Archive for the ‘education’ Category
When people discuss affirmative action, they often have a mistaken view that higher education is filled with legions of under-qualified minorities. From the inside, we have the opposite view. The higher up you go, the less likely you will find folks from under-represented groups. So, what gives?
In addition to plain ideological differences, I think people are selectively looking at the academic pipeline. Basically, at some points in the career, affirmative action is indeed at work and some folks, including myself no doubt, will receive extra consideration. But most of the time, privilege is the rule. People will disproportionately focus on the parts of the pipeline where affirmative action is a modest benefit for some people.
To grasp the argument, it helps to break down what needs to happen in order for anyone to become a tenured professor:
- Getting a high college GPA.
- Applying to the “right” grad schools.
- Admission to the “right” grad schools.
- Passing courses.
- Passing exams.
- Getting the “right” adviser.
- Getting published in the “right” places.
- Writing the dissertation.
- Applying to tenure track positions
- Getting an offer from a school.
- Strong teaching skills.
- Continuing to publish in the “right” places.
- Getting elites in the profession to vouch for you.
- Getting the department and college to sign off on your tenure case.
As you can see, academia is this insanely long career track with a long list of interdependent parts.
Now let’s get back to affirmative action. Where does that policy work? In my scheme, it shows up mainly in step #3. Most schools will look askance at graduate school cohorts that lack ethnic or gender diversity. Some may even provide funds for recruitment and fellowships. But that’s it. After step #3, affirmative is rare. Perhaps the exception is when deans or departments at the junior level look to diversity the faculty and they may approve a hire.
This helps explain the perceptions of the policy. Admissions is high profile and people are openly competing for spots. Faculty hiring is also high visibility. In contrast, say, getting published in a journal, or joining the “right” research groups is highly invisible to most observers until after the fact. And these are structured as homophilic networks, which might work against diversifying the faculty.
So, when it come to diversity in academia, you can’t look at one link in the chain. You have to look at the whole thing.
A few days ago, we got into a fruitful discussion of college admissions. Steven Pinker wrote a widely discussed article condemning the Ivy League for using non-academic criteria in admissions. I concurred with the basic point, but noted that it is all for naught because Pinker doesn’t discuss why college admissions is set up the way it is. Basically, current admissions policies are designed generate income, political legitimacy, academic respect, and other factors. People simply wouldn’t stand for an admissions policy that would turn Harvard into Berkeley or Cal Tech, where Asians are the majority and Latinos and African Americans are under represented, not to mention all the influential people whose above average kids can’t get into Harvard without the legacy program.
In the comments, Chris Martin suggested that if Cal Tech and Berkeley could do it, it wouldn’t be so bad. I think Chris under estimates the issue. To see why, let’s review Berkeley and Cal Tech:
- Berkeley: This was a school that had a policy where students were given an index that combined a number of factors, such as GPA, SAT, race, extracurriculars and so forth. This system was not changed internally and race was only dropped due to a ballot initiative and various judicial battles.
- Cal Tech: Even though Cal Tech is probably a more elite school than Harvard, it is very different in that the political pressures on engineering and science schools are much weaker. Roughly speaking, every smart kid in America dreams of the Ivy League, but only the nerdiest kids want to go to Cal Tech. In other words, I’ve never heard of wealthy senators intensely lobbying Cal Tech to make sure their C+ son makes it in.
Bottom line: These two cases are not exemplars of internally driven change. Instead, they highlight how constrained college admissions policies are.
In case you’re wondering, I’m obviously Tom Cruise and Steven Pinker is Jack Nicholson.
Recently, Steven Pinker wrote a response to William Deresiewicz’ recent article/book, which claims that the Ivy League is a horrible soulless place. Overall, I concur with Pinker’s retort. Deresiewicz doesn’t offer evidence to show that careerism has gotten any worse, he makes a broad over generalization about non-elite college students, and he overstates the cases that non-elite colleges are under appreciated refuges of learning (although a few are). The bottom line for Pinker is that the Ivy League is where talented kids should go and we should spend our efforts making it more academic by emphasizing standardized tests in admissions and de-emphasizing things likes sports and music.
