setgree a year ago

> “Accepting that prestige is a good measure of excellence means that we’re not looking into the history of how things became prestigious,” Gonzales says. The founding of elite US universities is “intertwined with exclusion”, she adds. For instance, many institutions have a history of seizing land from Indigenous groups, or originally derived their wealth from or supported their infrastructure with the labour of enslaved Black people.

These are non-sequiturs. The research question here is whether faculty are hired from those prestigious schools above and beyond the rate at which they would have been hired based on other signals of their potential as researchers, which, presumably, are related to what school they go to.

I am not seeing how schools' historical relationships with marginalized peoples bears on that question.

I believe it was Gary King who said that nepotism and meritocracy are very hard to distinguish in academia. You would need a clever identification strategy [0] to tease out the effects of prestige on the margin. I'm afraid this article doesn't offer much on that front.


  • derbOac a year ago

    Totally anecdotal, but I've been in a number of tenure-track hiring meetings at multiple universities and someone always brings up the idea of "pedigree". As in, "X has a good pedigree" etc., as if that's an argument for hiring the person above and beyond their track record. So at least in my personal experience, these things do enter into the process.

    Of course, the process involves a lot of other variables too; there are plenty who don't talk about pedigree, but there's often someone who will point to it as a rationale.

    I hear similar whispers about federal grant receipts, etc., in that people who get stamped with approval in the form of training fellowships, predoctoral NSF awards, etc. are seen as sort of "understanding the system" etc.

    As I think of it, I can think of lots of other "in-group signaling" in various domains, so maybe it's not unique to academics. But that cuts both ways when you're talking about exclusivity and "old-boy" networks.

    • BurningFrog a year ago

      There is some truth to the heuristic that "if you got into Harvard" you have to be pretty good.

      Because Harvard is really good at finding the "Harvard quality" people among applicants.

      • gammarator a year ago
        • fny a year ago

          Having a lot of money is Harvard quality. Remember these institutions survive because the rich donate. This is also how brilliant minds come in contact with capital, and how we fund people studying knots and english literature all day long. It's a form of patronage.

          In turn, no one would ever give Jared Kusher a professorship unless he bought it.

      • nextos a year ago

        The problem is that hiring committees are busy, have imperfect information and therefore rely on easy metrics, i.e. prestige of candidate's university and journals where he has published.

        Many universities are now signatories of the SF Declaration, where they promise to value research based on ideas, not on prestige of journals:

        I have noted e.g. UMass goes one step further and asks tenure-track applicants to remove affiliation and journal names on their CVs to avoid bias. So that someone who comes from e.g. Oxford and has published in Nature is not judged to be better a priori than someone who comes from Exeter and has published in JCI.

        I think this is a great initiative.

        • woooooo a year ago

          How does that work if anyone actually reads the publications? They'll have the journal name and probably current institution of the authors, right?

          Am I being naive with the question? Is reading the publications unusual?

          • nextos a year ago

            It's a bit more complicated, you are asked to submit a CV, a research proposal and some summaries of your publications, all anonymized.

            Then, an external committee theoretically does look only at that, and preselects candidates.

            At that stage, they tell applicants and their internal committee begins looking at all non-anonymized materials.

          • sdenton4 a year ago

            Pretty easy to ignore the publication journal of you download all your papers from the arxiv...

          • neffy a year ago

            It would be very interesting to have that studied... but my general impressions (as somebody who does read the publications) is that the answer is usually no.

      • blagie a year ago

        That's true. "Harvard quality" means either:

        - Very smart

        - Connections to wealth and power

        A bit over 2/5s of the white undergrads are admitted for the later. That came up in the Asian law suit. Similar mechanisms apply elsewhere, but we haven't had legal discovery (note: not speculation; insider knowledge).

        • jl2718 a year ago
          • blagie a year ago

            Yes, speaking as an insider, cheating at universities like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT is ubiquitous. I'm not talking about undergrads copying exams, so much as research fraud, bizarre financial schemes to funnel endowment funds into faculty pockets, conflicts-of-interest, and occasionally, actual crime.

            I was following the article until I ran into xenophobia:

            "The absurd parental efforts of an Amy Chua, as recounted in her 2010 bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, were simply a much more extreme version of widespread behavior among her peer-group, which is why her story resonated so deeply among our educated elites."

            Chua is an immigrant academic who has devoted much of her life to the study of cultural dynamics in the US. She published an honest account of her life parenting in the US, coming from a different cultural background, as a means of helping people understand the immigrant experience with America trying to Americanize them.

            Instead, what she did got cast through an American cultural lens, anecdotes got distorted by the media, and she got beat up over a very personal, very honest, very well-crafted account.

            I am an immigrant, and her book resonated 100% with me. Things I do with my kid seem absurd from an American cultural perspective. It's not the same set of things as Amy did, at all, but that's true of most immigrant families from different cultures, be that Middle Eastern countries, Africa, or many other places.

            An author of this article either doesn't know what they're writing about (they're citing a book they haven't read), or they're lying.

      • derbOac a year ago

        Maybe I'm jaded but I've met a lot of brilliant people in my life. They come from all sorts of backgrounds.

        I've often in turn seen how those backgrounds can become safety nets, not equally distributed. The benefit of the doubt is extended very far, and when you have knowledge on the other side of the curtain it starts to look self-fulfilling sometimes.

        It's hard not to look at scatterplots of things like SATs, GREs, and GPAs, and see a lot of randomness. Not pure randomness but it starts to be hard to justify to yourself when correlations of .1-.3 begin to be interpreted in the general public as if they were .9.

        • robertlagrant a year ago

          > It's hard not to look at scatterplots of things like SATs, GREs, and GPAs, and see a lot of randomness. Not pure randomness but it starts to be hard to justify to yourself when correlations of .1-.3 begin to be interpreted in the general public as if they were .9.

          Do you have a link? Be keen to read about this.

      • HWR_14 a year ago

        > Harvard is really good at finding the "Harvard quality" people among applicants.

        How hard is that sifting process? How good is Harvard at doing that? How was it tested?

        I certainly think Harvard could have made an incoming class out of rejected students and they would all be the same caliber.

        • bigbacaloa a year ago

          This study is talking about doctoral training not undergraduate. Selection is very different.

          • HWR_14 a year ago

            I guess I assumed that doctoral training would be more likely to draw from a fully qualified pool than undergraduate studies.

      • BurningFrog a year ago

        OP here: Note that I said "some truth".

        I'm aware of the imperfections and biases. But I also think there is a baby in that bathwater.

    • OJFord a year ago

      But is that entirely wrong?

      Isn't 'good pedigree' saying 'we can trust the unknown here more than in other cases'?

      • derbOac a year ago

        Maybe? I think that's where this gets murky. What are you basing that trust on?

        • fny a year ago

          The individual has been "vetted" in a more rigorous setting. For example, is someone who graduates with a 3.5GPA Math BA from the University of Central Florida trained as well as someone who graduates with 3.5 from the University of Maryland? What about UNC? What about MIT?

          If pedigree was a useless signal, it wouldn't be used. Mind you, I've seen this used against people as well. For example...

          "The last few MIT grads we hired were full of themselves and way too combative." These are real words from a hiring manager.

          • Siddarth1977 a year ago

            I'd treat the 3.5 from UCF, Maryland and UNC as roughly the same, but think MIT probably was slightly harder to achieve. Maybe UNC I'd view with a bit more suspicion since it's more likely that someone got by there due to one form of privilege or another, whereas the Central Florida student I can feel more confident they probably survived only by merit.

            One funny aspect of the very phenomena that this article is about, is that it highlights how little difference where you go to school matters. Whether you go to "super prestigious Ivy league school" or "non-prestigious flyover country state school" you're probably using the exact same textbook, syllabus and have a professors who were classmates and peers at the same "prestigious" university.

            Basically, the difference between a student at a midwestern public school and an Ivy league is about 99.999% how privileged they were in terms of either having rich, well-connected parents or matching a diversity criteria the school was seeking and at most, a 0.001% difference in merit.

            • master_crab a year ago

              “I'd treat the 3.5 from UCF, Maryland and UNC as roughly the same, but think MIT probably was slightly harder to achieve.”

              Are you sure about that? Private, prestigious institutions have a habit of grade inflation beyond those of the nation’s reputable state schools (although all of the schools have inflated grades compared to previous decades)

              I would probably view an equal or higher GPA from a top tier state school as a better distinguisher than one from an Ivy.



            • lapcat a year ago

              > Basically, the difference between a student at a midwestern public school and an Ivy league is about 99.999% how privileged they were in terms of either having rich, well-connected parents

              Coincidentally, I was accepted to an Ivy League school but had to attend a Midwestern public school instead because my parents couldn't afford to send me to the Ivy League school.

              So my pedigree was entirely based on money.

          • SantalBlush a year ago

            >If pedigree was a useless signal, it wouldn't be used.

            The notion of good pedigree benefits anyone who might fit in that category, so they're incentivized to convince people that this matters. For example, if someone on a hiring committee sees an applicant coming from their alma mater, they can call that a "good pedigree" and reinforce the value of their own background.

