I Was So Right About That: Social Class and the Academy

Sharon O'Dair

[1] In 2000, the University of Michigan Press published my Class, Critics, and Shakespeare: Bottom Lines on the Culture Wars. In 2006, Holt Paperbacks published Walter Benn Michaels's The Trouble with Diversity, a book that covers some of the same territory and aimed at and reached a larger audience! Michaels cheekily confesses that although he makes $175,000 per year teaching at the University of Illinois, Chicago—a salary that in 2006 put him in the top three percent of the American population—"he wants more" (191). With a household income of about $250,000 he was almost "into the top 1 percent" and his hope was that "the money earned through writing this book will push him over the line—top 1 percent!" (192). (I do not know if he succeeded in this ambition.) He also confesses that he is not a member of the American middle class; he is a member of the American upper middle class (191). Would that more like him—tenured university professors—would do so, acknowledge her or his own class position! And it doesn't take $250,000 to fall into the upper quintile of American households. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2012, a household fell into that quintile at just a little over a pre-tax income of $100,000 (Elwell 2). Would that more would do so, indeed. I will. I am upper middle class. I grew up poor and working-class. I have been upwardly mobile. I was smart, worked hard, and was lucky.

[2] In the conclusion to The Trouble with Diversity, Michaels reveals that, when he was working on the book, hashing out his ideas, he ruined a lot of dinner parties with friends and colleagues. In the 1990s, I did, too. And part of me doesn't want to rehash that ugliness, that dyspepsia; it was exhausting. It was frustrating. Probably it is a heaping dollop of pride that urges me to write this essay. Notwithstanding pride or the potential for ugliness—which is to say the potential that you, dear reader, will jump strongly to defend our privileging of race and gender and sexuality in our scholarship, our pedagogy, and our politics, to insist that racism and sexism remain our country's biggest problems (as journalist Katha Pollitt did in her confrontation with Michaels in 2006 at the New York Public Library [NYPL Live])—I write this now because, like my fellow literary critic Michaels, like historian Tony Judt and economists Joseph Stieglitz, Paul Krugman, and Thomas Piketty and like journalist Thomas Frank, I think our country's biggest problem is economic inequality, is social class, and I think that problem is a political problem, not an economic problem, only. It is a political problem to which we literary scholars, critics, writers, and theorists (call yourself what you will) have contributed in our own ways, small or large. And that we can help to rectify, too.

[3] Part of my argument in Class, Critics, and Shakespeare is that literary critics, and more broadly, the New Left, which morphed in academia to become the Cultural Left, failed to recognize their own class positions (à la Michaels's confession) and failed to recognize that a significant component in the production and maintenance of economic inequality—of social class—is culture, especially culture with a capital C. Class isn't about money only; it's about culture, too. And if it's about culture, especially culture with a capital C, it's about status. Prestige. And nowadays, if class is about status and prestige, it is about education and especially higher education. Contrary to the MLA's astonishing claim, made in 1997's Final Report of the MLA Committee on Professional Employment, that prestige is "a sort of institutional vanity," prestige is, as I have put it elsewhere, "the principal guarantor of quality within academe" (Report 18; "Superserviceable" 44). Indeed, prestige is "the oxygen of higher education" (Burke 114). And long has it been so. But prestige has acquired new strength and prominence—it's a richer oxygen—in light of three decades of democratization (or expansion) in higher education, a point to which I will return below (Guillory 1154-55).

[4] Partly this failure of the New (cultural) Left results from historical necessity, from the hegemony of Marxism in the Old (social) Left and in particular, its argument that "the revolution" would end discrimination on the basis of race and gender. This argument allowed the Old (social) Left to ignore the demands of women and people of color and, in the 1960s, young radicals abandoned Marxism to develop new social movements based on (demonized) status categories like gender and race and, later on, sexuality. What's unfortunate is that the New (cultural) Left threw out the class baby with the Marxist bathwater, ironically reversing the Old (social) Left's rigidity to assume (or so it has seemed) that a cultural revolution enhancing the status of women, people of color, and homosexuals would result in comparative economic equality (O'Dair Class 115-131). Michaels, too, reads the history of America's Left in these terms, noting that the "old Socialist leader Eugene Debs used to be criticized for being unwilling to interest himself in any social reform that didn't involve the attack on economic inequality. The situation now is almost exactly the opposite; the left today obsessively interests itself in issues that have nothing to do with economic inequality" (19; see also Judt Land 85-91).

