Study shows extent of hiring bias in academia: 20% of schools produce 80% of tenure-track profs

Originally published at: Study shows extent of hiring bias in academia: 20% of schools produce 80% of tenure-track profs | Boing Boing


No mention of what’s likely an even bigger scandal, how few classes are even taught now by tenure track faculty?


But it is okay, because academia is a meritocracy /s


Anecdotally, UW Madison doesn’t hire people who got their PhDs there.

Could it be that these more “prestigious” schools gear their curriculum towards students becoming faculty? UW Madison has a good Civil Engineering program, but it used to be geared more towards academic, not practical work. Whereas UW Platteville, a much smaller school, has a good Civil Engineering program that is very practical and hands on. Much more geared towards getting your B.S. and entering the working world.


I always just assumed that universities did that to avoid (even the appearance of) conflicts of interest.


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Especially at teaching institutions and community colleges.

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Many places don’t, at least for the TT.

Well, in theory, for most people in many fields, that’s the goal - to become faculty. Presumably, the Ivies are training their phds to work at other ivies… But now people trained at the ivies are ended up at institutions that are less prestigious, and those of us from those institutions are ending up as living paycheck to paycheck, with few options.

For my field, the “solution” has been “job diversity” in the program, but there has been a large number of people caught between the changes to the phd programs to focus on a wider range of jobs, who are now just kind of… stuck.


Universities generally don’t want to hire their own graduates because a faculty is built upon differences of expertise and research areas. A department needs different people to teach different things and create an academic culture where discourse among faculty creates the most vital contributions.

Most newly minted PhDs are well aware of this reality and don’t imagine that a job where you got your doctorate is actually a good idea. First off, they’ve already got a faculty member in your research area: the person who was the advisor on your dissertation. Secondly, what kind of career do you think you’re going to have where you’re eventually going to ask the people who knew how stupid you were as a graduate student to give you tenure? It’s a recipe for bad research and endless ass-kissing. No honest PhD advisor would recommend that.

Of course, the gaping hole in this theory is all the top schools for whom the candidate pool is largely made up of people they educated. And everyone can point to departments at these schools where this kind of “narcissistic” hiring has turned them into gold-plated cesspools … inbred ideas, inbred research agendas, inbred graduates.

It’s not a good idea to make a faculty from your own graduates. That’s a commonly understood fact supported by a lot of commonly gossiped about departments.


Sure, better to use their poorly paid labor for a decade and then kick them out into a nearly impossible job market… /s


Does Platteville even have PhD programs?

Pretty much apples versus oranges if they don’t.


I witnessed that first-hand and it horrified me enough to change my entire life direction, which in the process disappointed the department head who was hoping to finally get some outsider influence.


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Also, it strikes me that some people think that we should only have one kind of education…either we have the kind that produces scholars and is more theoretical in orientation or we have the kind that produces people who can use “practical” knowledge and get into the “working world” (as if teaching and producing scholarship isn’t ALSO a form of labor)… Seems far too many people have a hang up about having a diverse set of educational options that are open to everyone, and seeks to improve our society. Yes, we need people who can work with their hands, but we do need people who work with ideas, too. Neither is better than the other, and frankly, I’m finding people unable to wrap their brains around that notion a bit tedious.

As for UW Platteville - terminal MAs, to looks like:


This is depressing but unsurprising. That they don’t also show the data as a percentage of granted PhDs is an issue. The schools with the biggest doctoral programs will always produce more faculty. (I’m not saying there isn’t bias. There absolutely is. I just think they should have quantified it better.)

Depending on the field, only 5–23% of faculty members worked at an institution more prestigious than the one at which they earned their PhD, according to the analysis. Fields with the least ‘upward mobility’ included classics and economics, whereas those with the most included animal science and pharmacology.

This seems the more damning stat. Teaching is hard, and PhD programs don’t often train students to do it. Being a successful faculty member requires a very different skill set than getting into a “good” graduate school


This neglects the students who carve their own path, who do truly original research, and who lean on their advisors not as a platform to base their own research from but to advise them about methods and navigating the process of getting grants and writing dissertations.

That’s not nearly as rare as it’s made out to be, but the bias still exists. So those researchers end up going elsewhere by default, which ends up weakening the university’s base rather than strengthening it.

I mean, they are doing a shit job of supporting their grad students if they don’t nurture originality and diversity of thought and inquiry.


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And frankly, far too many advisers see their role as producing little versions of themselves that reflect back on themselves, rather than scholars who are going to further our collective knowledge…



I just wanted to say how much I’ve appreciated the pieces Elías has been publishing to the site. I enjoy the art and pop culture stuff too, obvs, but Elías’s focus on summarizing and citing sources for pressing political issues (from incels to higher Ed hiring) is feeling especially relevant and interesting.


I believe most schools have this policy. I remember when I was in college, they did hire a guy who got his Master’s from the same school (in design). It was noteworthy as I was told that colleges rarely higher their graduate students because you don’t want to have a faculty that all have the same schooling and thus more prone to similar thoughts, ways of teaching, etc. It is better to have a more diverse group of faculty that can offer different perspectives.

From the perspective of the art/design department, it made a lot of sense.

In theory, the modern PhD is designed as a multi-year apprenticeship with a known scholar. When you are selected into a doctoral program by a graduate faculty member, it is the expectation that you will work with that person to develop the research skills that are the central feature of the degree. That almost always means working on projects that the faculty advisor has going or is interested in getting going.

I don’t know exactly what you mean by “carving your own path,” but in the sciences, engineering, medicine, and other non-humanities fields, PhD students generally accept offers from faculty who already have grant money for specific research projects. The money to fund PhD students in the humanities is smaller, but working on research projects within the faculty advisor’s research lines is still the common practice. It’s exceptionally rare for PhD students to be funded by grants they have acquired themselves. It’s equally rare for PhD students to study topics that aren’t immediately familiar to their faculty advisors. That in no way means these dissertations “don’t nurture originality and diversity of thought and inquiry,” it just means that you can’t expect a student to have years of serious scholarly conversations with an advisor who isn’t an expert on your choice of research project for your dissertation. That defeats the whole idea of the degree.

A person gets to study what they want to study when they get a faculty or research job AFTER the PhD degree. The degree process itself is an apprenticeship with an expert on how to become a researcher.

Not necessarily. That’s how it often works, but there are notable exceptions, and I worry about any program that has no exceptions.

You’re right that faculty have grants that are directed at an area of research and/or inquiry. Let’s take the example of a grant to study sustainable energy sources. The faculty member specializes in tidal energy generators. However, one of the PhD candidates wants to study coastal evaporation/condensation as a potential energy source, backs it up with fundamental research that shows viability, then conducts the research. Can you explain why that university wouldn’t encourage that research path, and at least consider hiring that person when they complete their PhD?

I think it’s ludicrous.

Why would a PhD student need a university when they have the skills to “back it up with fundamental research” as well as “then conducts the research”? You’re not talking about PhD students … you’re talking about skilled researchers who already know what they are doing.

A PhD program is an apprenticeship PRECISELY because doing research is really hard. Your particular “student” example is better served by just going out and getting some venture capital and getting to work. It’s not a PhD model.