Just discovered an interesting blog by a law professor, Jeffrey Harrison, called Class Bias in Higher Education. He comments on how elites signal their status through a visible non-engagement with others, a sort of bodily disdain, a “stiff upper lip”; he remarks on how people choose to spend or invest their social capital (suggesting that elites tend to hoard it for spending on themselves); he suggests that practically no law professors want to talk about class; he comments on the irrational selection process for new hires; he also suggests that there is an enormous (and unjustified) bias in favor of job candidates from elite schools.
Without knowing much about law school or anything in particular about this blog, I have to say that I am incredibly happy to see someone willing to talk publicly about class as it plays out in higher ed. I hear a lot of informal gossip about this topic (especially about the well-off backgrounds that many grad students at chicago appear to come from), but no willingness to publicly confront the situation, much less to alleviate class bias. Given that status in elite academic circles depends largely on a command of a highly aestheticized technical dialect (with its careful use of the conditional “I would argue–“, its myriad scholastic distinctions, its euphemistic approach to concrete social reality), and given that this dialect requires years of practice that can only be obtained in fairly elevated circles, it seems that a new system of academic status and recognition would be in order, one more tolerant of a range of ways of talking and thinking.
I note in passing that Jeffrey Williams has written one of the best analyses of class behavior in academia that I’ve read, “Smart“, and I implore all readers of this blog (there are about 12 of you as far as I can tell from the stats on google blogs) to read it immediately. Williams argues that smartness is the ultimate marker of academic class distinction — a disturbing observation to hear at the University of Chicago, where the highest possible compliment is to say that “X is the smartest person I know.”