Tales From 3 Searches

An anonymous faculty member describes the realities of the process at community colleges -- and critiques search committees.

The Faculty Salary Game

Nothing generates academic interest like a conversation about pay. Much faculty salary discussion focuses on why someone else makes more money. Often the contemplation of salary differences takes as its premise that the disparity must come from favoritism or some other illegitimate source rather than being a reflection of merit or that surrogate for merit, the market.

These conversations tend to be one-sided since the initiative comes primarily from the colleagues who feel underpaid. “Overpaid” colleagues rarely participate in this discussion. Thus, it is always good to see a systematic, data driven discussion of the subject of faculty salary differentials such as the recent much-quoted item from Ehrenberg, et al. at Cornell University.

Their study shows not only significant salary differences between disciplines on average (economists being paid more than English professors) but significant variation in that difference among institutions. This, they say, is because high quality departments pay more than low quality departments in the same discipline. If English is a weak department and economics is a strong department in one university, the difference in average salaries will be greater than if, in another university, both departments have the same quality.

These results validate in a systematic, statistical and aggregate way what individual participants in the academic market place have known and practiced for years. We who hire faculty or seek employment know that desirable scarcity drives up the market price of faculty. High quality, defined almost entirely by research success, is scarce, so the university has to pay for it. Medium quality is common so salary levels are less. The "outside offer" that comes to the faculty member whose local salary is significantly below the market resets that individual’s salary to meet the national market, whether through a counteroffer or a change in institution.  

This process, however, has many complexities not easily reflected in the aggregate data. Faculty have a local salary, the amount paid by their current institution. At the time of first hire, the local salary and the market salary are the same, because the hiring university must pay the market rate for the faculty member. This market rate reflects the faculty member’s current and expected value and includes any special premiums that might apply. However, the local salary diverges from the market the day after the faculty member begins work. 

Changes in the local salary depend not on the market, but on local circumstances. Across-the-board and merit increases negotiated by unions or established by administrations adjust the local salary to local concerns. Faculty who publish and get grants, and therefore are connected to the external market, tend to increase their local salaries faster than faculty who teach and perform a variety of service roles for the institution. Even so, the rate at which the local salary rises is somewhat to significantly independent of the national salary market place, although most institutions attempt to keep local salaries above the level of initial hires in the same field at the same rank. 

Promotion increases, which reward achievement as defined locally, also increase local salaries, but again at rates relatively independent of the market. In these local markets, politics and personality can intervene to slow or increase the rate of salary improvement. Other circumstances such as major budget crises in public institutions for example can hold back salary increases. On unionized campuses, the union’s principal effect is to raise the floor for all faculty, and in some places regulate the rates of increase.  

The market salary for a faculty member is not always higher than the local salary. The market may not pay more than the faculty member currently earns. This is often the case for faculty who have been in rank for a number of years, who do good work, but who have no particular distinction that the external marketplace cares to reward. This is the case for a majority of the faculty at most institutions. Simply put, the marketplace is not much interested in hiring midlevel faculty with good if not distinguished capabilities because an institution gains little by doing so. 

The hiring institution will have its own cadre of embedded faculty who are also good and experienced, but not spectacular. They rarely need to buy more of this kind of talent. The marketplace is available for those relatively few faculty members whose value is substantially above their local salary. These people can enter the market and receive an offer from a competing institution. This will set a new salary level for them because either their current institution will match the offer or they will leave and take the new, higher salary offer at the competing institution.  

Special circumstances complicate this marketplace. For example, senior minority or women faculty of significant scholarly distinction often carry a premium over equivalent individuals without the special characteristics. Faculty with the potential for leadership at a new institution but no leadership opportunities at their current institution can often command a premium because the new institution needs that leadership more than the current institution. Faculty with expertise of value in external commercial marketplaces command a premium over faculty of equivalent quality who have no commercial market value.

Staying Put

Many other circumstances discourage faculty entry into the national marketplace to attempt to improve their salaries. Faculty with a marketplace value may not enter the market because they do not want to pay the relocation costs, because they have an employed spouse in their current location, or because they have a life style that would require substantial change. Other faculty have retirement plans and options that they would lose if they enter the market and take another position elsewhere.  

