Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Who from where gets hired to teach history? Updated

Slate has published news of an academic study on the steeply hierarchical nature of scholarly hirings, particularly in history:
just a quarter of all universities account for 71 to 86 percent of all tenure-track faculty in the U.S. and Canada in these three fields. Just 18 elite universities produce half of all computer science professors, 16 schools produce half of all business professors, and eight schools account for half of all history professors.
That is, the graduates of Ivy league schools can and do teach everywhere, but the graduates of less prestigious schools will rarely ever move "up" to teach higher on the prestige ladder. If they teach at all, that is.

One would like a lot more granularity -- is that what they say? -- regarding the "US and Canada" thrown into that quotation. A lot of Canadian graduates look to be hired at Canadian universities, and I would have assumed the hierarchy is less clearly established here, where nearly all universities depend almost completely on public funding and do not have the vast financial advantage of the great American private universities.

I don't doubt the Harvard grad has a huge advantage over the grad from Generic Midwestern State, but not so many Harvard grads apply in Canada, I would guess. Among Canadian universities hiring young historians, does a (let's say) McGill history grad inevitably crowd out the graduate of (fill in your local provincial university here) ?

Anecdote in lieu of data:  Doing legal history, I once interviewed a very successful female litigator and judge.  She grew up poor and lefty in a big US city, came to Canada with a draft-dodger boyfriend, and went to an Ontario law school because it was cheap and local. She then articled with a high-prestige, big-money Bay Street litigation team. Being a woman there was a much greater obstacle than being a nobody from an average Canadian law school, she argued, but she went on to a stellar career, along with colleagues from similarly obscure backgrounds and law degrees from average Canadian schools. She might have gone to law school in the US, she insisted, but she would have had no access to the Ivy League schools from which all prominent US law firms draw their talent -- who become the new generation of leading American lawyers. She thought it was different here.

Does hierarchical hiring on the Slate pattern apply in Canadian history and the humanities?  I genuinely wonder. Anybody researching this?

Update, March 3:  From a well-placed friend of the blog who requests anonymity comes a comment, not so much on hirings in general, but on hirings for historians and particularly historians of Canada:
For Canadianists, I think that through the whole period from say 1995 to now it would be unlikely that the university name alone would place you higher or lower in consideration. Rather, your hireability would turn on the the quality of your work and the personal reputation of your supervisor. 
I think there is an assumption that when you are studying Canadian history it makes sense to be at a Canadian university. If you are studying another subject, however, the unstated assumption is that the best students are probably those who went to university outside of Canada: especially to top tier US schools (not just the Ivies for history, also Michigan, Wisconsin, parts of the UC system) or UK schools (Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, London).

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