            • pc86 a year ago

              I mean, only if it actually is a good pedigree. I used to work at a company where one of the HR directors went to Harvard for undergrad. He could say that and people probably would have nodded their heads in agreement. You can't say that if you went to Ohio State. Nothing against the Buckeyes but it's just not in the same tier, to the point where that "pedigree" -- I can't even imagine anyone referring to their Ohio State education as a "pedigree" in any serious sense -- isn't any better or worse than any of the other ~60 half-way decent "$STATE State" or "$STATE University" schools.

              There's also a lot of discussion here around the people who get excluded because they lack that pedigree. I don't think anyone is saying that you can't find brilliant folks who went to a small school you've never heard of. They're saying that you're hiring for one professorship, there are a lot of unknowns, and you're trying to eliminate false positives to avoid a bad hire. Seeing that between two otherwise-identical candidates, one of whom has a BA from Harvard and one of whom has a BA from West Virginia State, you're well within your duty as a member of the hiring committee to assume that the person from Harvard has at least as good a chance of being acceptable as the other one. False negatives are okay (not great), false positives are horrible.

              • neffy a year ago

                The problem though is that exceptional people are scattered all over the system, since 1) not everybody can get into Harvard (class size) and a significant percentage who do are selected from a small monied elite. The number of non-Harvard graduates is much, much larger.

                So statistically it is actually far more likely that the Harvard person is relatively mediocre to a neutral sampling of the entire system.

          • longtimegoogler a year ago

            I don't think an equivalent GPA at a more prestigious school signals anything of the sort. In fact many more prestigious institutions grade fairly leniently on the assumption that their students are already ahead of the curve.

            The few exceptions are at places like Berkeley where they accept a large number of students.

            It's one of the reasons that I think eliminating standardized tests for admission to graduate institutions may be a mistake.

          • derbOac a year ago

            But I guess the argument is is that vetting equally available? And is the rigor in the vetting or in the self selection?

            To me it seems self-reinforcing.

            Lots of things in history have been used as signals.

  • pessimizer a year ago

    The research question isn't about whether "prestige is a good measure of excellence." That's the question that you ask after you discover that people are being hired based on prestige, if you don't automatically assume that's either a bad or a good thing.

    If prestige is definitely driven by quality, it's not bad that professors are being hired because of the prestige of the schools they attended. But accepting that prestige is a good measure of excellence means that we're not looking into the history of how things became prestigious.

    • P5fRxh5kUvp2th a year ago

      It doesn't follow, it's a non-sequitur.

      There's nothing about using prestige as a proxy for excellence that has any bearing on investigating what got them there in the first place.

      It's akin to claiming that accepting financial success as a decent proxy for business acumen means no one is interested in knowing how they originally because financially successful. Not only does it not follow, it makes no sense as to why accepting one would even imply someone wasn't interested in the other.

    • setgree a year ago

      Sure, I think it’s good to both first get the data on which scholars come from which schools, and I also think unpacking the social and political construction of prestige is a great research agenda.

      But to assess whether prestige is a source of bias in the hiring process, you have to separate prestige from other markers of quality. Otherwise, you have a big confounding variable problem. This author, and also the quoted professor of education, don’t seem to engage with that, and in fact seem to beg the question by assuming that prestige is an independent force in hiring decisions, which, I thought, was the thing the article was trying to demonstrate.

      • cycomanic a year ago

        Have you been on a university hiring committee? My anecdotal evidence is that yes prestige very strongly matters and coming from a very prestigious university often outweights other factors such as publication record.

        I haven't read the original article yet but one can easily test if e.g. the publication record of a graduate student from a non-and prestigious uni differ to the extend that is indicated by the hiring.

        • ninjin a year ago

          I have been on multiple hiring committees and had insights into plenty of hiring processes at other “top-25” universities. My experience is that it is more complex than simply using prestigious universities, supervisors, and collaborators as markers. In fact, I have so far never heard that kind of argument raised, while I have heard diversity arguments raised more times than I can count.

          Rather, my experience tells me that having attended prestigious universities, as well as having had “great” supervisors and collaborators drives up other metrics for a candidate such as publications, impact, collaboration networks, etc. Success breeds success across academic generations, due to overall positive perception of people/institutions, (in particular at top American institutions) ample access to funds, etc. Note also – and this is very important – that the metrics I mentioned are considered “objective” and disconnected from prestige. Making matters even worse, the ability to make use of the opportunities that these prestigious institutions bring, is of course correlated with intrinsic attributes you want to see in a candidate (not everyone that goes to Harvard ends up being a superstar).

          It is very difficult for me to pick this apart. How can I possibly objectively tell whether individual A that entered a top-5 institution or individual B that entered a top-100 institution is most deserving? Given the complexity of it all, I suspect that I can not, but I also sincerely doubt that the insistence on “objective” metrics does much to alleviate an already very messy situation.

          • visarga a year ago

            > How can I possibly objectively tell whether individual A that entered a top 5 institution or individual B that entered a top 100 institution is most deserving?

            I presume you can read their papers.

            • ninjin a year ago

              Of course! If only we and thousands of other hiring committees would have thought of that!

              Obviously we read their work, their CVs, their teaching statements, their research proposals, listen to their presentations, have personal meetings, etc. But if you read my original comment again I am sure you will notice that this is not what I am talking about. I state multiple times that these “objective” metrics that you now tout in response to my post are strongly correlated with prestigious institutions and supervisory pedigree. Thus, picking them apart is incredibly challenging.

              • visarga a year ago

                Use blind reading, remove the author name and institution from the papers.

                • ninjin a year ago

                  Okay, let my try to put this gently, go back and read my original post again and then respond here as to why your reply here is obviously nonsensical. Sorry, I am losing my patience here as you do not even seem to understand the basics of the ongoing discussion and what it is that is problematic.

        • setgree a year ago

          I have not been on a hiring committee — I actually failed my comprehensive exams partway through grad school which is how I ended up in tech :) — but your hypothesis sounds very reasonable to me. I’m just saying that we need a more careful causal identification strategy than that provided herein to say whether prestige has a meaningful effect on hiring, on average.

        • j7ake a year ago

          All else being equal eg publication record, a candidate A from a less prestigious place is ranked higher than candidate B from a more prestigious place. This is because the candidate A did the same stuff with much less support than B.

          The issue is that prestige is highly correlated to research outputs, so it is difficult to disentangle.

          • cycomanic a year ago

            While it maybe should be that way it definitely is not in my experience.

            In my experience if you have done a postdoc/PhD at e.g. Stanford people will look much less thoroughly at your publication record. I've actually argued in committees that a candidate from a less prestigious school should be reranked higher than a candidate from a prestigious school, because they had a much better publication record. The interesting thing was once I brought this up in the discussion, most people agreed. However in their own ranking they had put the person from the prestigious school higher, which indicates to me that this is an unconscious bias.

            • j7ake a year ago

              I guess it depends on the publication record. But a bad publication record from someone who came from a prestigious place gets an extra negative from someone who came from an average place.

              On the other spectrum, someone from nowhere solving something big makes huge headlines (mathematician from unknown place solves millennia-old problem). At that level it doesn’t matter where you came from, you’re in.

              It’s the muddy middle that becomes difficult to assess. Two people who have published decently but not great. Nothing remarkable about them. Then prestige may factor in to their benefit.

      • jltsiren a year ago

        I think this study is approaching the limits of what can be determined using quantitative methods. The academia is not single field but a collection of tens of thousands of overlapping niches. If you want to understand the dynamics in a niche, you must spend years studying it, which does not scale.

        In the niche I'm most familiar with, where I can often tell the difference between the reputation of a researcher and the quality of their work, prestige does not seem to have a significant role. University of Cambridge is the only institute that stands out, while most top people and most faculty members come from a wide range of reputable but unexceptional research universities.

        Prestige seems to have a bigger role in another subfield I work in, but I'm not as confident in evaluating the people in it. The big difference seems to be that this subfield favors building large labs and emphasizes the role of the PI as a manager and a visionary rather than as a researcher. I'm not even sure if the quality of research means the same things in this field as in my home field.

    • pc86 a year ago

      I think we're not looking into it because it doesn't matter in this context. We can look into it, sure. But the question of how Yale University treated certain groups of people or how they got certain plots of land doesn't have the slightest bearing on whether or not Professor Smith got her specific professorship because she went to Yale. They're both good questions but completely unrelated.

  • A4ET8a8uTh0 a year ago

    It is a nice catch. I read and re-read the quote and the argument is oddly worded. If I were to try to make sense of it and try to defend it, I think I would say that the author is trying to say that how you got where you are matters. It is still a bad and poorly worded argument. Than again, 'everything is racism' clearly sells clicks today so even non-sequitur works.

  • cma a year ago

    > I am not seeing how schools' historical relationships with marginalized peoples bears on that question.

    Though it wasn't one of their examples, alumni preference in admissions means that schools that formerly excluded based on race still have an element of that today.

    And it means that older SATs that had stronger cultural bias in the reading comprehension parts etc. are still affecting admissions today, through the chain of alumni preference.

  • throwawaymaths a year ago

    I am unsure about training (access to, and performance at prestigious phd programs is easy even if you come from a third-tier undergrad), but I don't believe that professors at lower tier research institutes are necessarily less productive.