These conditions help explain faculty behavior in their local environments. Because only a few actually access the external marketplace in any one year, and for most faculty the opportunity to take advantage of the external marketplace will happen only once or at most twice in their 30 year careers, most faculty salary effort is locally focused. This increases the politics around local salary policies. It also encourages faculty to develop strategies that manipulate and usually reduce their workload as an alternative to increasing direct compensation.  

The inaccessibility of the national market for most faculty encourages the local proliferation of quasi-administrative roles such as program chairs, faculty governance leadership, micro departmental organizations, and other structures that provide a rationale for a salary supplement for administrative service. Faculty pursue major administrative appointments that offer salary increases unavailable to them in the academic marketplace. They take on consulting, publish textbooks, create start-up companies, and supplement their salaries with summer grant funding.  Unions and tenure ensure that the institution cannot force faculty members into the marketplace where they might have to accept a lower, market-determined salary. Unions also usually ensure that whatever happens in the marketplace, the salary levels of continuing employees will keep rising. 

Faculty salaries also capture the value of security. Compared to many outside professionals of equivalent education and sophistication, faculty salaries appear low. When we account for the fact that faculty, once tenured, have a lifetime employment with compensation and benefits guaranteed, we recognize that part of the lower dollar payment reflects the much lower employment risk for tenured faculty compared to their professional counterparts in the commercial marketplace. College coaching salaries offer a clear demonstration of this. They often appear very high to many observers but actually capture two high-risk circumstances: coaches must win or be fired, and their compensation frequently depends on the amount of revenue their teams earn. 

Universities in search of high quality research faculty, defined in the national competition for grants, awards, publications, and the like, will always pay a premium for the individuals who fit their expectations. As the Cornell study shows, if an institution has a particular disciplinary focus for its quality aspirations, it will pay more for the faculty in that field than it will for faculty in fields where its aspirations are less.

At the top rank of public and private universities, almost every field is expected to be at the top level of quality, and in those universities, the salaries of all faculty will most closely reflect the national marketplace for their subdisciplines, including the built-in differentials between English and economics. The farther from the top rank a university is, the more its salaries will diverge from the marketplace level set by the top performers and the more its salary system and interests will focus on local concerns.

To understand the faculty salary game, it helps to know the whole system.

John V. Lombardi
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Proving the Critics' Case

Inside Higher Ed recently reported on four University of Pittsburgh professors critiquing the latest survey suggesting ideological one-sidedness in the academy. According to the Pitt quartet, self-selection accounts for findings that the faculty of elite disproportionately tilts to the Left. "Many conservatives," the Pitt professors mused, "may deliberately choose not to seek employment at top-tier research universities because they object, on philosophical grounds, to one of the fundamental tenets undergirding such institutions: the scientific method."
Imagine the appropriate outrage that would have occurred had the above critique referred to feminists, minorities, or Socialists. Yet the Pitt quartet's line of reasoning -- that faculty ideological imbalance reflects the academy functioning as it should -- has appeared with regularity, and has been, unintentionally, most revealing. Indeed, the very defense offered by the academic Establishment, rather than the statistical surveys themselves, has gone a long way toward proving the case of critics who say that the academy lacks sufficient intellectual diversity.

In theory, ideology should have no bearing on how a professor teaches, say, physics. Even so, should responsible administrators worry that the overwhelming partisan disparity is worthy of further inquiry? And, in theory, parents who make their money in traditionally conservative professions such as investment banking or corporate law probably do not encourage their children to enter academe. Yet, as money-making fields have always been attractive to conservatives, why has the proportion of self-professed liberals or Leftists in the academy nearly doubled in the last generation?

