Sunday, October 01, 2006

Faculty Hypocrisy?

Ann Bartow alerted me to her reflections on Daniel Golden's book The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys its Way into Elite Colleges--and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates. (related article at WSJ here).

In particular, Ann points out that not all faculty of colleges and universities have excellent benefits in relation to their children. I think that is an important point to bring up. Benefit packages for faculty vary dramatically and whether or not your children get a free ride to college is wholly dependent on how competitive those benefits are. If I were to have children, they could attend my college for free. But, if they wanted to go elsewhere, I would get a percentage of their tuition paid for by the college, but that is it. This is not an insignificant benefit, btw. Going to my college is expensive. But, it does mean that I will have limited options for where I can send my children if they are unable to score well and receive scholarships.

Nonetheless, I take it that Golden focuses primarily on the Ivies, in the same way that Linda Hirshman focuses on "elite women" from the Ivies. These elite colleges and their graduates are suppose to represent our best and brightest and so what they do with their education sends a signal.

The question of faculty hypocrisy, however, is fascinating. Are faculty at elite schools, who may in fact be pushing students to think critically about systems of domination and class ideologies in the U.S., benefitting from this same privilege? If my child is capable of getting into the elite school where I teach, and get a free education, am I am hypocrit?

I have to say I have never thought about this question much (largely because I am childless), but Za has children and they will hopefully get the benefit of a free or reduced education because he is faculty at a college or university. As I think about this question now, I am perplexed. Neither Za or I have much wealth. We do well on income, if you are looking at census data--that is, we are above the median. However, we have few assets and whatever assets we have do not get us out of our massive student loan debt. Both of us, however, are solidly upper middle class--if you think of class more as a culture than as money.

However, because we chose Academia, we are unlikely to accumulate much wealth over our lifetimes, particularly because of debt and children. So, given this reality, is it hypocrisy to take advantage of benefit packages that allow us to get our children free or reduced education? What is the nature of this hypocrisy? That we are teaching one thing--i.e. institutions should strive to be based on meritocracy and not perpetuate inequalities--and then reaping the benefits of our elite status to ensure that our children never have to struggle to earn their place? What do you think?