Of course, in institutions putatively founded on intellectual criteria, status fixations are a sign of decadence. When they grow too strong, we know that the disciplinary grounds of the field have deteriorated. To call the leaders of the field “stars” is to assume a star system operating within it, a competition for prestige and renown that always threatens to slide into the wrong kinds of rivalry. A star system shifts the focus from the objects in a discipline, the artworks and such, to the subjects, the practitioners of it. Ideas rank less than who is who and who is where.I'd be more persuaded if the institutions lower in the U.S. News league tables viewed themselves as being in the same business as Harvard and challenging students and faculty accordingly, but I'm not optimistic about ever seeing that.
The adjustment is heightened when jobs are scarce. If there are 100 tenure-track openings in Medieval literature each year, the plum positions at Berkeley and Chicago don’t draw as much covetousness as they do when there are only 15 openings across the nation. The precious few who win those elite posts don’t evoke as much envy from people who end up at Arizona State and Colorado College. In fact, when the job possibilities are multiple, they may not envy that Princeton hire at all, knowing that she faces six years of pressure and, perhaps, dim chances of tenure.
The house organ for Business as Usual gets to the heart of the matter. The full text is behind a paywall, but the money quote reflects the steep grading curve of a market test. "The system that gave rise to the celebrity scholar confronts the reality of the shrinking job market." Good.
Perhaps, as part of the continued call for restoration of the bourgeois virtues, let's apply them to the academy as well as to the country-club set.
The institution has two choices when faced with political radicals: Ax them, especially if they are graduate students, or promote them. Make them successful, give them awards, power, enormous salaries. That way, when the next scandal comes along — and it will — they will have a vested interest in playing defense.What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.
This is how institutionality reproduces. Even the call to think critically about power becomes a clever smoke screen. There is a whole dissertation to be written on intellectuals using the word neoliberal to mean “rules I shouldn’t have to follow.” “If we focus on this one case, these details, this accuser and accused, we will miss the opportunity to think about the structural issues,” wrote Duggan. This was code. It meant, “You can talk about structural issues all you want, so long as you don’t use examples of people we know.”
What happens in the common room stays in the common room.