[5] Partly, too, however, and ironically, this failure results from the New (cultural) Left's inability to think outside the Marxist box and inside alternative boxes offered by sociology and anthropology and in particular, perhaps, the work of Marx's great competitor, Max Weber. Sociologist Randall Collins remarks that Weber's "diversifying of the Marxian class scheme with status groups ... gives the theoretical potential for treating ethnicity and sex, problems that have remained intractable from the Marxian viewpoint" (Theory 6). For Weber, social class is a market position that affects a person's chances in life, a position to which status contributes as well as money. To this day, however, Weber and those who developed his work often are dismissed as practitioners of "bourgeois sociology"; among humanists, Weber is an ogre of sorts, known mainly as the writer of "Science as a Vocation" and its supposed promotion of positivist, value-free social science. The inability of literary critics to think outside the Marxist box when thinking about social class has been demonstrated to me personally again and again; I've lost count of the number of times I've been presumed to be a Marxist because I write about social class. And interlocutors tend to look blankly when I say, "I'm not a Marxist. My work on class is neo-Weberian, following Pierre Bourdieu, Randall Collins, Nancy Fraser, and many others who have worked through and with the ideas of Max Weber."

[6] These are, as they say, teachable moments. But the skeptic in me, the debunker, the practitioner of the "hermeneutics of suspicion," wonders if the students are teachable: wasn't—and isn't—the focus on Marx, the failure to recognize one's own class position, and the failure, likewise, to recognize the cultural, prestige, and status components of social class, just a wee bit convenient for colleagues? In 1987, in an essay published in Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology, Don Wayne edged toward such a conclusion, noting first that the "theoretical controversy [characterizing] recent literary critical discourse" has some roots in "the audacity of the politics of the 1960s" (57). The important word here is "audacity." What Wayne means is not the audacity of civil rights activists or anti-war protesters, putting their bodies on the line, and sometimes losing their lives, but rather the audacity of "younger faculty of predominantly [upper] middle-class origin who ... [presumed] an entitlement to share in institutional power" (56-57). And "one expression of this presumption [was] the confidence with which scholars of this generation ... engaged, since the early 1970s, in dismantling cultural axioms that [had] remained relatively stable over more than a century" (57). These audacious young scholars instituted disciplinary and institutional revolutions that now are orthodoxy; they aimed, and according to Tony Judt aimed successfully, at institutionalizing "equality" and "curbing the elitist inheritance" of both secondary and tertiary education ("Meritocrats"). Unfortunately, as Christopher Hayes puts it in ventriloquizing Judt, the institutionalization of "equality" led the universities to lose "precisely the spirit of rigor," what Judt calls an appreciation of, an emphasis on "pure smarts," that had made them such engines of social mobility and intellectual force during [the late 1960s and early 1970s]" (Hayes 222, Judt "Meritocrats"). Judt's generation, matriculating at Cambridge in 1966,

got both the traditions and the transgressions; the continuities and the change. But what we bequeathed to our successors was something far less substantial than what we ourselves had inherited (a general truth about the baby-boom generation). Liberalism and tolerance, indifference to external opinion, a prideful sense of distinction accompanying progressive political allegiances: these are manageable contradictions, but only in an institution unafraid to assert its particular form of elitism. ("Meritocrats")

What they bequeathed, Judt writes, is an Oxbridge (and by extension, a set of elite universities in the United States) afraid "to assert its particular form of elitism," that reveals an "obsession with maintaining appearances as the sort of place that would never engage in elitist selection criteria or socially distinctive practices of any kind" ("Meritocrats"; see also Michaels 94-100). But as Wayne wrote in 1987, "when discourse fails to account for its own authority, its power can rest only on privilege" (57). Which may be why the "critical revolution" in literary studies quickly became a turf war between the privileged, entitled boys and the privileged, entitled girls, the theorists and the feminists; in Shakespeare studies, which is my field, that turf war exploded in 1986, at the World Shakespeare Congress in Berlin.

