Meritocracy, My Ass

Just in case there was any confusion on the subject, the academic job market does not reward those who work the hardest, teach well and often, or produce more and better scholarship.  Compared to the advantages of an Ivy League pedigree and its nepotistic connections, things like teaching experience, publications, and awards don’t amount to a pile of beans.  At least that’s the case with many schools — R-1s and small liberal arts colleges alike — that are easily wowed by the names on diplomas and letters of reference.  For those of us without the great good fortune to have been enrolled in courses at places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford, it’s a game of luck and chance, and the hope that at least one member of the search committee will have the guts to read past the eduction section of the CV and not be star-struck when the Good Old Boys start calling in their connections.

Yeah, I lost out on a job search to an Ivy Leaguer, even though I have taught more classes, published more articles, and won more awards.  So I’m pissed.  And I’m going to use it.  I’m going to take my anger and frustration and I’m going to sink it into my work.  I’m going to get the articles out, go to the conferences, get the book published, get the job, and get elected to professional organizations.  And when the time comes on job, conference, and fellowship committees, I will have my vengeance.  So run, you cur.  And tell the other curs I’m coming, and I’m bringing hell with me.

4 thoughts on “Meritocracy, My Ass

  1. Seems the grass is always greener, or at least the Ivy is.

    But I beg to differ with your conclusion. I attend an Ivy League history PhD program and my cohort has had similar luck to yours in the job search.

    Bottom line: supply of newly minted PhD’s exceeds demand for same. Result: lots of despairing smart folk ascribing their misery to causes beyond their reach.

    • Thanks for the comment, as always! You’re probably right: I’m grumpy about structural problems that I can’t really fix. But then again:
      1) I should have been clearer — it’s more a matter of nepotism than name, and I suspect that not all Ivy League schools are the same in this regard, at least in my field. The Yale Mafia, for instance, might be more willing to pull rank and connections to get their students jobs than, say, Brown or Cornell or Penn. The problem is the Good Old Boys who throw their weight around to get their students jobs based not on work, but by virtue of being one of their students.
      2) And it’s not just Ivy League; it’s other big name schools with big name faculty, and that includes Stanford and Wisconsin.
      3) All of this is anecdote, which is problematic. It’d be great to see some data. I’d love to find out the percentage of jobs that went to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Wisconsin, and Stanford PhDs this year, and have that cross-referenced to the percentage of hiring faculty from those same schools. Then draw some even more precise connections between advisers, PhDs, and job search committees.

      So while I agree with your main point — there are more PhDs than jobs — I’d argue that having a PhD from one of the top schools gives a person an advantage relative to someone from a lesser school that no amount of work or quality from the latter can overcome.

  2. I attended a public R1. I’m still on the job market so I’m being vague about the specifics because I still need letters of recommendation. I tallied the institutional origins of the faculty at my alma mater and found that Ivies were over-represented among the faculty, numerically speaking. That doesn’t mean it’s easy for people at or from Ivies. It’s a gamble for everyone and everyone works had. But at least anecdotally people from Ivies succeed on the job market more often than the rest of us.

    • Thanks for your comment, Nonimous. I hope you have good luck on the job market! You’re right, of course; having an Ivy degree doesn’t make it easy to get a job. But in most cases it doesn’t hurt, and I think the numbers and the anecdotes suggest that.
      Again: good luck!

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