Had members of the academic Establishment confined themselves to such arguments (or had they ignored the partisan-breakdown studies altogether), the intellectual diversity issue would have received little attention. Instead, the last two years have seen proud, often inflammatory, defenses of the professoriate's ideological imbalance. These arguments, which have fallen into three categories, raise grave concerns about the academy's overall direction.
1. The cultural left is, simply, more intelligent than anyone else. As SUNY-Albany's Ron McClamrock reasoned, "Lefties are overrepresented in academia because on average, we're just f-ing smarter." The first recent survey came in early 2004, when the Duke Conservative Union disclosed that Duke's humanities departments contained 142 registered Democrats and 8 registered Republicans. Philosophy Department chairman Robert Brandon considered the results unsurprising: "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire."
In a slightly different vein, UCLA professor John McCumber informed The New York Times that "a successful career in academia, after all, requires willingness to be critical of yourself and to learn from experience," qualities "antithetical to Republicanism as it has recently come to be." In another Times article, Berkeley professor George Lakoff asserted that Leftists predominate in the academy because, "unlike conservatives, they believe in working for the public good and social justice, as well as knowledge and art for their own sake." Again, imagine the appropriate outcry if prominent academics employed such sweeping generalizations to dismiss statistical disparities suggesting underrepresentation of women, gays, or minorities.
These arguments become even more disturbing given the remarkably broad definition of "conservative" employed in many academic quarters. Take the case of Yeshiva University's Ellen Schrecker, recently elected to a term on the AAUP's general council. This past spring, Schrecker denounced Columbia students who wanted to broaden instruction about the Middle East for "trying to impose orthodoxy at this university." The issue, she lamented, amounted to "right wing propaganda."
The leaders of the Columbia student group, who ranged from registered Republicans to backers of Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential bid, were united only in their belief that matters relating to Israel should be treated objectively in the classroom. Probably 98 percent of the U.S. Congress and all of the nation's governors would fit under such a definition of "right wing."
Indeed, it seems as if the academic Establishment considers anyone who does not accept the primacy of a race/class/gender interpretation to be "conservative." To most outside of the academy, such a definition would suggest that professors are using stereotypes to abuse the inherently subjective nature of the hiring process.

2. A left-leaning tilt in the faculty is a pedagogical necessity, because professors must expose gender, racial, and class bias while promoting peace, "diversity" and "cultural competence." According to Montclair State's Grover Furr, "colleges and universities do not need a single additional 'conservative' .... What they do need, and would much benefit from, is more Marxists, radicals, leftists -- all terms conventionally applied to those who fight against exploitation, racism, sexism, and capitalism. We can never have too many of these, just as we can never have too few 'conservatives.'"

Furr's remarks echoed those of Connecticut College's Rhonda Garelick, who decried student "disgruntlement" when she used her French class to discuss her opposition to the war in Iraq and teach "'wakeful' political literacy." Rashid Khalidi, meanwhile, rationalized anti-Israel instruction as necessary to undo the false impressions held by all incoming Columbia students except for "Arab-Americans, who know that the ideas spouted by the major newspapers, television stations, and politicians are completely at odds with everything they know to be true."

To John Burness, Duke’s senior vice president for public affairs, such statements reflect a proper professorial role. The "creativity" in humanities and social science disciplines, he noted, addresses issues of race, class, and gender, leading to a "perfectly logical criticism of the current society" in the classroom.

At some universities, this mindset has even shaped curricular or personnel policies. Though its release generated widespread criticism and hints from administrators that it would not be adopted, a proposal to make "cultural competence" a key factor in all personnel decisions remains the working draft of the University of Oregon's new diversity plan. Columbia recently set aside $15 million for hiring women and minorities -- and white males who would "in some way promote the diversity goals of the university ." And the University of Arizona's hiring blueprint includes requiring new faculty in some disciplines to "conduct research and contribute to the growing body of knowledge on the importance of valuing diversity."

On the curricular front, my own institution's provost, Roberta Matthews (who has written that "teaching is a political act") intends for the college's new general education curriculum to produce "global citizens" -- who, she commented, are those "sensitized to issues of race, class, and gender."

Given such initiatives, it is worth remembering the traditional ideal of a university education: for faculty committed to free intellectual exchange in pursuit of the truth to expose undergraduates to the disciplines of the liberal arts canon, in the expectation that college graduates will possess the wide range of knowledge and skills necessary to function as democratic citizens.