[7] Much has been written about that Congress, unnecessary to address here. Besides, I missed it; I was working on my dissertation, proofing an essay (my first publication!), wondering if I'd get the kind of job I wanted, thinking about what to do if I didn't. And in the 1970s and 1980s, graduate students didn't participate in conferences the way they do now. Perhaps, one may be thinking, I suffer from envy, like a number of scholars in my cohort: arriving late in the post-war baby boom, we missed the really big thing in literary criticism, just as we missed the audacious politics of the 1960s. Perhaps most importantly, we missed entering the profession in the 1960s, the days of robust expansion in higher education, when, as George Levine comments, "almost all my colleagues, no matter how dumb, got at least three job offers" (43). I cannot speak for my peers, but if I suffer from envy, I suffer from a particular form of it, called ressentiment, which may be distinguished both from the base or basic form of envy, the mere hatred of the dominated for the dominate, and from the much less offensive, indeed positive version favored by Marjorie Garber, the envious emulation of others that drives one to better oneself, to approximate if not achieve the excellence one sees around one (57 ff., esp. 60).

[8] Like emulation, ressentiment is positive; it results in the creation of value or values, but in contrast to emulation, which, as in Garber's view, originates in near equals, ressentiment originates in pain, in powerlessness, in perceived and actual injury. As Friedrich Nietzsche insists in an oft-quoted, perhaps the most quoted passage on this topic, "the slave revolt in morals begins by rancor turning creative and giving birth to values—the rancor of beings who, deprived of the direct outlet of action, compensate by an imaginary vengeance" (170). But ressentiment's vengeance isn't imaginary; it may have been imagined, but it is real enough, one "radically inverting all [the aristocrats'] values" (167). Whereas for aristocrats only the noble, the powerful, the beautiful, the happy, the favored-of-the-gods are "good," for those fueled by ressentiment "'only the poor, the powerless, are good; only the suffering, sick, and ugly [are] truly blessed'" (167). And oh, how this "imaginary vengeance" succeeded! "Let us face facts," Nietzsche counsels:

the people have triumphed—or the slaves, the mob, the herd, whatever you wish to call them—and if the Jews brought it about, then no nation ever had a more universal mission on this earth. The lords are a thing of the past, and the ethics of the common man is completely triumphant... The "redemption" of the human race (from the lords, that is) is well under way; everything is rapidly becoming Judaized, or Christianized, or mob-ized—the word makes no difference. (169-70)

Acknowledgments like this contribute, perhaps, to Gilles Deleuze's conclusion, in Nietzsche and Philosophy, that like bad conscience and nihilism, ressentiment is not a psychological trait or personal failing, "but the foundation of humanity in man. [Together] they are the principle of human being as such" (64). Unclear to me is whether Nietzsche would agree, committed as he is to the notion that the noble differ spectacularly from the common (173). Perhaps Nietzsche would agree with Pierre Bourdieu, who looks around and sees "in any social universe" a dominant few who are "structurally freed from ressentiment," freed, that is, from "the form par excellence of human misery... the worst thing that the dominant impose on the dominated" (Bourdieu and Wacquant 212).

[9] What is clear, even in this sketchy discussion, is that ressentiment fuels democratization, and democratization fuels ressentiment. In a world of 7 billion persons (and counting), ressentiment's disruptive potential seems unending, like waves washing to the shore, for the values that emerge from rancor are meant not just to propitiate the weak but to give them power and privilege. If ressentiment is "the moralizing revenge of the powerless" (Brown 66), such revenge doesn't result only in moral victories and it is perhaps not surprising that the successful use since the 1960s of ressentiment in the United States by women, people of color, and homosexuals has led, toward the end of the last century, to intellectuals' questioning of identity politics: "Politicized identity thus enunciates itself, makes claims for itself, only by entrenching, restating, dramatizing, and inscribing its pain in politics; it can hold out no future—for itself or others—that triumphs over this pain" (Brown 74). But one might ask Wendy Brown why should ressentiment, or "politicized identity," triumph over this pain? Would not such a triumph require a renunciation of the claim to power and privilege based on pain? One might wonder why intellectuals propose to break or brake ressentiment's claims? Is it that some of us see the 7 billion ahead, or even the 400 million? Have some of us begun to worry about democratization, following the lead of Nietzsche, and of Kierkegaard before him? Is democratization a process now both desired and feared? Is democratization out of control?