    Probably the most productive synthetic biologist is one at Michigan state: John Frost... with a lab of about six, he's produced in microorganisms within the span of ten-ish years:

    - rocket fuel precursor (butanetriol for BTTN), both stereoisomers

    - BPA replacement (phloroglucinol)

    - precursor to tamiflu (shikimate)

    - nylon-6 precursor (caprolactam)

    And probably some others that I don't remember off the top of my head. More famous synthetic biologists have done less with labs of hundreds.

    • tacomonstrous a year ago

      Michigan State is lower tier than the likes of Harvard maybe, but it's still a premier research institution by global standards.

      • throwawaymaths a year ago

        I did not mean this as a dig against Michigan state by any means.

  • thfuran a year ago

    >These are non-sequiturs.

    And also probably little more than proxies for the age of the institution.

    • ckemere a year ago

      Stanford was essentially founded in the 20th century - much more recently than many east coast universities.

    • setgree a year ago

      At the very least, highly correlated :)

  • julianeon a year ago

    It's not clear that the non sequitur is the fault of Gonzales.

    It is true that the history of elite universities is highly related to exclusion, as she said. One clear as day example: the historical exclusion of Jews. It's easy to find others.

    The article says: "For instance, many institutions have a history of seizing land from Indigenous groups, or originally derived their wealth from or supported their infrastructure with the labour of enslaved Black people." But did Gonzales give those examples? Even a friend to her argument would probably agree that exclusion in the admissions context of elite schools would be more relevant.

  • bo1024 a year ago

    They’re definitely sequiturs, maybe not to the issues you want to discuss. You seem focused on how much academia is a meritocracy. There is an important and different question of how diverse and accessible academia is.

    For example certain Olympic sports like dressage (horse jumping) are meritocracies, but very exclusionary (or at least non diverse, non accessible).

    • setgree a year ago

      The subtitle of this article is "‘Jarring’ study reveals hiring bias at US institutions."

      Trying to ascertain whether prestige leads to "hiring bias" is asking whether it has an independent effect on hiring. If prestige had zero effect -- if the observed correlation was actually measuring markers of researcher quality with which prestige is likely to be correlated -- then there would be zero bias.

      The fact that those institutions did many horrible things historically does not provide evidence on that question. That's why I called it a non-sequitur.

      • bo1024 a year ago

        The word "bias" doesn't appear in the actual research study, nor "discrimination". I don't see that it addresses anything of the sort.

    • NovemberWhiskey a year ago

      It is certainly a non-sequitur: can we simultaneously accept, or reject, the idea that prestige is a good measure of excellence while looking at (or not looking at) the history of how things become prestigious? Yes, we can. The one has nothing to do with the other.

      • bo1024 a year ago

        Again, you're focusing on the question of meritocracy which is not the only interesting question here.

    • lo_zamoyski a year ago

      > There is an important and different question of how diverse and accessible academia is.

      What I find troubling is the baggage of background assumptions that makes this sort of value judgement possible.

      You have three professors, two white, one black. The two white professors, A and B, have diverging yet compelling views. The black professor C agrees with A. Which is better? Hiring A and B, or A and C? According to prevailing views of the value of diversity, the latter is preferable because of the racial diversity rule.

      • bo1024 a year ago

        One interesting aspect of this article is a framing of diversity of people by where they were educated.

    • motohagiography a year ago

      Imo, this comment is treating these sports as straw man symbols to assert an ideological point. Good horsemanship takes decades and isn't really comparable to intellectualism. We aren't your gods, and using riders as examples for iconoclasm is tedious.

      • bo1024 a year ago

        I'm sorry if I gave offense, but I'm not sure what about my analogy you're objecting to and I would be glad if you could help me understand. I just meant to illustrate that an endeavor can be a fair and just meritocracy, but also non diverse and non representative -- these are two separate issues.

  • throwaway0asd a year ago

    The presence of bias is purely numerical and is allowed to thrive due to the lack of controls. Prestige is an unrelated red herring masking the very human behaviors that account for social gravity in many walks of life. This is commonly referred to as implicit bias and is generally the most common cause of various forms of selection bias, including racial discrimination from both the majority and minorities alike.

    • Maursault a year ago

      > The presence of bias is purely numerical and is allowed to thrive due to the lack of controls.

      This statement is wonderfully self-contradictory. The study overwhelmingly proves the first part wrong. The presence of bias is numerical, certainly, but it is not purely numerical and must actually exist, which is acknowledged after the "and," in contradiction.

      > Prestige is an unrelated red herring masking the very human behaviors that account for social gravity in many walks of life.

      The study conclusively demonstrates that prestige most certainly is central to academic mobility. Also, biases are among the very human behaviors that account for social gravity.

      > This is commonly referred to as implicit bias

      Again, contradictory to immediately previous statement. If prestige is a red herring, it can't also be implicit bias unless the implicitly biased individual is intentionally misleading themselves, i.e. demonstrating cognitive dissonance.

      > and is generally the most common cause of various forms of selection bias,

      Prestige is highly unlikely to be the most common cause of selection bias. Systematic error is a far more common cause of selection bias.

      > including racial discrimination from both the majority and minorities alike.

      The surprising claim here is that prestige causes racism. But racism has many causes, the most common being that it is learned. In origin, I think it is probably caused by a combination of low intellect, lack of education, irrational fear of diversity, and narcissistic self-interest. And it should be noted that the idea of reverse racism has been employed wherever white supremacy is diminished. It is, IMO, neither legitimate nor valid conceptually and fundamentally a tu quoque fallacy.

      • throwaway0asd a year ago

        No, the study proves that bias, in this one case, demonstrates the Pareto Principle which is a purely numerical thing.

        Alignment to bias is essential to mobility anywhere that bias prevails irrespective of prestige. Prestige is the effect not the cause. The rest of your comment is built upon that cause/effect confusion.

        • Maursault a year ago

          > No, the study proves that bias, in this one case, demonstrates the Pareto Principle which is a purely numerical thing.

          This is a category error. The study nicely demonstrates the 80/20 rule, which itself is purely numerical, but the subjects, the academics, are real people, not numbers, nor is the demonstrated bias purely mathematical, it actually exists. The bias is real irregardless of demonstrating the Pareto Principle. The land ownership that Pareto originally demonstrated as following an 80/20 rule is not numerical, i.e. owning land is not numerical; it is land tenure.

          > Alignment to bias is essential to mobility anywhere that bias prevails irrespective of prestige.

          This is question begging, assuming the conclusion, aka petitio principii.

          > Prestige is the effect not the cause. The rest of your comment is built upon that cause/effect confusion.

          And this is a straw man and contradictory to your original statements. Unravelling your OP, it was your claim that prestige was the cause of something:

          >> Prestige... is generally the most common cause of...

          You write beautifully, your prose flows exceptionally smoothly, a talent I wish I had. I'm honestly envious. But the underlying argument is at times contradictory and wholly fallacious.

  • mrxd a year ago

    What’s being implied here is that the endowments of these elite institutions were created through historical crimes, but activists won’t make an issue of that if the universities support diverse hiring initiatives.

  • throwawaylinux a year ago

    > These are non-sequiturs. The research question here is whether faculty are hired from those prestigious schools above and beyond the rate at which they would have been hired based on other signals of their potential as researchers, which, presumably, are related to what school they go to.

    > I am not seeing how schools' historical relationships with marginalized peoples bears on that question.

    You're right, but it would be truly hilarious if those universities used this same reasoning to defend themselves. Now they don't like the intersectionality they preach when it's going to be used against them.

  • lapcat a year ago

    > The research question here is whether faculty are hired from those prestigious schools above and beyond the rate at which they would have been hired based on other signals of their potential as researchers

    It's interesting that you use the word "potential". Tenure-track positions are very hard to get, and most newly minded PhDs have very little track record. If they're lucky, they have a publication or two in a journal, but many will have only their dissertation. So I think the question is whether PhDs coming from prestigious schools are judged to have more "research potential" based on where they come from rather than their limited record.

    The "potential" problem is even worse when it comes to admitting undergraduates into graduate programs.

    If you don't get a tenure-track position right out of grad school, it can be difficult to ever work your way up to one, because you'll probably have to take a job at a school with a greater teaching load than a typical research university, which leaves little time for you to do your research and prove yourself. In a sense, the "potential" becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    • humanistbot a year ago

      This is why it has become normal to do 3-7 years of postdoc research positions before being considered for a tenure-track faculty position, even for those from elite universities.

      • barry-cotter a year ago

        Only in fields where there’s no demand for their skills outside academia, like English literature or History, or vastly more supply than demand, like most of the sciences. Fields like Economics or Computer Science have post docs but they’re not normative. Most people who end up with tenure track jobs never do one.

        • ninjin a year ago

          Hogwash! It depends on far more than the field. In Computer Science, factors such as the current “heat” of the market, saturation in terms of hires at institutions in your field, procedures in a given country, “production rate” of PhD students, etc. all have a major impact on whether you will have to “run the postdoctoral gauntlet”. About half of the tenured professors that I know in my “generation” had to do several years of work before ending up on the tenure track and I am both in Computer Science and in a field that has been very hot for nearly ten years.