3. A left-leaning professoriate is a structural necessity, because the liberal arts faculty must balance business school faculty and/or the general conservative political culture. University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, denouncing the "ridiculous and pernicious line" that major universities need greater intellectual diversity, complained about insufficient attention to the ideological breakdown of "Business Schools, Medical Schools, [and] Engineering schools." UCLA's Russell Jacoby wondered why " conservatives seem unconcerned about the political orientation of the business professors." Duke Law professor Erwin Chemerinsky more ambitiously claimed that "it's hard to see this as a time of liberal dominance" given conservative control of the three branches of government.

Professional schools reflect the mindset of their professions: Socialists are about as common on business school faculty as are home-schooling advocates among education school professors. But, unlike business schools, liberal arts colleges and universities do not exist to train students for a single profession. Nor are they supposed to balance the existing political culture. If the Democrats reclaim the presidency and Congress in the 2008 elections, should the academy suddenly adopt an anti-liberal posture?

The intellectual diversity issue shows no signs of fading away. Ideological one-sidedness among the professoriate seems to be, if anything, expanding. And so, no doubt, will we see additional surveys suggesting a heavy ideological imbalance among the nation's faculty -- followed by new inflammatory statements from the academic Establishment that only reinforce the critics' claims about bias in the personnel process.
In an ideal world, campus administrators would have rectified this problem long ago. A few have made small steps. Brown University's president, Ruth Simmons, for instance, has expressed concern that the "chilling effect caused by the dominance of certain voices on the spectrum of moral and political thought" might negatively affect a quality education; her university's Political Theory Project represents a model that other institutions could follow.

To my knowledge, however, no academic administration has made the creation of an intellectually and pedagogically diverse faculty its primary goal. This statement, it should be noted, applies equally as well to institutions frequently praised by conservatives, such as Hillsdale College. Such an initiative, of course, would encounter ferocious faculty resistance. But it would also, just as surely, excite parents, donors, and trustees. If successful, an institution that made intellectual diversity its hallmark would encourage imitation -- if only because other colleges would face the free-market pressures of losing talented students and faculty. So, the question becomes, do we have an administration anywhere in the country willing to take up the cause?

KC Johnson
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KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Affirmative Inaction

Universities all over the country have been struggling in recent years to develop diversity plans and hiring doctrines to improve the position of minorities on campuses. I am most familiar with the plan recently issued in draft form by the University of Oregon, which has been working on the latest version of its diversity plan for a couple of years now. A 40-page comment draft has been issued. The plan, which discusses a wide variety of issues related to how non-white people fit into the largely paleface community of the university I know best, is surely similar to plans underway or issued at institutions all over the United States.

These plans don’t make much difference. The problem is less a lack of good will than a lack of connection to facts on the ground. Universities cannot remake the fundamental culture in which they exist, and that is a culture in which the availability of minority faculty and, to some extent, minority students, is decided years before a particular college or university can affect the situation by internal policies.

Diversity has become a word that must be spoken; those who don’t speak it in the right slightly breathless tone while looking both sorrowful and committed are unemployable. Because everyone speaks the word and almost no one does (or can) produce results, we are at risk, if I may use another phrase that used up its oxygen long ago, of seeing diversity mean as little as do Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity.

What does affirmative action mean today in faculty recruitment? A leaden process controlled not by departments but by human resources bureaucrats, with little discernible result. Universities need to stop treating diversity as an internal, mechanical process and start looking at the larger communities they serve for ways to improve academic opportunities for young people.

How many minority people earn Ph.D.s? Not many, and they are heavily concentrated in certain fields. In 2004, 36 percent of doctorates issued to African Americans were in education. Nationally, 15 percent of U.S. doctorates were in education. Another 20 percent of doctorates issued to African Americans were in fields in which the University of Oregon has no programs, such as agriculture, theology and engineering. Thus 56 percent of all African Americans who earn doctorates are not in Oregon's applicant pool no matter what the university does, except for the rare vacancy in education.  The same is true at other institutions without these fields -- that is, most institutions.