[10] I don't know. Well, I do know. Tony Judt knows, or knew; in the universities at least, democratization is out of control. What I also know is that my own ressentiment piggybacks on the ressentiment of others, of those whom we once called "the marginalized"; it piggybacks on their "politicized identity," on their identity politics. I know my ressentiment exists largely within a particular "social universe"—that of the academy—though the transvaluations I have tried to effect (unsuccessfully; but I'm not through yet) resonate in other social universes, and must do so, since the ressentiment of "politicized identity" or identity politics resonates throughout society. Delineating my "subject position," as once we were compelled to say, is not a task I enjoy, but it is important for you, dear reader, to know that I grew up in a poor working-class family, poor enough that while a teenager, I qualified for summer employment from CETA, a federal anti-poverty and job-training program. Poor enough that my family fell in the bottom quintile, the one that nowadays matriculates almost no one into the nation's prestigious colleges and universities (Kahlenberg 2). But I benefitted from California's generously funded public elementary and secondary schools, and from the state's rigorous tracking program for gifted children, and gained admission to elite institutions of higher education. Throughout my years as a student and in the uber-elite field of literary study, I felt again and again what Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb call "the hidden injuries of class." Where does one place the fish fork? There's a proper way to peel a carrot? No, I have not been to Paris. I was primed to feel aggrieved, to feel ressentiment, and I did.

[11] Most especially did I feel aggrieved by the tendency of upper middle-class professors to racialize class or to insist that "white privilege" trumps or lessens or, worse, eliminates economic disadvantage. (In his late writings, Martin Luther King, Jr., didn't think so, either.) I felt aggrieved that the institutions in which I was fortunate to be enrolled, in which I struggled financially and emotionally to stay enrolled, offered perks to students of color and to women—special courses, special tutoring, special funding, spaces in which to socialize—that they did not offer to people like me. (Yes, I know I am a woman, but gender never signified for me the way class did and does. In the 1970s and 1980s, I did not need feminist consciousness raising. I got that from my working-class mother who intoned, "Do not be like me, do not; never be dependent on a man, never be dependent, never be, never.") To students of color and to women these elite institutions offered recognition. To me, they offered shame, precisely because they did not recognize me as different from them. It was, weirdly, as if they expected me to pass as one of them, but to do so without any help in the costuming or the speaking or the walking, in adopting the norms of—or faking comfort in—the habitus.

[12] My experience of upward mobility—my experience of social class and the academy—would not have become a topic for me had literary study not changed, too. In the early to mid-1980s, while in graduate school, I would not have thought that this topic would occupy much of my intellectual life: I wanted to write about Shakespeare's major tragedies and to interpret character by using sociological understandings of role-playing, understandings at once theoretical and empirical. And I did, despite being at Berkeley at the birth of New Historicism. But what Jonathan Gil Harris describes as "a quarter century of historicist hegemony" (466) in early modern studies hindered me, and I had trouble publishing my lovely (and, of course, compelling) readings of those plays. Editors and peer reveiwers just weren't interested. (One has been published recently, the hegemony upended! But this fact is story for another essay, something about methodology in our field.) Anxious for publications as a junior professor, I discovered that a number of people were interested in what I had to say about the canon and culture wars, about identity politics, and about the occlusion of class in the trinity of race, class, and gender, a trinity soon to be supplemented by sexuality. The sociological and psychological theory I had studied to produce my dissertation became newly relevant; and it was comparatively easy for me to read texts even more relevant, particularly by Max Weber, Pierre Bourdieu, and Randall Collins. I was primed for this discussion. My ressentiment had an object.