        • mod50ack a year ago

          So only in the vast majority of fields, then.

    • peteradio a year ago

      Many fields you'd have many more papers than just your dissertation (not that I did, looks at ground).

  • PolygonSheep a year ago

    > many institutions have a history of seizing land from Indigenous groups

    The institutions themselves did? How many Ivy League founders forcefully dispossessed indigenous groups specifically so they could build a university on their land?

    I'm not talking, like, how the land Yale University is on was once owned by the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Niantic, and the Quinnipiac and other Algonquian speaking peoples and then some white dudes forcibly relocated them and then years later some other white dudes got together and founded a school which became Yale.

    If dispossession makes something prestigious then why isn't every college in America prestigious? They were all built on land seized from indigenous groups. Many in the South were built or benefited from the labor of enslaved black people in addition to that. By this logic the most prestigious universities in America really ought to be clustered in the deep South cotton belt. This strangely doesn't seem to be the case.

    It seems to me prestige and some form of exclusion have to go hand in hand. This might be in terms of cost to attend, or coming from the "right" ethnicity, or coming from the "right" family from within the "right" ethnicity, or having the highest SAT score, or some mix of these.

    If the Ivy League was open to any and all comers it would no more prestigious than any community college because anyone who wanted to could attend. I don't see why Yale couldn't build bigger buildings and open a bunch of satellite campuses in all 50 states if they wanted to. But if they did that it would be like Gucci selling $15 shirts at Walmart. It would utterly destroy the brand even if the quality remained the same.

    > This picture of elitism is bolstered by a study published last month in Nature Human Behaviour2, showing that almost 25% of faculty members in the United States have at least one parent with a PhD (in the general population, less than 1% of people have a parent with a PhD).

    What would the numbers look like if you did the math for plumbers, programmers, farmers, or any other trade? Suppose your dad was a welder and he taught you about it from a young age, gave you skills, put in a good word for you with his boss, which gave you a leg up on the people trying to get into the trade from nothing. It doesn't seem much different from me to the PhD thing. This is not even getting into whether (or to what extent) intelligence/personality is heritable. PhDs will spend a lot of time with each other, and mate with each other, and their kids will be PhDs because they were raised in a PhD environment by PhD parents and the cycle will repeat again. I could have told you that without a study.

    > 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.

    Well yeah. If they had enough prestige to go to a prestigious university they would have done so before earning their PhD. Either the most elite universities in the US are leaving a ton of $100 bills on the sidewalk by ignoring non-prestigious PhDs, or it's not a meritocracy and never was.

  • drewcoo a year ago

    > non-sequiturs

    if prestige is a good measure

      -> how did it get that way?
        -> exclusion
          -> examples of exclusion
    You might claim the point is not germane for other reasons but clearly this shows a clear sequence of thought so the claim "non-sequitur" doesn't hold. "It's too hard to measure" also doesn't mean "not germane," though.
azinman2 a year ago

I don’t know why this is a problem or even surprising. There are few academic positions. Getting in and making it through the top schools is competitive and difficult. So why wouldn’t the best and brightest and most motivated and best networked beat everyone else out?

I’ve been to every kind of level of school (public, private, non-elite, elite). Whenever I’ve had someone from an elite background teaching at a non-elite place has made me feel better about the education I received, and was grateful for it! Relatedly, the expectations in the elite environments were substantially higher, which ended up producing better work from myself because of my peers, culture, and pressure than when I was lacking those in non-elite environments… despite the fact that I’m the same person.

I hate this trend perusing equality by lowering to the common denominator. That’s how you lose competitive edge in the world and end up with a mushy disinterested public. Talent is non-uniformly distributed… we should encourage and have ample mechanisms for the cream to rise to the top regardless of background. Finding ways to identify and prop up talent is what’s culturally lacking. I’ve seen it first hand countless times, and it’s saddened me each time because it’s so wasteful for society and the individuals. We need access to more elite institutions not less!

  • epolanski a year ago

    I have worked as a researcher in one of the most prestigious labs in Switzerland and the world, and I have not seen any correlation at all between how bright are people and where they studied.

    We had visiting researchers from anywhere and I failed to see any correlation between the two things in years.

    I can tell you none of the brightest came from cambridge uk or harvard us but universities you never heard of in southern italy or india.

    Your entire argument that follows is delusional.

    Nothing about going to Harvard makes you more qualified in maths, e.g. than going to any European public university you have not heard of. Education depends on the quality of teaching and learning, and most great professors in important universities excel at funding, not teaching.

    Even when it comes to learning, especially in stem, you will likely learn more on books and internet and your course mates than your lectures. Hell, internet is filled with all the lectures you want from Harvard, MIT and more elite universities. As for any university in the world there are good and bad courses.

    • azinman2 a year ago

      I can only speak to my experience, and experienced just about every major kind of environment (private elite small, public large, community college, regional state schools, elite universities). I’ve met great people everywhere, but in heavily uneven distribution. And in the less great environments, having a culture of either apathy, non-excellence, or simply not having so many great peers does little to motivate oneself, where as having the opposite is like a rocket ship. Videos on the internet are not a replacement for who is around you everyday. Your peers are a well establish major factor in determining your trajectory in life.

      The uneven distribution will mean that MIT will put out a lot of great candidates, where as a state school will put out few great candidates. The people who went to MIT were in a culture that pushed them the entire time, so they’ll have maximized their talent, where as the state school lacking this culture will reward the same potential talent for less accomplishment. Thus you see this 80/20 rule manifest.

      Btw the study was about American universities. I’m not sure why you’re being so defensive about Europe. It’s irrelevant to the point at hand. You could do the same study in France or China and I’m sure you’ll see a similar domestic result.

      • epolanski a year ago

        I think you are way overblowing this whole idea.

        Sure, peers matter, and yes, probably competitive people may tend to aggregate in some places but that does not lead to the implications and numbers you drive. It's mostly about bias and network.

        > people who went to MIT were in a culture that pushed them the entire time, so they’ll have maximized their talent

        It's funny you mention a university which publishes their own tests. I'd like to see a comparison with similar tests from less prestigious university. Calculus/analysis tests seem quite standard, where's the unusual push?

        You seem to regurgitate university ads.

        It's also funny how the article points how much less of a factor for STEM than economics or law...maybe because stem needs results besides prestige?

        • mod50ack a year ago

          > Calculus/analysis tests seem quite standard, where's the unusual push?

          The tests in standard courses aren't really what's at play. It's about people and the ability to "run into" and work with those people gets people into research networks.

          Not all MIT students do that, of course, and it's not an absolute; many people come from less-prestigious schools, but the networking effects stack things against them coming from undergrad and afford them fewer opportunities to "walk into" those circles, depending on the resources their UGs have.

      • lapcat a year ago

        First: "So why wouldn’t the best and brightest and most motivated and best networked beat everyone else out?"

        Second: "Your peers are a well establish major factor in determining your trajectory in life."

        Ok, so can we ditch "best and brightest and most motivated" and just go with "best networked"?

        > I don’t know why this is a problem

        The problem is the best networked part.

      • nextos a year ago

        In many EU countries there is a large group of public universities with roughly the same "prestige" and entry is not too competitive. Some might be incredibly hard once you are in, though.

    • baggygenes a year ago

      Yes, but let's also not conflate the idea of "brightness" and the qualities of a productive university professor.After all, it's much harder to get into Stanford as an undergrad than it is to get in as a post-doc. What makes someone excel in academia is a genuine passion for knew knowledge, creative problem solving / experimental design, and (yes) the ability to drum up finding to make those discoveries. Rarely is the "smartest" person in the room most capable of being a great researcher. Curiosity, familiarity with the state-of-the-art, and the ability to forge genuine collaborations are far more important than one's ability to do the actual work, I'm afraid (that is, after all, what graduate students are for :)

      • epolanski a year ago

        Being a good researcher does not imply being a good professor.

        As for science it is more about hard work, and long unpaid overwork than being smart.

        My previous lab has more than half the staff from asia e.g.

        Academia is a tough pyramid and at the end of the day the only thing that matters for a faculty position is politics and money not even your publications or ability to teach. Those are valued at much less prestigious places (that still produce amazing people)

    • ryan93 a year ago

      Why then have harvard and cambridge graduated such a incredibly large fraction of the worlds most productive and famous scientists and mathematicians? Can you please name the italian universities that have produce at the level of cambridge?

      • DoingIsLearning a year ago

        I think their point is that the best and brightest have a normal distribution across the world. Irrespective of how bright you are it is an incredibly unlikely event that _all_ these people will be able to have access or funds to start their university at 'elite' universities. Information and monetary assymetry is a thing.

        To your point at least in the UK there is a sea of Italian academics from Bologna/Milan/Padua/Torino pursuing further studies or research positions in Oxbridge and other 'Golden Triangle' universities.

        Having experienced average universities in my undergrad studies and 'elite' universities as a postgrad I have to seriously agree with GP:

        > most great professors in important universities excel at funding, not teaching

        The differentiating factor is that elite universities have a halo effect that makes it far more likely to secure funding. This allows for more ambitious projects and equally enables them to attract top talent.