What about fields that most universities do have? How many blacks earned Ph.D.s in mathematics in the U.S. in 2004? Ten, in the entire country. In physics? Thirteen. Although some fields have a higher number of doctoral graduates, with such minuscule numbers coming out of the academic pipeline, no mid-level institution can compete with wealthier, more prestigious institutions whose diversity goals are similar. That doesn’t even take into account those graduates who might enter private industry from fields such as physics, chemistry or engineering.

In order to maintain their reputation, good universities hire Ph.D.s who earned their doctorates at the best programs in the U.S. (and the world, when possible). In most fields, this means a chunk of the Ivy League plus other top-rank universities such as Michigan, Chicago, Stanford, Wisconsin or Minnesota; maybe 20 to 30 schools all told.  For the most part, these freshly-printed Ph.D.s don’t want to work at mid-level schools, they want to work at one of the top 30 schools where they came from, but they need a job.

What happens when a mid-rank institution such as Oregon, Kansas State or Rice succeeds against the odds in hiring a new-minted Ph.D. of color? In many cases those earnest young assistant professors are in a parking orbit until they can try for what they really want: to go back to a top-tier institution where they get more pay, nicer offices, better toys, better students and more opportunity to honk their own horns. This is not wicked, it is simply human nature. When there are only a dozen new ones in some fields available each year to start with, let us cease pretending that all colleges should have one and that a college that doesn’t is doing something wrong.

Faculty at the great majority of schools are not really interested in color-coding their potential co-workers on a sepia-index wall chart anyway; they are interested in whether those co-workers are any good. Their departments don’t care that Carl Phillips, Yusef Komunyakaa or Reginald Shepherd are black; their co-workers care that they are three of the best poets writing in the U.S. today. I hope that nobody at Old Dominion thinks of Adolphus Hailstork as “the black composer in our music department;” they undoubtedly think of him as the composer who wrote “Sonata da Chiesa,” one of the best pieces by any composer in a hundred years.

Anyone who tried to recruit these people away on behalf of another school would, I trust, be discreetly shunted off in another direction and told to stop poaching. This is not because they are of color, it is because they are of quality. It is not faculty of color that are such an important example to students of all shades, it is good faculty of color. And there are not enough of them being made. We must stop whacking our colleges for failing to hire people who do not exist.

Anyone interested in actual improvement of the presence of good nonwhite faculty in our universities needs to take certain steps at their schools. Do not allow the hiring of more bureaucrats to gasp in predictable horror at the way things are. No more Assistant Vice-hand-holders in the bower of ethnic unhappiness. Forget all the false storefronts and unseemly fawnings that are the usual pewter trade beads of minority recruiting.

Start the laborious process of dragging recruitment out of the clinging vines of the H.R. people and back into the hands of departments. Accept the possibility that an imperfect process can lead to a perfect result. College leaders need the ability to go outside the standard hiring process to support and attract the best faculty, including minority faculty. They should also have the flexibility to flag potential scholars early in life and use university resources to assist them in their long-term goal of joining the professoriate.

Plan ahead a generation. Work ahead a generation. Figure out who of color in your local schools has the potential to be a good professor. Get rid of your highly paid and symbolic chief diversity officers. We all know that they accomplish little. This is not their fault; their jobs are inherently impossible. Respect can’t be legislated, it must be earned. Use that money to hire a brace of heat-seeking twenty-somethings to systematically find the most academically promising minority 10-year-olds in likely and unlikely places, and track and support them for a decade or more, as your university’s scholars-in-waiting. Consider advance long-term contracts with the best doctoral students. Be bold.

Let the word diversity lie fallow until something meaningful can grow from its good soil. Let the words affirmative action not be spoken until they mean action that is affirmative again.

Alan L. Contreras
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Alan L. Contreras has been administrator of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization, a unit of the Oregon Student Assistance Commission, since 1999. His views do not necessarily represent those of the commission. A shorter version of this essay appeared earlier in the Eugene, Ore., Register-Guard.

Saving 30 Years

In a memoir on Susan Sontag in a recent issue of Salmagundi, Sigrid Nunez writes at one point as follows: "[S]he never pretended that a person's success did not depend -- and to no small extent, either -- on being connected, or that she didn't know what Pascal meant when he said that being well-born can save a man 30 years." Once, Nunez adds, Sontag declared about a woman who asked her for a recommendation letter concerning a certain fellowship: "She'll never, ever get it -- not because her work isn't good enough, but because she just doesn't know the right people."