[13] Already I have alluded to a couple of ways in which I was "so right about that," but let's consider further one of them: race and gender differ analytically from class. As Michaels points out again and again, not only do we refuse to recognize this, much less act upon it, but, especially in the academy, we have turned—or rather we have tried to turn—class into a cultural marker like race and gender, which difference we need only to stop fearing and instead, respect: "if we can stop thinking of the poor as people who have too little money and start thinking of them instead as people who have too little respect, then it's our attitude toward the poor, not their poverty, that becomes the problem to be solved" (19). When class becomes a cultural marker like race and gender, then the solution to the problem of class resembles the solution to the problem of racism and sexism, a matter of eliminating prejudice. Never mind that "what poor people [on campus] want is not to contribute to diversity but to minimize their contribution to it—they want to stop being poor"; that is why they are on campus, pursuing a bachelor's degree; they want upward mobility (7). Nancy Fraser agrees: analytically, cultural injustice (for example, prejudice based on race or gender) requires recognition, "some sort of cultural or symbolic change," to redress wrong; economic injustice (for example, poverty, the ills of economic inequality, of social class) requires "political-economic restructuring of some sort," in short, redistribution through various means, which "might involve redistributing income, reorganizing the division of labor, subjecting investment to democratic decision making, or transforming other basic economic structures" (15).

[14] Note especially that Fraser does not include higher education, or any form of education, among those redistributive remedies. And it is here that things get tricky on two accounts for academia, as I argued in 2000. First, and to continue the line of discussion above, the drive to eliminate class-bias in the academy is destined to fail, regardless of the amount of sensitivity training institutions give their students, professors, and staff. The reason, as I argue now and argued then, is that institutions of higher education are upper middle-class institutions. "Universities are elitist," writes Judt ("Meritocrats"). And within such institutions

the affirmation of a lower-class identity is hardly compatible with the affirmation of an (upper) middle-class identity, which is what higher education affirms. Working-class kids who succeed in the academy or subsequently in the professions are reconstituted and normalized as (upper) middle-class. In the academy, working-class identity is not merely not affirmed, but actively erased. (Class 3)

Which is, of course, as it should be; that is the academy's job, to constitute an upper middle-class, to fashion an elite, an upper middle-class rooted in certain norms of behavior, of sociability and propriety, as Guillory, Michaels, and Judt each agree. As I put it,

It is reasonable—and, perhaps, soothing—to "redistribute" intellectual privilege, to open the university's doors to women or to members of minority groups who resemble the white, male (upper) middle-class norm, who write books and do research. It is unreasonable to "challenge" intellectual privilege by suggesting that physical or manual labor be valued over (or even be valued as much as) intellectual labor; or that occupational opportunity or mobility be based on what goes on in the workplace rather than in schools; or that the cultural choices of the working class be respected for revealing sound judgment and taste. We cannot "open the canon" to working-class culture because working-class culture is, traditionally, what we work to keep out and what the working class works to overcome. (Class 29)

In other words, one can be a woman and upper middle-class; one can be black and upper middle-class; no contradiction exists necessarily. But the same cannot be said about class: one cannot be working-class and upper middle-class; the contradiction exists necessarily. As Michaels writes, poor students "want to stop being poor." I wanted to stop being poor; my parents wanted me to stop being poor. Objectively, in terms of income and status, as I observed in the first paragraph of this essay, I am no longer working-class. And life is better not being poor and of low status (see also Michaels, e.g., 102-104).