      • epolanski a year ago

        > Why then have harvard and cambridge graduated such a incredibly large fraction of the worlds most productive and famous scientists and mathematicians?

        They didn't graduated most of them, they employed them, (e.g. the most recent Nobel recipient Penrose).

        Out of 121 Nobel recipients from Cambridge most came from universities you never heard of.

        Also: funding.

        Academia works like that: the more you publish the more money you get => the more you can research and publish => the more money you get and so on.

        Thus hubs that historically did well, will keep attracting more funds and outscore other universities.

  • peteradio a year ago

    > best networked

    I think if this part ends up too high of a weight you'll end up with a lack of diversity of ideas and ultimately a decay into nepotism.

    • azinman2 a year ago

      No system is perfect. There will always be certain ideas that remain in favor versus others, and a minority of them will be misallocated. Time eventually sorts this out. Having the opposite approach (aka lowest common denominator) will almost certainly be much worse off. We’ve seen this in places like China and Cambodia where cultural revolutions have eliminated the smartest people, and society/progress has suffered greatly from it.

      • peteradio a year ago

        I'm certainly not advocating for lowest common denominator. It is problematic though if for instance in a field the academic tree flows from only 3 grandfathers.

  • longtimegoogler a year ago

    Strong disagree. Getting into a top University is hard but once you are there matriculating isn't. In fact many of these institutions suffer from grade inflation.

  • goldenManatee a year ago

    This is all based on personal emotions and faux logical assumptions. There’s very little concrete or scientific evidence being presented to back up any of the anecdotes. There’s mention of avoiding mushiness, but ironically that’s precisely what the comforting cognitive miserliness does.

    • azinman2 a year ago

      What a strange comment. The article itself gives you the trend. It doesn’t answer the why. I’m giving an insiders perspective to my experience, which is what the best HN comments typically contain.

      Should all comments here only be pointers to research? That’s not the community that I’m interested in, as that’s what’s easily accessible already via google.

  • yucky a year ago

    Something something...those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

    The fact is, the best and brightest typically enter the private sector, not academia. Agree about lowering the common denominator, but I don't think that has anything to do with the way tenure is handed out if we're being honest. For instance, diversity of thought is your enemy in academia. Research universities seem to reward parrots.

Ancalagon a year ago

This is pretty much why I left physics, any worthwhile research career was over before it even started since I went to a lower-tier state university. Not saying that's indicative of all fields considering the difficulty of physics and few number of faculty and lab positions available for such skillsets, but that was my experience.

I looked around at my professors in undergrad and virtually all had come from Ivies or other institutions of similar caliber.

At least software pays well.

  • mmmmpancakes a year ago

    Same here but for math. I did a survey of who was getting the TT jobs I wanted in the cities I wanted to live in and the trend was that they all went to Harvard / Princeton with a few exceptions. Seeing how strongly those profile elements, which I don't have, correlated with success getting into TT, and how few positions there are, it was easy to decide to leave.

    Other factors include pay for TT professors in high CoL cities not keeping up well enough with inflation over the last 10 years. Those salaries look much worse now than they did when I entered grad school. For the level of education it is underpay for overwork.

    Doing science in industry pays substantially better, has better WL balance (really anything will compared to academia), has more job openings in more cities, and there are plenty of challenging problems to work on. Moreover, research skills that STEM phds and academics have are highly valued, at least by some companies.

    In the end things seem to have worked out for me. I was warned about all this back when I entered grad school but didn't listen because I really wanted to do math. Following that passion was a good instinct after all even if I wasn't able to achieve the original goals exactly as I planned. I'd 100% do it again.

    • sicp-enjoyer a year ago

      In most academic areas my experience is you can get high quality education just about anywhere with serious study, but I have heard some math professors express that getting with a top advisor is super important to help bring you to to the frontier of research. Do you have any insight into whether this is true? Also just curious what your field of math is.

      • mmmmpancakes a year ago

        It goes without saying that quality of research is very important.

        However, getting a TT position is much more about connections and fashion than people think, especially in a field like pure math where it's much more difficult to argue concrete applicability and outcomes of your theoretical work. And this is especially true when there are many people doing top quality research (which there are).

        A top advisor will be able to sell you to departments elsewhere for a top postdoc, or straight into TT if you are impressive enough. They will also be able to culture you appropriately so that all your application materials look precisely right.

        Finally, a top advisor will have a significant breadth and depth of knowledge across research fields (this is rarer than you might think in pure math) and be able to guide you to work in areas that have better job markets.

        The reality now of TT applications at desirable universities is that the pile is hundreds of applications deep. Each application is a hefty bundle (cover letter 1-2 pages, research statement 2-10 pages (probably on the longer side for math), teaching statement 1-2 pages, cv 3-6 pages depending on formatting, 4+ letters of recommendation each several pages, and other documents like EDI statements which can run 1-2 pages). How the hiring committee winnows this list down to a short list of candidates depends on the institution, but you better believe that if famous prof X from Harvard, who was best friends with commmittee member Y in grad school at Harvard, makes a personal recommendation for candidate Z to committee member Y, then candidate Z has a significantly higher chance of making that short list than anyone else in the pile.

        Another reason for this is that the work is so esoteric and fields are so siloed now that it's very hard for committee members to make a fair and true evaluation of research quality for themselves. I guarantee you they are not taking time to read and evaluate quality of research in research papers in most cases. The input of their trusted colleagues at other institutions holds weight as does metrics like publication counts and where the papers are accepted. By the way if you have a top advisor it may be much easier for you to figure out how to get your results published in a top journal.

        You see?

        Also I was in differential geometry.

        • sicp-enjoyer a year ago

          That all makes sense to me, however I think those prestige benefits are similar in all fields. Although, as you point out math is perhaps even more unique in how siloed and impenetrable the various fields are.

          The impression I got from these few professors was that the quality of research (besides status benefits) would be significantly higher. Something along the lines of, "most math researchers aren't doingimportant and groundbreaking research, only the top 5-10 departments are". Do you agree with that?

    • bigbacaloa a year ago

      Those who leave for work condition reasons mostly would not have made good researchers - their priorities aren't conducive to doing good research.

      • mmmmpancakes a year ago

        I think that's a very strange thing to say. I am not sure which priorities you are referring to, but I think I have a good guess, and I think they're ridiculous things to expect that aren't / shouldn't be correlated with research outcomes.

        What I have experienced over my time in academia is that priorities change over time.

        When I was young and in graduate school I was very happy to live a spartan life and devote the bulk of my time to research. I thought very little about finances.

        Now I have a partner and a child. Postdoc salaries are simply not sufficient to support them financially. The need to move every few years for a new position makes it difficult for my partner to have her own steady career.

        I'm quite confident I could still make a good researcher. In fact, I'm being paid for precisely that at my new job. I just don't happen to be in academia where the pay and WLB sucks and everyone expects you to sacrifice quality of life on the altar of their virtuous research.

        Incentives and priorities in academia (especially pure math) are by now almost totally disconnected with reality. My former colleagues have no idea what I am doing at my current job and don't even know what sort of questions to ask about what I do (beyond idiotic questions like "what math do you use?"). There's no need for them to know because they're coddled in an archaic system that doesn't foster true innovation (it shields them from the market forces that would otherwise compel them to innovate).

        Beyond the better living conditions, I am happy I left academia because IMO it is not a good setting to do good research, it is exactly the opposite.

      • Ancalagon a year ago

        I would expect good working conditions to lead to better research though. Buckling down, being able to focus for years at a time on obscure problems without interruptions, all of that would come even easier if the researcher had a good financial backing for them and their family (unless you're suggesting researchers shouldn't get to have one of those?). Overworking someone works great until it doesn't.

cletus a year ago

You cannot overstate the importance of "social proof" in terms of your access to education, work opportunities and even social status in American life.

This is really why you go to elite universities: to open doors. It's not just the people you meet and build relationships with while at those august institutions, it's the preferential treatment you'll get from former alumni as well as the perception of you being more capable by just having that name on your CV. You've gotten admitted to such an institution and graduated.

The tech world prides itself on being a meritocracy but "social proof" is just as prevalent. Going to an elite school will get you better access to internships, which will get you better access to jobs and so on.

Academia is just a more extreme version of this. A friend (who did manage to secure a tenure track position in the humanities against all odds as a non-Harvard graduate) once told me "you'll never be without a job with Harvard on your CV". Academic departments view prestige by how many Harvard graduates you have on staff.

The scandals in academic publishing are just symptomatic of this: trading on prestige, trading on connections, not wanting to rock the boat, etc.

It would be nice if this was because a few elite universities are so good at training academics but I think we all know that isn't entirely the case.

hn_throwaway_99 a year ago

I'm hoping the research has more detail than the article, because the article seems to make the illogical conclusion that having 80% of professors come from just 20% of schools is in and of itself a bias towards "elitism".

Or, it could just be that those 20 prestigious schools are harder to get into (which is pretty provably true based on acceptance rates), and could thus have higher standards than other universities.