I could quibble here and there, but instead, I’d like to focus on what I think is a profound problem with Pinker’s retort. I share Pinker’s desire to create a more academic environment in higher education, but nowhere in the essay does Pinker come to grips with why the system of elite college admissions is the way it is. Why, exactly, does Harvard, and most other competitive schools, use a mix of academics, extra-curriculars, race, legacy, and geography? Here’s the simple answer:
Race. And money. But really, race.
Here’s a more subtle answer:
College admissions policies are the result of multiple political and financial pressures. Management scholars call it “resource dependence.” Your organization must be set up in a way to keep the resources flowing. Elite colleges need political legitimacy, scientific & scholarly legitimacy, prestige, a positive self-image, and loads of cash. A purely academic admission policy does not accomplish this complex goal. The current admission policy does.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Jerome Karabel’s The Chosen is the most comprehensive study ever conducted on elite college admissions and it explains in detail why the admissions system at Harvard looks the way it does. He focused on Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, but versions of the policies are now standard at other leading research universities.
Roughly, it goes something like this. First, the “docket system” (sorting people into geographical regions) was intended to limit Jews from the Northeast, mainly from New York and New Jersey, and favor specific private schools. Second, the emphasis on being “well-rounded” was designed to limit Asians who had trouble with English and didn’t do “artsy” things. Third, affirmative action was introduced to bolster African American and Latino enrollments in the post-Civil Right era. Fourth, legacy is simply a fancy word for “pay to play.” Fifth, the types of people who give the most back in donations are not the artists or painters that Pinker rightfully praises. They are those who do “Wall Street,” and related careers like “Big Law,” and they can be identified by extra-curricular activities in high school. College admissions has evolved beyond these basic policies but the overall structure remains. Academic performance is one very important factor, but there are others.
If Pinker were to have his way and shift to a strictly academic admissions system, the following would happen:
- A huge increase in Asian enrollments
- A modest decrease in White enrollments, but with strong Jewish enrollments
- A substantial reduction of African American and Latino enrollments
- An increase in people who don’t give back
- A very angry group of industry leaders, senators, governors, and other powerful people who are really angry that their kid didn’t get in.
Harvard as we see it today would cease to exist. You’d instead see it turned into something like Berkeley or Cal Tech, which are White minority institutions. How would he deal with the inevitable blow back?
I applaud Steven Pinker for decrying the dilution of academic culture. I’ve spent my entire career in places like Berkeley, Chicago, Ann Arbor, and Bloomington and I don’t regret it. But still, unless he can explain how he’ll solve this complex political problem that admissions policies are designed to solve, his preening is more of a show and not serious attempt at academic reform.
Ezra Zuckerman closed on an up note with “some reasons to be bullish.” Rather than reviewing the past or summarizing trends, Zuckerman highlighted three pieces of work he’s excited about by younger scholars.
[This is a continuation of the summary of the "Does Organizational Sociology Have a Future?" ASA panel. Part 1 featured Howard Aldrich and Lis Clemens; tomorrow I'll wrap up with a recap of Ezra Zuckerman's presentation and the Q&A that followed the panel.]
Harland Prechel spoke third. He described himself as being located outside organizational sociology early in his career but was drawn to its useful analytical tools and incorporated organizational sociology into his research over time. Organizational sociology has a lot to offer. So why is it in decline?
A central problem is there is no integrated theory of organizations. Instead, there are numerous competing perspectives that rise and decline over time. This occurs, in part, because each perspective has a narrow scope that constrains what can be examined, explained, and predicted. For example, given that the behaviors that contributed to the 2007-2008 financial crisis occurred inside organizations, why did organizational researchers failed to predict or anticipate it? One viable answer is the prevailing theories did not direct researchers’ attention toward the underlying structures that permitted the risk-taking behaviors associated with the crisis.
Another part of the explanation for the decline in organizational sociology is that business schools have begun to produce their own PhDs in organizational studies and have become less dependent on sociology departments. Also, organizational sociology is perceived to be less relevant to managing organizations. Given these conditions, it is likely that the job market for organizational sociology in business schools will decline in the future.