[15] Second, in the forty years during which the Left has pursued the politics of race and gender (and then sexuality), the admirable and important gains made there have been accompanied by serious losses in the politics of class: the United States developed the most unequal distribution of income of any advanced industrial society and saw opportunities for social mobility decline, this even under the watch of Democratic presidents. In addition, because wages collapsed through deindustrialization, globalization, and the undermining of unions—and these were, to some extent, political choices, all—it became increasingly difficult for those without a college degree to secure a job that would allow them to live what used to be called a middle-class life. But rather than address this fact or trend, call it what you will—Thomas Edsall calls it "the violent restructuring of the American economy"—by addressing the economy, politicians and policy-makers, whether Democrat or Republican, insisted that education, ever more education, would become the principal way to address that restructuring, education whose cost would be borne increasingly by students and their parents. As if everyone could be made upwardly mobile, or lead an upper middle-class life, by going to college! Yet education, particularly higher education, cannot fulfill that task; in a hierarchical society, not everyone can be a manager, a boss. As Evan Watkins put it, tactfully, we created a situation in which "a whole lot more people wanted to be intelligent, thought they were intelligent, and could find reasons to support a conviction of their own intelligence than a deeply stratified social organization could allow to possess the social rewards of intelligence" (75; see also Collins "Inflation," Guillory, O'Dair Class).

[16] This fact is clear now, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, to all of us, or at least most of us, but that fact has been clear to some of us, including many working-class people, since the mid-1970s, when de-industrialization began. The massive expansion of higher education has resulted not in equality but in the establishment of a class system within higher education, with working-class students of all races and genders concentrated in community colleges and for-profit universities and upper middle-class and upper class students of all races and genders concentrated in elite colleges and universities. Many reports and much data suggest that the former graduate in lower number, amass more debt, and default on that debt more often than the latter. In Degrees of Inequality, Suzanne Mettler concludes that for many poor and working-class students, "going to college leaves ... them worse off than if they had never attended" (189-190). Higher education in the United States "is exacerbating inequality ... in multiple ways" and the conclusion is inescapable: "the nation has failed to maintain its historic legacy of expanding opportunity through higher education" (20, 21).

[17] Many thoughtful and smart people are trying to parse, document, and assess what has happened to higher education in the United States, a task that has gained urgency since the Great Recession began in 2008. Mettler, the Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions at Cornell University, thinks not enough Americans are graduating from college and articulates ways government officials have failed to adjust policy to changing circumstances, especially rising costs. But as is implicit in the comments I have cited in the previous paragraph, Mettler also knows that "not all college degrees are created equal" (28). Some indeed are not worth holding. Economists Paul Beaudry, David Green, and Ben Sand conclude similarly, although their focus is the job market for college graduates, arguing that demand for managerial and professional occupations "stopped growing altogether after 2000," while "the proportion of the working-age population with a college degree" continued to increase. The result? "New college graduates face a declining probability of obtaining the types of white-collar jobs they were likely aiming to have when they entered university ("Declining" 381). What the government professor and the economists describe might well be called "credential inflation." As more and more people obtain a bachelor's degree—or increasingly, an MA or JD—the occupational value of that degree declines. And yet, as Collins wrote in 2002, the "mass production of educational credentials for employment has become extremely expensive" ("Inflation" 23). One might assume that a rational actor would forego the pleasures of the quad under these circumstances—in which the value of the degree in labor markets declines even as its price skyrockets. But in so assuming, one forgets that credential inflation affects not only the holder of the credential but also those who do not hold it: as the economists Beaudry, Greene, and Sand explain, high-skilled workers "have begun to perform jobs traditionally performed by lower-skilled workers. This de-skilling process, in turn, results in high-skilled workers pushing low-skilled workers even further down the occupational ladder and, to some degree, out of the labor force all together ("Reversal" 2, see also Piketty, Guilory, and Collins "Inflation").

[18] A cynic, or someone versed in the hermeneutics of suspicion, might see this situation as, ahem, a killer scenario for academics! Credential inflation—graduates working in jobs, not careers, jobs that, when I was young, required a high school diploma—results in a situation in which students must obtain the credential even if it no longer guarantees a career or upward mobility and even when one must accumulate significant debt in the effort. The collapse in wages for holders of high school diplomas means students cannot afford not to obtain the higher credential. Except, of course, this is not a killer scenario for academics, partly because, as I have already observed and as Collins explains, it undermines the democratic ethos of the university established in the late 1960s and early 1970s and supported to this day by many, if not most, of us ("Inflation" 36). But of concern are the fates not only of beleaguered holders of bachelor's degrees but also of beleaguered holders of PhDs, our colleagues and sometimes our former students, underemployed too. Credential inflation and de-skilling affects them, too. As Guillory pointed out in 2000, "a small percentage of the new PhDs will get 'good' jobs at Research 1 institutions," leading to "a life of continuous research," but most new PhDs face a "life in which there is very little time for research and in which teaching is largely composition and largely remedial" (1161, 1159; see also O'Dair Class 127-131 and "Superserviceable"). And a significant number of the latter face a lifetime of work as adjuncts, remunerated by the course, without benefits. These contingent academic laborers, part-time and full-time, now constitute the largest part of the professoriate, but even in 1997, the MLA's Committee on Professional Employment recognized that a two-tiered (or classed) system of academic employment had been institutionalized, dividing "the faculty into a decently remunerated tenured portion and a poorly remunerated non-tenure-track portion" (20).