I've become tired of the argument that any distribution that doesn't follow the distribution of an underlying population is by itself evidence of bias, without any specific evidence of bias. Not saying this is always the case, but it's an extremely lazy argument that is easily disputed if people are actually being honest.

melonrusk a year ago

> 20% of PhD-granting institutions in the United States supplied 80% of tenure-track faculty members


The Pareto Principle at work. All these figures show is that universities have the usual distribution of quality.

  • oneplane a year ago

    You'd hope that quality requirements could be used to make a bar that is high enough so any accredited institution would be delivering highly educated and developed people. Anything beyond that would be nice to have, but not enough to be a deciding factor when judging merit.

    When you think about it, what is it that we want? Someone with fancy labels who went to places that also had fancy labels, or someone who can do the thing we need?

    • beambot a year ago

      The minimum bar (accreditation) is very different from top performers.

      You may call every person who graduates medical school & passes the boards "doctor", but they're definitely not all created equal either. Same for lawyers, engineers, computer scientists, etc.

      • oneplane a year ago

        But doesn't that mean that either the bar is too low, or the additional performance of top performers skews the entire field?

  • derbOac a year ago

    the Pareto principle doesn't really provide a lot of insight into process:

    • melonrusk a year ago

      Garbage model, garbage methodology.

      Their model has a set of agents with a 'talent' normally distributed between 0 and 1 (mean 0.6, SD 0.1). Each agent gets a random series of doubling and halving events. The doubling is applied with probability = 'talent'.

      The lengths of the series of events have an exponentially decreasing distribution (four longer is x10 less probable, approximately). The application of these series of events to the agent is supposed to simulate a life history of random opportunities, exploited according to talent.


      Half the events are losses, half the events are possible (P<1) gains. So for an agent with average luck (which is every agent in the long term), their capital decreases with time. The simulation has been rigged so agents can only win with luck.

      DOI: 10.1142/S0219525918500145

      • melonrusk a year ago

        Late addition:

        It's actually worse than that. If we take a population with only median and maximum talents, the probabilities for each event are: halving: p=0.5, doubling because median-or-above talent: p=0.5*0.6. Meaning that in 80% of the events for a given actor the talent is not considered at all.

        So the result that luck plays a larger part isn't an emergent property of the model, it was explicitly baked into the model from the start.

        It wouldn't be unfair to call this paper fraudulent.

        DOI: 10.1142/S0219525918500145

fasthands9 a year ago

>shows that just 20% of PhD-granting institutions in the United States supplied 80% of tenure-track faculty members to institutions across the country between 2011 and 2020

I feel like this is not the best representation here as they sorta switched what they are measuring. Imagine if every single PhD from every single university became a tenured professor at the exact same rate. We'd still see a pretty big imbalance because presumably there are some universities which give out 300+ PhDs per year because they have a ton of programs/departments and others that give out 30+ per year because they have very limited grad programs.

Surely there is a skew but it just seems like a very deceptive way to look at it.

Would be like saying that 50% of all Americans who become teachers come from just 20% of the states - but not adjusting for the fact that 50% of the population lives in the top 10 largest states.

  • lapcat a year ago

    > Would be like saying that 50% of all Americans who become teachers come from just 20% of the states - but not adjusting for the fact that 50% of the population lives in the top 10 largest states.

    There's data here for number of doctorates awarded by school in 2020:

    #1 was... Walden University. Which I'd never actually heard of before. It's a private for-profit online school.

    The rest of the top 10 is 2. Michigan 3. Illinois 4. Berkeley 5. Purdue 6. Texas A&M 7. Stanford 8. Texas 9. Wisconsin 10. Ohio State.

    So there's not a direct correlation between "eliteness" and volume of doctorates produced. Some of the elite schools are represented in this list, but "non-elite" schools are too.

    • fasthands9 a year ago

      I think you are mixing up what I am saying - or what that stat was saying.

      Firstly, if Walden University produced zero tenured professors it would end up weighting exactly the same in the data as random small private university that produced 10 PhDs that also didn't become professors.

      The state does not involve "eliteness". They simply ranked all schools by number of PhDs they produced and took the top 20%.

      And fwiw considering this would be about 90 universities Im almost certain every school you listed would make that cut. I guess all I'm saying is that it would be nice to know what percent of total PhDs the same 90 schools are accountable for. My guess is about 50%.

    • gnicholas a year ago

      The list you cite undermines the article's claim about elitism because it looks like 4 out of the 5 schools that it lists are also on your list. So the conclusion is that the 5 schools that produce the most professors...include 4 of the top 10 schools in terms of PhD graduates. Not much of a surprise there!

      • lapcat a year ago

        You can't just look at supporting evidence and ignore contrary evidence. That's profoundly unscientific thinking. What about the 6 schools — the majority! — on my list that are not elite?

        • gnicholas a year ago

          Not all of the schools on the top 5 list are that elite. Three are public and only two are private. And UW Madison is not a super elite institution. For many people it wouldn't be in their top 20 schools, maybe more. I was surprised there was only one Ivy on the top-5 list. When I saw that list of schools, I thought "this person is saying these are the hyper-elite schools that are making too many professors?"

          • lapcat a year ago

            Madison is more elite than you think. "Among the 1,070 departments that are ranked top-10 in any field, 248 (23.2%) top-10 slots are occupied by departments at just five universities—UC Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Columbia; fully 252 universities (64%) have zero top-10 departments."

            • gnicholas a year ago

              That's not evidence of eliteness. It's evidence that they produce a lot of professors. And as the top-10 list above points out, they produce a lot of PhDs.

              It is an open question as to whether the reason they make a lot of professors is because they make a lot of PhDs, or because they are "elite".

              • lapcat a year ago

                Those are top 10 rankings by prestige, not by number of professors.

                • gnicholas a year ago

                  Thanks for clarifying. But it's actually if they're top 10 in any department, so there's a clear tilt in favor of universities that are large and have lots of departments.

                  • lapcat a year ago

                    Lots of universities are large and have lots of departments. That doesn't explain the success of the top 5 elite. For example, 6 universities grant more PhDs than UW-Madison yet have less success.

                    This conversation is getting repetitive and tiresome, I'm done.

mjfl a year ago

There's many opportunities to go through one of these institutions - you could do undergrad there, grad school, or one of multiple post docs. There's lots of people that go state school -> ivy/prestige -> state school and end up professors. Or state school -> state school -> ivy/prestige. Or state school -> state school -> state school -> ivy/prestige. If you work really hard, chances are you end up somewhere prestigious eventually. Probably hard to avoid.

I was also going to say that there are plenty of less prestigious schools that graduate a ton of professors, like UC Berkeley, but it turns out it's on this list hah.

  • plonk a year ago

    > less prestigious schools that graduate a ton of professors, like UC Berkeley

    How in the world can UC Berkeley be "less prestigious". It constantly ranks world top-10 in all rankings.

    • mjfl a year ago

      I was thinking ivy league. smaller, more selective schools.

      • plonk a year ago

        Sure, but as a non-American I see it as more prestigious than e.g. Dartmouth, at least in STEM. Maybe some employers would prefer the Ivy based on selectivity though?

    • willhslade a year ago

      It's also literally the first / biggest university on this list in the table at the end of the paper.

  • colinmhayes a year ago

    Berkley is more prestigious than most ivys imo. Princeton, yale, harvard are the only ones more prestigious. Penn and colombia are similar.

    • yumraj a year ago

      If we use Nobel price as a proxy since we're talking of PhDs here, then only Harvard, amongst Ivys, is higher than UC Berkeley [0]

      Harvard : 161, Berkeley: 110, Columbia: 96, Stanford: 84, Princeton: 69, Yale: 65

      and so on


      • lapcat a year ago

        Berkeley is actually higher than Harvard, because Economics doesn't count. ;-)

commandlinefan a year ago

Both times I was in college (undergraduate and master's degree), it seemed like at least 90% of my professors were immigrants from foreign countries. I never really thought to ask, but I would have assumed that they attended a foreign university in their home country at least for undergraduate... does this mean they all went to the same 8 institutions for a U.S.-generated PhD before they could move into academia?

  • blt a year ago

    Yes, basically.

lordnacho a year ago

The headline didn't surprise me, but the five universities named actually did. I'd expected Harvard to be there but there's a few mid prestige schools in the list. I'd have thought the list would be dominated by the same old famous institutions such as Ivies and MIT rather than large state universities.

  • nickysielicki a year ago

    It’s Harvard, Stanford, UCBerkeley, UMich, and UWMadison. Which ones surprised you? UMich and UW-Madison are mid tier?

    • lordnacho a year ago

      Well I don't know what to call them but in the public mind I would guess they are not as high prestige as the others.

      Of course I have no actual idea of what quality the institutions actually are, I'm just polling my perception of the public perception.

  • pessimizer a year ago

    Professor-level pay is not acceptable for people who attend the Ivies and MIT.

    • setgree a year ago

      You might be surprised by what faculty at the professional schools (and their near-equivalents, like Econ departments) make — think starting salaries in the 180-250k range at high-ranking R1 schools.

      • cycomanic a year ago

        What do you mean by starting salary? A tenure track professor would typically ~35-40 years old, having gone through undergrad, masters&phd plus a couple of postdocs. They would also not make 250k (at least i don't know anyone who made that sort of salary), that's the salary of a full professor at a reasonably prestigious uni.