Nunez neglects to mention if Sontag wrote the letter anyway. If not, that's her difference from academics. Sontag, proudly, wasn't one. Therefore, she didn't have to write letters of recommendation. Better yet, at least from her point of view, she didn't have to acknowledge that a letter from her might alone constitute an example of knowing the right people -- and so, according to her own convictions she is almost obliged to produce the requested recommendation. Unless of course the fellowship was so lofty that even she herself was not worthy to breathe its air.

That's the trouble with "networks." They exist. Everybody knows they exist. Moreover, everybody knows knowing "the right people" can be absolutely decisive for extra- or inter-institutional activity -- getting selected by organizers for a panel, getting a publisher at least to pay attention to a submitted article or book, or getting hired by a department for a job. (Networks of course matter intra-institutionally in much the same way. But on a small scale they're not nearly so interesting to consider.) What nobody quite knows is how to define networks in the first place.

How permanent are they? Does it just depend upon the individuals? Are networks institutionally rooted? (But are you somehow automatically a member just because you're a graduate? See Alex Golub's column in these pages on how difficult it is merely to stay technologically connected.) How equivalent are the criteria of membership in a network to common identities of class, gender, or even race? (Or are any of these usually trumped by something else entirely, such as having the same dissertation adviser?) There is no easy or even coherent answer to any of these questions.

Common understanding seems to go roughly like this: Once there was something called an Old Boy network. This was in the days -- 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s -- when boys could be boys because there were virtually no girls. Then there were girls -- beginning in the 60s. What happened to the Old Boy network -- beginning in the 70s -- was one of two things: either it expanded to include the girls (albeit on the same terms as the boys) or -- by the 80s -- it was paralleled by a separate Old Girl network (albeit on the same terms as the boys). Now -- since the 90s -- nobody is really sure if any of this remains true anymore.

Or, more radically, if any of it was ever quite true. Networks don't offer themselves as objects of study. In order to be networks, they abide in informal ways, through casual word of mouth (or e-mail), unspoken assumptions (reinforced at conferences), and shared values that may not be shared at all (anywhere) if they have to be fully articulated. How do these values come into being? My own feeling is, through institutions. Their values, in turn -- ranging from how to dress or how to speak to what political or social attitudes to have -- are most akin to those of class.

The Old Boy network was -- and to the degree it continues, still is -- the product of the best universities in the country, which continue to be the best because they can perpetuate their wealth and prestige through ... networks. (I will set aside their additional, subject-specific, nature, assuming it goes without saying that all disciplines at an elite university partake of its status in the same basic way.) Everybody, top to bottom, knows this, and is stuck with a maddeningly circular argument if forced to try to explain it.

Example: a friend who lately applied to a department at one of the best liberal arts college in the country. (Names have been suppressed to protect the guilty.) Her doctorate is from Pittsburgh. Pretty good. But not as good as Stanford or Yale, which is where everybody in the department has a degree from. "I won't get in the door," she moaned. "No matter how many publications I have, they'll see I'm not one of them." Perhaps in this instance she won't be right. Enough doors can in practice swing open to make it seem like most are not effectively closed. And yet who among us is going to maintain that the department's search committee at this particular college is not going to judge job candidates on whether or not they are, in the vulgar phrase, "our sort"?

This was the most decisive consideration during departmental deliberations at the second-rate state university at which I taught for many years. For most of that time, the odd application from Cornell would send the search committee into a tizzy. ("Is she aware how much comp we teach?") Shortly before I left, the situation changed. There were many reasons, beginning with the job market itself. (At the M.L.A. a decade or so ago I met a recent Ph.D. from Harvard who wailed that he couldn't get a job. "Why else did I go to Harvard?") At the present time, "our sort"
-- whatever the sort -- constitutes probably a less stable, more mixed consensus than it has ever before.

