Class and the Creation of the Professoriate

James M. Van Wyck engages with Lynn Arner in a conversation about class and the creation of the professoriate.

Not too long ago over a cup of coffee, a friend described a difference in his reception on the academic job market after he secured an Ivy League postdoc. He told me that, while his middle-tier institutional affiliation cracked a few doors, sending out applications on Ivy League letterhead busted them open.

That’s when it struck me: he’d laundered his degree. His credentials hadn’t changed, really. (He’d published over a half dozen articles before going on the job market the first time.) But he’d overcome a prestige deficit by switching letterheads.

This story shouldn’t surprise anyone with a stake in the tenure-track job market. Prestige, after all, is the hemoglobin in the bloodstream of academic value. We’re all familiar with a version of the academic placement truism that “universities don’t hire down.” Highly ranked programs hire their own, those aspiring to be highly ranked hire from the ranks of those already on top and so on.

But academe’s prestige problem isn’t just about reifying the top 40 Ph.D. programs in a particular field. In fact, we’re still unpacking the ways that prestige chasing connects with a classed professoriate.


Lynn Arner -- a medievalist and gender-studies scholar by training and currently an associate professor at Brock University in Ontario, Canada -- studies how socioeconomic backgrounds and gender shape the careers of English professors. One of Arner’s central arguments is that most academics disavow the extent to which prestige-chasing practices link up with assumptions about class to shape hiring practices in higher education.

Arner’s work complements a growing body of research examining the clunky apparatuses by which higher education seeks to diversify the professoriate. Many well-intentioned efforts are hampered by homophily as well as the inability to recognize how certain value systems have produced a professoriate laden with professors drawn from the middle and upper classes.

Arner has confronted the phenomenon firsthand. When she was on the job market in the 2000s, she interviewed for several tenure-track jobs at research universities and says she kept losing to candidates with doctorates from the same universities: Yale, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania. She taught as a visiting faculty member at a research university in an English department “where working-class female faculty members were relegated to the temp pool,” she recalls. In contrast, women hired into tenure-track positions were solidly middle class and had Ivy League pedigrees. “While I taught there, the department had a tenure-track search in my area, but a middle-class woman with an Ivy League doctorate blocked me from being interviewed at the Modern Language Association, pronouncing me ‘not well enough connected,’” she notes. “I was simultaneously appalled and fascinated by the fierce classism in this department that served large numbers of working-class students in a city with a celebrated working-class history.”

It’s clear that recruiting and hiring a professoriate as diverse as the student population it serves requires intentional, systemic change. One area in need of a revamp is graduate admissions: we can’t hope for a diverse professoriate if we continue to recruit and admit students just as we have in the past.

Assumptions about the living conditions of prospective graduate students must also be challenged. As Christienna D. Fryar put it on Twitter, “U.S. academia is structured around assumption that you (grad student, adjunct/full-time professor) have constant access to family wealth.” A break in financial support for students moving from undergraduate to graduate education, for example, presumes quite a bit about the class of those students.

Moreover, Arner’s work shows how implicit, unacknowledged biases shape who gets interviews for tenure-track jobs, and especially who gets job offers. Her research instructs us to look to the MLA interview for clues to this embedded problem. Drawing on insights from a range of disciplines (including feminist theory and sociology) Arner argues that the structure of the interview process (short interviews) privileges certain demographics over others.

In 2014, she published “Working-Class Women at the MLA Interview.” The keyword here is “at.” That’s because the study shows how the physical presence of interviewees -- and the ways interviewers implicitly judge these presences -- effectively work to bar certain groups (in this case working-class women) from the tenure track at highly ranked universities and colleges.

To read the conversation between James and Lynn, check out the entire article at Inside Higher Ed,

Apply: Advanced Fiction Class, Arc of the Novel

The Creative Writing Program welcomes applications to the Spring 2018 Advanced Fiction course Arc of the Novel.

