Heather Dubrow of Fordham University has a very helpful piece up at Inside Higher Ed on prestige in higher education. Any undergraduate wants to get into the best graduate program possible. As Dubrow notes, “prestige” is important on the job market, but it can also be “fools gold liable to distort our perceptions of people.” In the same way, jobs at research universities are often seen as more prestigious than jobs at even the finest of liberal arts colleges. Here is a taste of her essay:
In any event, even when accepting one’s first appointment, and certainly later on, if one is lucky enough to have a choice one should carefully weigh factors different from and sometimes in conflict with prestige. Regrettably, dissertation directors and other mentors may well discount those factors when advising students. Sometimes, having spent their whole careers in major research institutions, they themselves know little about other genres of institutions. Far more regrettably, too many believe that their own prestige is enhanced or decreased by the institutional label sported by their former students. The habit of listing on one’s vita the names and current affiliations of one’s dissertators is telling.
A friend of mine turned down an offer from Major Ivy in favor of Middle-Ranked State University because of the low chances of tenure at the former and never regretted the decision. And people who are sure their primary commitment is to the classroom rather than research, as well as committed critics and researchers deeply engaged with undergraduate teaching and dubious about the often conflicting celebration of professional “visibility,” may well welcome an appointment at an institution that shares — and celebrates — their values. (I did so when I chose Carleton, and many years later when I moved to Fordham.)
Of course, conversations like this seem a bit odd in light of the woeful state of today’s academic job market. Perhaps the kind of choices that Dubrow writes about are only available to those who attended prestigious institutions.
Michael Lynch says
One of the professors for whom I was a TA did his graduate work at an elite Ivy League school, and he said he was disappointed at the education he got there. He told me they took it for granted that their program was the best because of who they were, and as a result they sort of coasted on their name instead of actually working to live up it their reputation.
John Fea says
Michael: I have heard this on numerous occasions, but I am not sure we should take it as a universal truth.
I went to a 2nd tier program with a first-tier advisor. I got a lot of attention from my adviser and other profs in the department, had some great opportunities to teach, and managed to get grants and fellowships that made me at least competitive with some of the Ivy Ph.Ds.
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