Academia is Not a Meritocracy

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Aware of Awareness

Academia is not a meritocracy.

 (And here’s a dirty little secret : Neither is any other professional field).

You would think that smart people – especially social scientists – would have internalized this rudimentary kernel of truth.  But we haven’t.

The myth of academic meritocracy persists mainly in two forms: 1) a collective obsession with academic rankings and status markers and 2) the hysteria that surrounds so-called “stars”.

Academic rankings and hierarchies continue to signal to our undergraduate and graduate students that certain departments are better than others.  These same departmental and institutional reputations are taken seriously in hiring decisions.  The most highly ranked journals are routinely framed as the most important and legitimate gatekeepers of scholarly research.  Prestigious fellowships and awards are often framed as supporting the “best” and the “brightest” academics in their respective fields.  And, all too often, the folks that publish in the most prestigious journals and win these highly prized jobs, fellowships…

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