The majority of academics in the US received their training at a select few prestigious institutions.
The majority of academics |A research called “Jarring” exposes employment discrimination at US universities .According to a study1, US colleges tend to employ tenure-track faculty members from a small number of prestigious institutions.
The data shows that hiring choices place an excessive weight on status and that academic researchers have few opportunities to land positions at institutions that are more exclusive than the ones where they received their training.
In particular, the analysis, which was published in Nature on September 21 (see “Hiring bias”), demonstrates that between 2011 and 2020, just 20% of PhD-granting universities in the United States contributed 80% of tenure-track faculty members to institutions across the nation.
According to Hunter Wapman, a computer scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder (UC Boulder) and a co-author of the study, neither historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) nor Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) were included in that 20%. Only five prestigious universities—the University of California, Berkeley; Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; Stanford University in California; and the University of Wisconsin–Madison—graduated one in eight tenure-track faculty members with US training.
The majority of academics Leslie Gonzales, a social scientist at Michigan State University in East Lansing who specialises in higher education, describes the statistics as “not surprising, but it is startling.” It is being ignored, according to her, because “so much excellent work” and “training of outstanding academics” are taking place at HBCUs and HSIs, among other places.
Together, the findings provide a picture of an academic system in which the majority of professors received their training from a small number of institutions and academic researchers typically come from families with similar backgrounds, creating a circle of similarity.
Daniel Larremore, a computer scientist at UC Boulder and a co-author of both publications, queries whether the approach is meritocratic.”In peer survey, no; in thought trade, no; and unquestionably, no in staff recruiting.”
The data set for the Nature research comprised 295,089 individuals from more than 350 institutions who held tenure-track and tenured professor positions at PhD-granting universities in the United States between 2011 and 2020. Larremore and the group have access to the data through the Charlotte, North Carolina-based Academic Analytics Research Center. Faculty members from the data set were divided up into 107 disciplines, such as ecology and chemistry, by Larremore, Wapman, and their colleagues.
According to the research, just 5-23% of faculty members worked at a prominent university other than the one where they received their PhD. Classics and economics had the lowest rates of “upward mobility,” whereas pharmacology and animal science had the highest rates.
Kimberly Griffin, dean of the College of Education at the University of Maryland in College Park, claims that hiring committees appear to be utilising status as a stand-in for superior performance on the job. The majority of academics However, “prestige” does not always equate to “better-qualified,” and elite graduate programmes frequently accept applicants based on their performance on standardised tests, the quality of their reference letters, and the standing of their undergraduate degree.
According to studies, each of these can hurt minority students, adds Griffin, who also serves as editor of the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.
Gonzales argues that if we accept prestige as a reliable indicator of brilliance, we won’t be investigating how things came to be seen as prestigious. She continues, “Exclusion is connected with the development of top US colleges.” For instance, many institutions have a history of taking Indigenous groups’ land, getting rich by enslaving Black people, or using their labour to build their infrastructure.
Understanding the data
In 100 of the 107 disciplines examined by the Nature article, the proportion of new hires who are women has stayed unchanged since 2011; in the remaining 7, it has actually fallen. Three-quarters of the fields saw an overall rise in the number of women, although the authors ascribe this to a large percentage of male faculty members who had reached retirement age. These patterns suggest that, at least since 2011, initiatives to increase the hiring of women in academics have not been successful, according to Larremore.
He did point out two drawbacks of the gender data set: there was no non-binary gender category and the researchers mostly relied on name-gender cultural connotations to classify faculty members as men or women, which are not always accurate.
The majority of academics 7,024 tenure-track academic members in the United States who participated in the Nature Human Behaviour research provided information via an online survey. Clauset was taken aback by the volume of inquiries the team has received on the study since its release. We didn’t anticipate how much it would connect with people’s actual experiences, he adds. He continues that many graduate students who are “first generation” who come from households without academic degrees have expressed feeling different from their friends who have had greater advantages.
There are methods for academics to lessen inequality and enhance status. The majority of academics Questioning prestige and its origins is the first, most fundamental step, according to Gonzales. She recommends hiring committees to include all potential job posting locations on their list, including their personal connections; check the institutional diversity of the list; and, if necessary, include HBCUs, HSIs, and regional institutions.
There are repercussions from unequal access to academic positions across gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background. According to a vast body of evidence, “who is in the scientific community influences what research questions are posed,” claims Clauset. We are losing clever individuals who have the potential to improve the world by not being as open and varied as we could be.