[19] According to the Committee, this situation results from two imperatives, "the student body's escalating demand for 'basics'" and an "institutional demand for faculty to engage in 'advanced' research" (20). As a result, an ambiguity emerged—when, one wonders, in the 1980s? in the 1970s?—in the purpose of graduate education:

Is such education induction into the specialized role of intellectual knowledge worker—a role cultivated by advanced seminars, research papers, and conferences? Or is it training for the more "basic" job of education service worker—a job implied by the tasks most graduate students actually perform as TAs? (21)

As I wrote in 2010, "the answer, clearly, is both, but not necessarily for each graduate student. Some graduate students will take on the former role, and most others will take on the latter" ("Superserviceable" 42). The answer was clear in 1997; it remains clear today. Honestly, it was clear to a lot of graduate students in 1987, when I obtained my tenure-track position.

[20] Indeed, this situation is not new, as the MLA's Report from 1997 makes clear. Two years before, in 1995, Richard Ohmann reissued his important but too often ignored book, originally published in 1976, English in America: A Radical View of the Profession. In the "Introduction" to the reissue, Ohmann observed that, "twenty-five years after the job-market crisis began, graduate programs still admit far more students than can find the real jobs for which they are preparing" (xlvii-xlviii). 1995 is almost twenty years ago, and so, obviously, we are now forty-five years into the job-market crisis in academic employment. Legion are the reasons offered to account for this problematic situation—the failures of the secondary schools, declining state support for education, the salaries of football coaches, increases in tuition, deindustrialization—and arguably the employment situation for PhDs today is worse than it was in 1995 or 1976. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, in a national economy that may not expand for years to come, in a profession with an institutionalized two-tiered (or classed) system of employment, most PhDs are destined to fill the role of "education service worker," not that of "intellectual knowledge worker." But I would like to focus here, and as I conclude this essay, on a reason internal to the profession, and one that has been consistently apparent but ignored throughout the 45 years of the employment crisis, unlike most of the other reasons offered above: the "tension" between "basics" and "research," which the MLA acknowledged but did not address in 1997 and still has not, despite the release in May 2014 of the Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature.

[21] As I have argued elsewhere, professional inequality, a classed system of employment, is the price we pay for allowing the academy to pursue two expensive dreams, as I call them, or two imperatives, as the MLA calls them: on the one hand, a prestige-based research culture and on the other hand, universal access to the academy. Both developed in the postwar period; both have had deleterious effects on the professoriate, and most particularly on PhD students, because both—democratized access to the dissemination of knowledge and the prestige-driven approach to research or the production of knowledge—require cheap labor. Cheap labor, provided in the 1970s and 1980s by graduate students. Now, increasingly, provided by contingent faculty as well as graduate students ("Superserviceable" 41-49).