ENGL 4702 - Fiction Writing 3: Arc of the Novel
Instructor: Stacey D'Erasmo
Rose Hill Campus, TF: 1 - 2:15 p.m.
Advanced Fiction Workshop, Prerequisite: Writing sample application.
Robert Olen Butler says that what is essential to any work of narrative art is a “character who yearns.” If this is the impulse that sets most novels in motion—for instance, we could describe Fitzgerald's Gatsby as a poor young man who tries to win the love of a rich girl—it is the threat to this desire and the protagonist's attempts to overcome it that generates a sense of urgency and drama. In this class we will pay particular attention to the composition of the novel from a writer's point of view. We will consider development of protagonists and minor characters; voice, perspective and form; beginnings, endings and formal wholeness; sustaining narrative arcs; compelling a reader's interest for the duration of the text, and various aspects necessary to create a compelling work. Students will have the opportunity to make significant progress on a novel already begun in workshops and in conferences with the instructor.

Access the Application
Due by November 8th

Will Fenton and the Digital Paxton Archive

In the latest issue of Common-place: The Journal of Early American Life (17.4), Fordham English doctoral candidate Will Fenton discusses his digital humanities project, the Digital Paxton (, a digital archive, scholarly edition, and teaching platform dedicated to Pennsylvania's first major pamphlet.


Framing his project in terms of the print edition on which scholars have relied for almost 60 years (John Raine Dunbar's The Paxton Papers), Will discusses how the digital supports a more capacious--and less definitive--critical edition: "Tallying 400 pages, The Paxton Papers is already a formidable print edition, and one which continues to support research. But what else might we choose to include in twenty-first-century Paxton Papers? What if we weren’t bound, as Dunbar was, by the constraints of the codex format? The answer may not be a definitive edition for the Paxton event, so much as a tool with which contributors may magnify and telescope records, juxtapose them against one another, read them against contexts, and discover new ways of looking at—and beyond—the 1764 pamphlet war." Visit Common-place to read the piece, accompanied by various images from the Digital Paxton archive.


Fordham Students Experience the Camino

Buen Camino! This greeting is passed along the trail to the pilgrimage site, Santiago de Compostella, in Galicia, Spain. A popular shrine with medieval promotional literatures spanning genres of romance, ethnography, hagiography, and liturgical sources, the relics of St. James had a booming career in the twelfth century, and again in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

On September 29th, 2017, both of Dr. Suzanne Yeager’s course sections of Medieval Traveler heard first-hand about pilgrim experience from recent peregrinas, Dr. Christina Carlson and Rachel Podd. Dr. Carlson, a professor of Literature at Iona College, NY, graduate of Fordham University’s Doctoral Program in English, and recipient of Fordham’s Doctoral Certificate in Medieval Studies, shared her experiences of the trail, alongside Rachel Podd, a current advanced student in Fordham’s Doctoral program in History. “If making the pilgrimage is this gruelling today, even with all of our modern conveniences,” one student mused, “then this presentation gave me much more respect for the undertaking it was for medieval pilgrims.” Students were interested to learn of the intersections of medieval and modern, secular and spiritual aspects which both scholars presented. For Dr. Carlson, this was a first-time pilgrimage to Compostella, but she is a long-time traveler to the island of Iona, where she takes her undergraduate students on pilgrimage on a routine basis. For Ms. Podd, the journey was the third time she had made the trek, assisting Fordham students on their pilgrimages.

Clearly both scholars have a lifetime of medieval literature, history, and travel in their futures. Podd spoke of the rare scent of glacial mountains, when the wind was blowing just right. “I wish I could bottle the air!” she reflected. We were grateful for these Fordham scholars for offering us a vicarious taste or their pilgrimages. 