Given all this, should we do more of the same? Or, should we be doing something different?
Melissa Wooten is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her forthcoming book In the Face of Inequality: How Black Colleges Adapt (SUNY Press 2015) documents how the social structure of race and racism affect an organization’s ability to acquire the financial and political resources it needs to survive.
“Look…Come on…It’s $10 million dollars” is how the Saturday Night Live parody explains the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) decision to accept donations from now disgraced, soon-to-be former, NBA franchise owner, Donald Sterling. This parody encapsulates the dilemma that many organizations working for black advancement face. Fighting for civil rights takes money. But this money often comes from strange quarters. While Sterling’s personal animus toward African Americans captivated the public this spring, his organizational strategy of discriminating against African Americans and Hispanic Americans had already made him infamous among those involved in civil rights years earlier. So why would the NAACP accept money from a man known to actively discriminate against the very people it seeks to help?
A similar question arose when news of the Koch brothers $25 million donation to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) emerged in June. Not only did the UNCF’s willingness to accept this donation raise eyebrows, it also cost the organization the support of AFSCME, a union with which the UNCF had a long-standing relationship. The Koch brothers support of policies that would limit early voting along with their opposition to minimum wage legislation are but a few of the reasons that have made some skeptical of a UNCF-Koch partnership. So why would the UNCF accept a large donation from two philanthropists known to support policies that would have a disproportionately negative affect on African American communities?
Amy Binder has a really interesting new piece in the Washington Monthly on why so many grads of Harvard and Stanford go work for McKinsey or Goldman when they finish. Surprise (well, not really) — it’s organizational.
Based on research she conducted with UCSD grad students Nick Bloom and Daniel Davis, she argues that elite schools have created a “structured pathway that leads straight to them.” In the 80s, banks and consulting firms realized that being able to advertise teams of Ivy League grads was valuable. In her words:
To get to those kids, the nation’s top banks and consulting firms began by competing with each other to become “platinum” members of the career services programs run by the most elite schools. Winners of this pay-for-play competition get the best tables at campus career fairs, access to students’ email in-boxes, entrée to the most impressive banquet rooms for holding information sessions and receptions, bundled delivery of applicants’ résumés, and space and scheduled times to hold one-on-one interviews, among other goods and services known as “recruitment.”
As these careers became the most central and visible on campus, student culture became more and more heavily organized around the search for these kinds of jobs. They’re seen as the high-status thing to do in very competitive campus environments.
What’s ironic is that it’s not so much about the money. It’s partly about status, but it’s also about a clear pathway at a time of uncertainty. Harvard students don’t go to college dreaming of becoming investment bankers. Okay, a few do, but this–all from students who took the finance/consulting track — is more typical:
Most students come to campus with vague plans about their professional lives, along the lines of a Harvard alum named Kevin, who said he planned to “study philosophy and go to law school and have a nice life,” or Olivia, who had chosen Stanford because she dreamed of launching a start-up. Another junior at Harvard laughingly recalled that he “thought careers in finance were like being a bank teller, being an accountant, or something.”
But they have to pick something. And the schools make it easy. From one student:
I guess a good job means consulting or finance because, well, look, that’s what the Office of Career Services has. When I talk to my peers, that’s what my peers are talking about. For someone like me who had very limited professional experience, who didn’t really have any baseline for what one could do, it was like, hey, I just see that these are the things that people from Harvard go do.
Ultimately, Binder’s argument is that the schools bear some responsibility for how large this track has become — 31% of Harvard grads take jobs on this track. Some articles have suggested there’s been a downturn in the numbers in the last five years, but even if that’s the case, it’s still a large fraction.
Harvard and its ilk don’t really need the money from career services booths, though they may like the promise of high-earning alums. But they are doing their students, and the rest of us, a disservice by making these paths so easy to fall into. Sure, there are students who have a passion for finance, and that’s probably where they should be. But for the rest of them, a little more encouragement to explore the road less traveled could be a very good thing.