[22] The 2014 Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature makes clear—again—what Ohmann concluded in 1995: "organized as it is to regulate careers and maintain hierarchies of status among practitioners and institutions, the profession is all but unable to act in solidarity—or on behalf of its weakest members" (xlvi). The 2014 Report makes clear that professors at research universities will do nothing to reduce the profession's dependency on cheap labor, nothing to jeopardize the privilege of a 2-2- or 1-1 teaching load that allows us to "engage in 'advanced' research" and enjoy "a life of continuous research." Or that jeopardizes the ability of "top departments [to go] right on competing for "stars," not just at entry level but at the top. Never mind that the salary needed to move such a person from university X to university Y would support three assistant professorships at Y" (Ohmann xlvi). Or, one might add, bringing Ohmann up-to-date, six or seven non tenure-track lectureships or assistant professorships. Reducing time to degree, eviscerating the dissertation, preparing PhD students to accept jobs as technical writers, keeping PhD enrollments high in order to maintain access: these are recommendations of the MLA, each and every one a move that, in addition to its stated purpose, protects the vested interests of the tenured, research professoriate. What the MLA does not ask (or, obviously, answer), as I have written elsewhere, are questions like these: "how many research professors should there be, as a proportion of entire faculties, tenured or not?" Or "how privileged should [those professors] be in their work and personal lives, coming as that privilege does on the backs of 'education service workers' ... ?" Are such professors responsible—and to what extent—for relegating those "education service workers" to living like the working poor while they live like the upper middle class that, in fact, they are? ("Superserviceable" 47) Recall that Walter Benn Michaels wants to be in the top 1% of household income. Recall that I am satisfied with being in the top 10%. Or 7%. The profession "is all but unable to act in solidarity—or on behalf of its weakest members," said Ohmann in 1995, and I say again what I said in 2010, "it seems inconceivable that the MLA would recommend instituting systems of reward that credit teaching and service ... so that more professors, or even all professors, would engage in all three areas of professional commitment throughout their lives" ("Superserviceable" 48). The MLA cannot imagine a system for producing research and educating students outside of hierarchy and inequality. Neither can the elite graduate schools, chock full of star professors, famous and very well remunerated. Yet we know our profession was not always thus: in the late 1960s, Judt encountered professors at Cambridge who were "obscure, published little, and were known only to generations of Kingsmen." They were "supremely uninterested in public performance of any sort" (Meritocrats).

[23] And certainly the MLA cannot acknowledge the unsustainability of pursuing the twin dreams (or imperatives) of democratic access and prestige-driven research. Like individuals and institutions that refuse to address a warming earth, clinging to air travel and air conditioning, the elite professoriate will cling to its dreams, calling them imperatives, until the very bitter end. This stubbornness results, I think, from this characteristic of our profession, which Clark Kerr identified in 1963:

Few institutions are so conservative as the universities about their own affairs while their members are so liberal about the affairs of others... . The faculty member who gets arrested as a "freedom rider" in the South is a flaming supporter of unanimous prior faculty consent to any change whatsoever on his campus in the North. (99)

But now, 50 years later, having felt the future in an instant, it is clear that conservative and liberal do not mix.

[24] It's a kind of poetic justice, isn't it? The liberal messing in the affairs of others finally is undermining the conservative, elitist stronghold of those who messed, with attacks coming from multiple quarters—exploited adjuncts, debt-burdened students and parents, the United States Department of Education, even the President of the United States. If I may quote Judt once more, and in sadness, "what we bequeathed to our successors was something far less substantial than what we ourselves had inherited" ("Meritocrats"). And Mettler: higher education in the United States "is exacerbating inequality ... in multiple ways" (20). And Thomas Piketty for the first time: "the average income of the parents of Harvard students is currently about $450,000, which corresponds to the average income of the top 2 percent of the US income hierarchy." Piketty's dry conclusion: "Such a finding does not seem entirely compatible with the idea of selection based solely on merit. The contrast between the official meritocratic discourse and the reality seems particularly extreme in this case" (485). Indeed it does, but one may ask what Harvard's students' parents are buying. It's not money; they have plenty of that already! What they are buying is what Weber called status and Bourdieu called cultural capital. And they are doing so because social class isn't just about the ownership of capital but about the ownership of status or cultural capital. They are doing so because they know what Guillory knows and what I know, too: "democratization [of the academy or of access to cultural capital] does not institute equality in any simple sense. The progress of democratization is accompanied by intensified effects of competition and stratification" (Guillory 1155). Even especially in its bloated, massified, and democratized state, the academy is the main depository for status and cultural capital, the main protector of it, the main way in which it is distributed—or not—in society. As such the academy is an institution that helps to create class difference and economic inequality.

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