        • setgree a year ago

          I'm thinking of friends who graduated from econ PhD programs, typically at around 29-30, and made 180-250K, depending on where they were hired.

          That's obviously not everyone, but the comment I'm responding to said that "Professor-level pay is not acceptable for people who attend the Ivies and MIT." I think that low six figures is "acceptable" for people who went to even the fanciest schools :)

      • yCombLinks a year ago

        That's high but not impressively high. I make that without a degree in software.

        • setgree a year ago

          The comment I'm responding to said that professor salaries are "not acceptable" to ivy league and MIT grads. I think that's misinformed, and I provided anecdotal evidence to that effect ;)

    • scarmig a year ago

      Many (most?) professors also do consulting gigs on the side that can be very lucrative.

  • mturmon a year ago

    I agree!

    Alas, there are a lot of comments nearby (not necessarily children of yours) from people who didn't notice this, and are working out their elitism thing. (Those damn elite professors who went to grad school in Madison!)

    These are all really big schools (Cal, UMich, UW), so in retrospect, I get it. Classic "how do you normalize" thing (

    • lapcat a year ago

      > Those damn elite professors who went to grad school in Madison!

      This is underrating the University of Wisconsin. "Among the 1,070 departments that are ranked top-10 in any field, 248 (23.2%) top-10 slots are occupied by departments at just five universities—UC Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Columbia; fully 252 universities (64%) have zero top-10 departments."

      See also my comment with numerical data about doctorate production at schools:

      • mturmon a year ago

        Sure, both “big” and “top”. Some commenters seem to expect institutions like Caltech (“top” but not “big”) to have a presence in a demographic survey like this.

riskneutral a year ago

The most desirable jobs in the private sector are also filled by graduates of the same few elite universities, and this elitism is perpetuated by all of academia (not just the top few universities). The elite class has constructed this system to perpetuate itself. Academia (the core pillar of elitism) is the last place where this hiring inequality will be addressed (if it ever is addressed, which is highly doubtful).

iudqnolq a year ago

Universities are efficient, they create many potential professors with a small number of professors. So every class of potential professors will have many who can't get jobs where they studied, and will apply to less desirable places.

This was very disheartening to realize in college. It was too late for me to attempt to become any of the role models physically in front of me.

  • Nimitz14 a year ago

    I personally like it that not anyone can become a professor, it should be an elite position imo.

    • iudqnolq a year ago

      I agree! Just saying it wasn't super fun to realize (completely fairly) that I wouldn't be able to become a professor.

      And I have a lot of sympathy for my classmates who only realized that when they graduated and tried to get a job. Universities have significant incentives to prevent their students from realizing there are a lot of people out there smarter (and more privileged) than them and the implications that flow from that.

      Universities should continue to be selective, but they should accurately communicate the implications of that selectivity to their students.

raincom a year ago

That's due to how faculty is recruited. Ph.D's from tier-1 schools end up professors at tier-2 and tier-3; tier-2 Ph.D's end up being at tier-3 and tier-4. Professors at Tier-1 have better networks in terms of editorship at top journals, top conferences, members of NSF committees. So, their students have better chance of success.

asperous a year ago

I would be interested to see what would happen if they blinded professor interviews to alma mater. Because that might help determine how much of it is bias-- 100%?

The inverse correlation would be that people who end up being professors attended those colleges. Maybe they were more likely to get in or are more interested in academia so focused applying to those colleges.

  • efficax a year ago

    it isn't exactly the fact that you got your phd from harvard that makes the harvard degree so valuable, it's that your thesis director is a Harvard professor and your letters of recommendation are from Harvard professors and other top schools, and the labs you worked at were lead by harvard professors etc. You could remove the fact that the applicant was themselves graduating from Harvard and all of that would still give them the repuation by association of a Harvard PhD.

    There are just too many additional factors that go into faculty hiring that continue to rely on reputation gained from association with prestige.

  • synergy20 a year ago

    watched a documentary about blind-interview band players as people accused the selection committee is race-biased.

    after a true blind interview is done, the result is way more biased than before, so they cancelled that immediately, and replaced it with a process called 'holistic review'.

    • muglug a year ago

      Here's an article from 2020 about the New York Philharmonic:

      Blind auditions are probably not going away anytime soon.

      The ugly truth about orchestral musicians is that nowadays (with the general downturn in ticket sales) it's not much a living. There are far fewer professional orchestral musicians than there were 50 years ago. Representation on a ship that's slowly sinking is not, IMO, incredibly pressing.

    • ejb999 a year ago

      >>after a true blind interview is done, the result is way more biased than before,

      How is a 'true blind interview' more biased? or do you really mean, they didn't get the outcome they wanted?

      • synergy20 a year ago

        correct,they did not get what they wanted

gnicholas a year ago

> One in eight US-trained tenure-track faculty members got their PhDs from just five elite universities: the University of California, Berkeley; Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; Stanford University in California; and the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

It's worth noting that 3 of these 5 are public — only 2 are private. I was expecting to see a list of Ivies, but there's only one on the list. Things are much more skewed among law professors, who are mostly from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, and Michigan.

> This picture of elitism is bolstered by a study published last month in Nature Human Behaviour, showing that almost 25% of faculty members in the United States have at least one parent with a PhD (in the general population, less than 1% of people have a parent with a PhD).

What a silly comparison. University faculty are not selected from "the general population" — only people with PhDs (or JDs/MBAs/MDs, in certain fields) can get these positions. The relevant baseline percentage is: what percent of people seeking faculty positions (i.e., people with the requisite terminal degree) have a parent with a PhD?

Otherwise you're comparing (1) people who successfully got a job with tons of requirements with (2) Americans, generally. If you're going to do that, why not use the average rate worldwide, which would undoubtedly be even lower? Plenty of professors were born outside the US, after all!

A faulty comparison like this calls into question the seriousness of the article.

EDIT: another commenter linked to a list of the schools with the largest number of PhD graduates. [1] It turns out that all but one of the 5 schools listed here is on the top 10 list for volume of graduates. So the conclusion is: the schools with the most PhD graduates...produce a large chunk of professors? Not a huge surprise.


MisterBastahrd a year ago

There are currently 449 PhD granting institutions in the United States. This means that 90 universities are responsible for 80% of tenured professors. There are not 90 elite universities in the United States, and 90 is not "few."

munk-a a year ago

I feel like this is almost like... an intuitively good thing to be observed? I know there are a lot of complications around how admittance to such universities can be biased and exclusionary - but if we ignore that for a moment the pure fact that most university professors come from the highest ranked schools is a good thing. It means that the education you'll receive at any university (I myself am a UVM grad which is a wonderful but definitely not elite school) is likely being taught by adroit professors - I'd rather have the most educated graduates all be funneled into future teaching jobs than have lower tier universities stuck with less well educated teachers causing a perpetual cycle of that university being stuck as "low-tier".

Now, in our universe (bringing back all that baggage I initially eschewed) university "eliteness" is pretty stupid and meaningless - it's used as a status symbol which is irrelevant as soon as you have real work experience with the exception of academia which obsesses over degrees even into your 60s. I guess Harvard is probably going to get you a better education than Mass Bay - but a keen student at Mass Bay will get more out of their education than a trust fund baby at Harvard.

  • lapcat a year ago

    > It means that the education you'll receive at any university (I myself am a UVM grad which is a wonderful but definitely not elite school) is likely being taught by adroit professors

    Except that professors at research universities are hired for their research and not for their teaching.

    Some are good teachers. Others are... not good. In any case, teaching is not what hiring committees value.

hatmatrix a year ago

I was explicitly told by my undergraduate professors that universities like to hire faculty members from universities ranked higher than them so take that into consideration for choosing your graduate school. Apparently universities have been using this hiring strategy for decades so the outcome does not seem all that surprising or jarring...

lnwlebjel a year ago

What would be more interesting is this: are the researchers in the 80% category as productive as the researchers from the 20% of elite institutions category (on average)? This could be studied and measured, and would go a long way toward dispelling the notion of prestige.

I see what they are getting at - yes there needs to be more diversity in academia and education needs to be more available, and widely distributed, across society. I don't see however, how this is going to motivate hiring committees to take an otherwise promising, and competitive person from a lower prestige institution, who is almost certainly competing with an equally qualified person from an elite institution. Making the case that this person would also be a very good bet might help.

  • wbillingsley a year ago

    It would be very difficult to dispel the notion of prestige, because most output measures are highly influenced by input measures. Prestige inevitably flows into the measures.

    E.g. an academic at a prestigious university has a healthy supply of able PhD students, post-docs, a "research environment" that will make applying for grants that bit easier, etc. Their publication and citation numbers will quickly diverge from their identical twin who has is less well resourced. Likewise, the PhD students at a prestigious university are more likely to be attached to well-funded grants, collaborators who have well-tuned paper mills, etc.

    Academia is quite a social game. Network effects (which are one part of prestige) are a strong influence.

    • lnwlebjel a year ago

      Good points for sure. The thought experiment I had in mind was a little different. You're on hiring committee at University X, and you can hire candidate A from prestigious university, or B from less prestigious University. Presumably, they get the same resources going forward.