But this is not to say that the judgement doesn't continue to be made, every day, in myriad ways. All these are not explicable by the notion of a network. (Any department can certainly be forgiven for wanting to adhere to its own idea of itself as a social unit, and to fear how just one additional person could disrupt it.) But many judgments are. Inquire into any one personal contact, for example, and I believe you usually find a broader base than a single individual, who chances to know another individual known to you. In turn, this base is often united by the structural and organizational protocols we commonly assume when we speak of a "network."

Again, we return to the difficulty of stipulating precisely what these protocols are. Perhaps it is helpful to compare the example of another country. In my own experience, none suits like Japan, because atop its academic summit stands one radiant institution: Tokyo University. None compares to it in presumed excellence or actual prestige. Every other institution is inferior to Tokyo. Whether or not this is in fact so is beside the point. The point is that everyone believes it to be so. Tokyo in U.S. terms is a miraculous fusion of StanfordYaleCornellHarvard.

What astounded me during the time I taught in Japan was how Japanese academics genuflected before the hierarchical fact. The graduate director of my department assured me, for example, that a flagrant case of dishonesty which I knew to be true was "absurd" because "such a thing could never happen at Tokyo University." End of discussion. This same man was an Anglophile, as so many Japanese academics are, part of the reason being that they can convert England into Japan, through substituting Oxford or Cambridge for Tokyo. The common idea is: We know there is hierarchy because of the one lofty example bestowing the idea of distinction upon all other institutions below.

Such a single, or dual, example is harder for Americans to believe in. In many ways higher education in the United States is actually more like Japan, with a bewildering array of public and private universities, each subject to fine status discriminations among themselves. Yet there remains one huge difference: the United States lacks Tokyo University. Thus, in a very real sense, because of this fact alone, the very idea of hierarchy here becomes more problematic, and the reality of networks (whether involving students, faculty, or administrators) more elusive and diffuse. Often, for example, graduate students or junior faculty are urged to attend conferences in order to "network." But usually this means little more than partaking of the opportunity to meet somebody, and then hoping that this person will be able to open up a wider opportunity, unnamed and maybe unnameable.

What to say? It could happen. And again, networks undeniably exist. The closer you get to the top, the more tightly knit and implacable their bonds may appear. Yet we're Americans. We're not Japanese or British. We believe in the power of individual will and the rewards of individual effort. Academic life, like all other forms, may be arranged in terms of hierarchy. Nevertheless, compare business or entertainment. (When the director, Quentin Tarantino, was asked what is necessary in order to make a film, he replied: "Know Harvey Keitel.") We academics believe we have within us the capability to change institutional arrangements that exclude us or to enter circuits of influence that prevent us from seeking the job we desire or publishing the manuscript we wrote.

Alas, though, there are networks and there are networks. Not only do some matter far more than others. Some hardly matter at all. I know of a small community college, 75 percent of whose English department is staffed by M.A. graduates of the largest area university. Do these people take themselves to comprise a "network"? Probably not. They merely happen to have been taught by the same professors or to know many of the same people. The idea of a "network" only comes into play when outsiders exert some pressure on the uniformity of the organization. In turn, the organization itself exerts no pressure on any other. So, although it possesses the integrity (perhaps not the best word) of a network, this particular community college department lacks the extensiveness of one.

On the other hand, the most powerful or influential networks operate nationwide; this is one primary reason they're powerful and influential. In turn, they authenticate the crucial difference between "knowing somebody" and "somebody worth knowing." We all desire contact with members of networks that enable mobility, prestige, financial reward, and other good things, all authorized by elites (or else they wouldn't be elite in the first place). That is -- let's say -- we all want to work at the best liberal arts colleges or research universities in the country. Too bad so few of us can.

Too bad the reasons why can be so crudely stated: there are too few networks and they are too exclusive. Finally, too bad that most of us work in places where the guarantees of the best networks can't even be realized. (Again, Golub's column can be recommended on this point.) Instead, the great majority of us have to try to be content with what we have. Either we enjoy our own networks, such as they are, or else we contemplate the absence of others. Meanwhile, we try not to acknowledge that it was simply never in our experience to have saved Pascal's 30 years.

Terry Caesar
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Terry Caesar's last column was about the lessons he has learned writing Purely Academic.

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