Friday, September 08, 2006

Class Bias in Higher Education

Thanks to an email from its author, Prof. Jeffrey L. Harrison of the University of Florida College of Law, I recently discovered the Class Bias in Higher Education blog. What a fascinating read! Prof. Harrison goes straight for the jugular in his critique of how self-serving academics enjoy lives of leisure at the public expense.

He lambastes, for instance, a Sloan Foundation survey as "embarrassingly slanted to signal the 'right' answers to privileged professors who want even more," and calls it "a study of people with salaries high enough to hire childcare, who are in the classroom 5 to 10 hours a week, who can cancel and reschedule classes at any time, and who can do most of their research at home." Ouch. That zinger comes close enough to singe.

Prof. Harrison very plausibly asserts that
people with working-class backgrounds are not found in our profession in anything close to the same proportion as they are in society. Further, current efforts to improve diversity are far too exclusionary to be responsive to what I believe to be a pervasive class bias. Surely a truly diverse and representative faculty would include far more than a smattering of men and women who have grown up in a working-class culture.

As I've elsewhere observed, the American Association of Law Schools imposes perplexingly discriminatory limits on how hiring committees search for would-be faculty members. Perhaps it's just as well, then, that the AALS does not collect data about the class background of each candidate.

Prof. Harrison pegs some of the blame for the privileges of academia on the difficulty of measuring just what the heck we academics do. Discussing the problem of assessing law school performance, Prof. Harrison says, "The subjectivity involved in evaluation leaves huge gaps for interpretation by faculty committees and self-promotion by individual faculty." He might well add to that list of subjective measures the reputation scores that play so prominent a role in U.S. News and World Report's law school rankings.

[Crossposted to Agoraphilia.]


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