Lawrence Kramer's *Thought of Music* Wins Virgil Thomson Award

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The ASCAP Foundation just announced that the 2017 Virgil Thomson Award for Outstanding Music Criticism in the concert music field will go to The Thought of Music, by Distinguished Professor of English and Music at Fordham Lawrence Kramer. Published by University of California Press, the book, according to the citation, "grapples with the understanding of humanity through music." "What, exactly, is knowledge of music?" Kramer asks.  "And what does it tell us about humanistic knowledge in general? 

The Thought of Music grapples directly with these fundamental questions—questions especially compelling at a time when humanistic knowledge is enmeshed in debates about its character and future. In this third volume in a trilogy on musical understanding that includes Interpreting Music and Expression and Truth, Kramer seeks answers in both thought about music and thought in music—thinking in tones. He skillfully assesses musical scholarship in the aftermath of critical musicology and musical hermeneutics and in view of more recent concerns with embodiment, affect, and performance. This authoritative and timely work challenges the prevailing conceptions of every topic it addresses: language, context, and culture; pleasure and performance; and, through music, the foundations of understanding in the humanities.


The Virgil Thomson Award, named for one of the leading American composers and critics of the 20th Century, is part of the ASCAP Foundation's annual Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Awards, which is in its 49th year. Thus The Thought of Music this year appears alongside the foundation's announcement of awards to books on topics as various as The Beatles,  Mozart, The Replacements, 19th-Century American orchestras, and Buddy Guy, as well as liner notes for Big Star--Complete Third, a four-hour documentary film on The Grateful Dead,  and a radio/internet show hosting the keyboard world’s greatest luminaries for themed discussion and performances.


Congratulations to Professor Kramer!  

Sharon Harris Awarded Predoctoral Fellowship

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Sharon Harris, a PhD candidate in Early Modern literature, has been awarded a Predoctoral Fellowship from the UCLA Center for 17th- & 18th-Century Studies to conduct research at the William Andrews Clark Library. In her dissertation, “Moving Music: Theory and Practice in Early Modern English Drama and Poetry,” Harris studies the power of music to move physically and otherwise as represented in early modern literature. This temporary residential fellowship helps Harris research songbook and poetry manuscripts at the Clark Library for the final chapter of her project, “Publics, Performances, and Publications: From a Musico-Literary Coterie to a Public Music Market in the Mid-Seventeenth Century.”

In this chapter Harris illustrates music’s power to move physically and socially in response to political pressures and economic opportunities. It explores poetry originally produced by musico-literary coteries that became popularized in musical performances to public or semi-public audiences in the mid-seventeenth century. The chapter investigates to what extent the rise of these semi-public and public performances of songs relate to the enormous increase in music publications beginning in the 1650s. Harris writes,

These works come from a turbulent time in English history during the English Civil War when the court dispersed and, consequently, court musicians found themselves without work. These musicians collaborated with poets to produce several songs, and this trend preceded an explosive growth in musical publications, especially from the publisher John Playford. Despite scant written accounts of this trend and very little scholarship on it, Mary Chan, Stacey Jocoy, and others have made a persuasive case that these performances helped create a public market and customer base for John Playford’s numerous musical publications beginning in the 1650s.

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The Predoctoral Fellowship allows Harris to study manuscripts from this period that contain songs that circulated decades before they first appeared in printed songbooks in the 1650s. The manuscript holdings at the Clark Library are among the highlights of their collection.

Congratulations, Sharon!

Apply Now: English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration


The Creative Writing Program at Fordham University is accepting applications for the English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration.

Premised on the belief that the study of literature and the practice of writing are mutually enforcing, the English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration emphasizes the inter-relations among creative writing, digital media, criticism, and scholarship. As a concentration with a dual focus on literature and creative work, fully integrated within the English department, this degree offering combines literature courses, small writing workshops, and practical industry training to prepare students for advanced study or careers in writing, media, and publishing. In addition, students benefit from the resources provided by New York City, a worldwide center for literary publishing.

To learn more about the application process, course requirements, and program please visit

Applications are due Wednesday, November 1st.