      Perhaps you are right that the social connections alone would differentiate candidates A and B. Which would suggest that hiring committees are somewhat correctly acting in their own best interest when they hire A.

psKama a year ago

Not sure in what context the word "elite" is used when it comes to claiming there is a hiring bias. It may be thought that those schools have very high fees to attend but I would argue/claim (with no data in my hand) if it was looked deeper into their background, it is very likely that majority of those professors attended those schools via a sort of scholarship to start with as a result of their success prior to universities they got accepted.

Therefore, although "elite" indicates mainly a social class, majority of those people are very likely coming from mid-class families and they just happen to have a good academic record. With that in mind, I wouldn't call this a bias but just a normal and beneficial outcome of the academic system.

  • mrkeen a year ago

    > it is very likely that majority of those professors attended those schools via a sort of scholarship to start with as a result of their success prior to universities they got accepted.

        When it comes to admissions to elite schools, money can all but guarantee access to those who can afford it
    • psKama a year ago

      It is an obvious fact that majority of ivy league school students are coming from rich families. My argument is rather that (again with zero data to back it up) even if the ratio of full scholarship to full fee students is around 20%, a big majority of the ones who pursue an academic career (and become a professor) are the ones who got into those schools via scholarship in the first place while the rich kids mostly go back to running their family business or aiming for high paying jobs immediately after their graduation.

    • Animats a year ago

      That's what the Ivy League is for. It's difficult to flunk out of Harvard. 98% of those admitted graduate.

  • NovemberWhiskey a year ago

    Virtually no-one at a top school is spending a penny to get their PhD. Most of them are getting paid to do so.

mncharity a year ago

Years back, there was talk of trying to leverage this concentration, to improve national science education. Professorial educational skills are often less than wonderful. Eg, physics education research's "if you think your lectures are working, your assessment also isn't". And creating change by improving current professors is hard, expensive, and failure prone. So the idea was, to lavishly fund education research, training, and education minors, at these few institutions through which pass, most graduate students who will eventually become professors. Make their instructional training really excellent, and then wait for it to propagate nationally. One obvious downside being reinforcing the concentration.

koolba a year ago

There should be a mandatory SAT style test that you take after graduation. With nothing on the line for the individual, but everything on the line for the school to prove they actually taught you something.

It would obviously need to be catered to each major. And it won’t exactly align with any one school’s curriculum, but it’d be great to see actual stats of who knows what after graduation across thousands of students.

Thinking about this a bit more, this is something the government could definitely do. Have schools submit students to these tests as a condition of receiving federal funding. Any student that graduates that doesn’t take the test counts as a zero for the schools numerator but still a one for the denominator.

ocschwar a year ago

There are professors who teach at community colleges and help students get 2 year degrees.

There are professors who teach undergraduates. There are professors who teach graduate students who are working on doctorates they will use in industry.

And finally, there are professors who get to mint new professors.

That final list SHOULD be an elite. Academia is done growing, which means if you're a full professor, you should expect exactly one of your advisees to make full professor. Out of the entire career's retinue of advisees. Some professors will get to mint more than that. Others will have zero.

xbar a year ago

The authors complain that graduate programs at elite universities rely on standardized tests as a key contributor of racial bias. I am surprised by this. I suspect this is a misapplication of the racial bias studies that relate in high school (and lower) standardized tests.

I would expect that strong undergraduate candidates to elite programs (e.g. 3.9+ GPA with letters of recommendation from professors) would not have statistically different GRE/LSAT/MCAT scores based on race. Has anyone studied high GPA students' GRE scores for racial bias?

0xbadcafebee a year ago

This is a really ignorant question and I'm pretty sure I already know the answer. But say I wanted to become a teacher at some school, specifically teaching things like "how to organize and execute the operational side of a tech product", or "managing Enterprise IT". You have to have a degree (in something) first, right? They won't just hire someone with 25 years experience and no degree to teach a class?

  • mrkeen a year ago

    Which came first, the professor or the degree?

    When schools open new programs, they need people to teach the degree when it didn't previously exist.

    Simon Peyton Jones skipped the PhD but later became a lecturer and professor and a whole lot more:

  • NtochkaNzvanova a year ago

    This reply is not meant to be dismissive at all, just direct: things like "how to organize and execute the operational side of a tech product" or "managing Enterprise IT" are not things that are taught in the "elite" research universities being discussed in this article. They are more likely taught (here in the US) in community colleges, vocational schools, or (at best) university extension programs (i.e., professional education programs run on the side by research universities, such as the University of California).

    Whereas research universities require (or almost require) a PhD to teach undergrads (and certainly graduate students), these more professionally-oriented programs are much more flexible. They might like to see an advanced degree such as an MS or MBA, but probably would put significant value on industry experience. No bachelor's degree might be a hard sell though.

  • bo1024 a year ago

    To teach a class or two on the side, they absolutely would. For full time options, there is a title “professor of the practice” which might not need a PhD but it’s a bit rare.

morelandjs a year ago

Specifically, the study, published in Nature on 21 September, shows that just 20% of PhD-granting institutions in the United States supplied 80% of tenure-track faculty members to institutions across the country between 2011 and 2020 (see ‘Hiring bias’).

Nice pareto principle example

hammock a year ago

Finding an 80/20 rule (this one literally 80% from 20%) ought to be expected, not “jarring.” It’s natural and not sinister.

If something other than the 80/20 rule was found, that might be cause for alarm or further exploration

theGnuMe a year ago

Love it when academia turns on itself. Interestingly Harvard and Stanford have no claim to the hottest idea in science and engineering right now (deep learning).

A worse issue is that Harvard and Stanford get all the grant money.

StanislavPetrov a year ago

Fortunately the prestige and social currency among Ivies and "elite" universities is rapidly turning to a stigma among a large portion of the population.

  • sicp-enjoyer a year ago

    Where/when have you experienced that? My experience is that people will express that sentiment, but still be impressed when they encounter someone with such a status symbol.

    • StanislavPetrov a year ago

      Certainly it is true that many people are impressed by those who have an Ivy league degree. This is especially true among older people, who view these institutions with the historical prestige that they have traditionally carried. It reminds me in many ways of the Craftsman brand of tools. For many years, people swore by the quality tools put out by Craftsman. Then, in 2017, Sears sold Craftsman to Black and Decker. The quality of Craftsman tools plummeted. Its true that many people, especially older people, kept buying Craftsman tools, relying on the reputation they had built over the years. However, they learned the hard way that the Craftsman brand wasn't what it used to be. It is five years later, and some people still buy Craftsman tools based on their previous reputation, but a lot of people are already wise to the situation. It won't be next year, or the year after, but a few years down the road Craftsman will eventually be universally regarded as the trash it has become.

      I can only speak personally to my experiences in the film industry (where I have worked for the last ~25 years). Speaking from my extensive personal experience, on "indie" shoots (those not being bankrolled by a studio), the last thing anyone producing a film wants is someone from an Ivy league school. Unless the Ivy league applicant is bringing some source of funding, avenue for distribution or other tangible benefit to the film, they are virtually always less competent, lazier, and more troublesome than people from other backgrounds. When I am hiring for a film, I want competent people who know their business, are going to show up on time and have as their only priority getting the job done. When I see an applicant from an Ivy I know I'm more likely to get a lazy, self-entitled person and someone who is much more likely to create friction and resentment with the rest of the crew. People who have worked hard for their positions don't like to work with someone who is slacking and complaining, especially when it someone who got the job because of a "prestigious" degree.

chiefalchemist a year ago

What about Congress? And the POTUS / WH? And W DC in general?

Higher edu has far less power and hands on direct impact than Uncle Sam.

  • lapcat a year ago

    Well, I know that 8 of 9 current Supreme Court justices got a J.D. from either Harvard or Yale.

    Amy Coney Barrett is the only exception, Notre Dame.

    • dmicah a year ago

      And two went to the same high school.

nothrowaways a year ago

I wonder why it is surprising,

It is basically saying like "most rich people have a high resolution TV."

bo1024 a year ago

I would just recommend everyone read the actually research instead of the journalism.

sriku a year ago

Since when did "one in eight" qualify for "most"?

pyuser583 a year ago

UW-Madison is on the list, but University of Chicago is not?

  • dreeple16 a year ago

    UW-Madison is a research powerhouse.

    • pyuser583 a year ago

      It’s a research powerhouse, but so is University of Chicago. And University of Chicago is more prestigious.

      I would assume University of Chicago would produce more faculty.

      • tedunangst a year ago

        If I found the right data, wisc graduates about twice as many PhDs per year.

        • pyuser583 a year ago

          Shouldn’t these ratings be adjusted for number of graduates?

          If a university graduates 100 Phds, and 80 get tenure that’s pretty good. If a university graduates 10,000 and 80 get tenure … not so much.

qualifiedai a year ago

and if you check where they were before that last Ph.D step from elite university it would probably be all over the world, especially for STEM.

dapf a year ago

Antonio Gramsci is pleased.

bergenty a year ago

What’s the point here? I want my professors to be educated at the best universities.