins because of stellar work after her degree.

I think that you probably underestimate yourself, Steve, but I follow your point here. I think that there are at least two models operating in our field, but it would be tough to prove without using a much more nuanced model than Wu does: there's the downhill slope, where it's easier to be hired at a lateral or "lesser" institution than it is to move "up," but there's also a way that certain "edgy" institutions or subdisciplines penetrate upward, I think, and that's one of the advantages that I had coming from UTA. Not only does my program not really exist anymore, but I'd be hard put to argue that UTA was anywhere close to lateral with Syracuse.

Another factor that has us marching to a different beat is that R/C programs emerge from a very different context than English more generally, and so large land-grant Uni's are much more "top" than the Ivies for us.

I can't really do much with this right now, but it hooks up for me with the Visibility Project stuff that the Consortium is working on, and the occasional conversation burst on various lists about whether and why we should have program rankings in our field. And of course, it's network stuff...


Leave a comment



Powered by Movable Type 4.1

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on August 5, 2005 12:06 PM.

The Pilgrim's Regress was the previous entry in this blog.

He being brand new is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.