James Van Wyck

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.

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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, https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2017/08/10/conversation-about-class-and-professoriate-essay

Fordham English Undergrads to Present at Literature Conference

Adam Fales, Austin Fimmano, and Mara Leighton--all undergraduate Fordham English majors--will be presenting papers based on their research at a conference at New Jersey's Caldwell University on November 18, 2016. The conference's theme is "Literary Losers and Anti-Heroes." 

  • Adam Fales, a senior English major at FCLC, will be presenting a paper titled "Dying and Dieting: Hurstwood's Starvation in Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie.
  • Austin Fimmano, a senior English major at FCRH, will be presenting a paper titled "A Moveable Protagonist," analyzing Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast
  • Mara Leighton, also a senior English major at Rose Hill, will be presenting a paper titled "Scarlett O'Hara, An Anti-Hero."

James Van Wyck, a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the English department, will also attend the conference to support the students and their work. 

The English department congratulates all three students on their acceptance to this conference, and we all look forward to hearing how it went!

Getting Grad Student Voices into the National Conversation

Fordham's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences sponsors an innovative and distinctive Fellowship in Higher Education Leadership that provides graduate students with a two-year experience working alongside the university's senior administrators such as GSAS Dean (and Fordham English faculty member) Eva Badowska, who created the program. 

James Van Wyck

James Van Wyck

English PhD student James M. Van Wyck has been one of GSAS's first such fellows, and last year he helped to create GSAS Futures, a series of professional development and career-programming events. This year he is working on the curriculum of a Preparing Future Faculty program for Fordham graduate students, as well as on a program titled Public Scholarship for the Common Good. 

Van Wyck has co-authored an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education with his fellow fellow (so to speak), Philosophy PhD student Joseph M. Vukov. "Give Us a Voice in Our Own Future" does more than describe the GSAS program and emphasize its uniqueness (they describe being the only graduate students in the room at meetings of Fordham's Task Force on the Future of Higher Education, at a university reaccreditation meeting, and at a discussion of the Council of Graduate Schools). Their article also issues a ringing call for graduate education across the country to incorporate graduate student voices into the ongoing discussion about the future of graduate education in the United States and beyond. Read it to see where that discussion is going, and to see how Fordham is helping to push that discussion forward. 

James Van Wyck on Evangelical Emotions

Fordham English PhD student James Van Wyck is arguing in his dissertation that 19th-century Evangelical texts relied heavily on an appeal to readers’ emotions, a technique born from a sentimentalist ethos that continues to inform Evangelical reading habits today. His research has led him to curate an exhibition on evangelical fiction at Drew University, and was recently covered in an extensive story in Inside Fordham.  

From Inside Fordham:

Evangelical Christians have long acknowledged that anti-intellectualism has plagued their religious tradition. As Evangelical historian Mark Noll put it in 1994, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Scholars have linked this anti-intellectual bent to a variety of influences—for instance, the growing insularity of the Evangelical community, or the sway of charismatic church and political leaders. However, James Van Wyck, an English doctoral student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, believes that it in fact stems from something seemingly innocuous: the last century-and-a-half of fictions that Evangelicals have been reading and writing.

To prove his point, Van Wyck has taken a daunting plunge into the archives to chronicle Evangelical literary trends and how these have influenced contemporary Evangelical thought. He argues in his doctoral dissertation that 19th-century Evangelical texts relied heavily on an appeal to readers’ emotions, a technique born from a sentimentalist ethos that continues to inform Evangelical reading habits today….. Read the full story by Joanna Mercuri.

From the Drew University website:

In the mid-19th century, writers of Christian fiction had to be creative to get their stories to a population that was spread out geographically and didn’t always have easy access to books.

It became popular for writers to serialize their books through magazines, newspapers and other periodicals that were published weekly and monthly. Those articles included dramatic soap-opera style stories, children’s parables and other evangelical fiction, some written by bestselling authors.

While conducting research for his dissertation in Drew’s United Methodist Archives, James M. Van Wyck, a Fordham University doctoral student, came upon several examples of Christian evangelical fiction from the mid-19th century, offering a glimpse at popular fiction from over 100 years ago.

Van Wyck and Christopher Anderson, Head of Special Collections, Archives, and Methodist Librarian for the Drew University Library, have joined forces to present an exhibit highlighting some of these historic gems. Drew’s rich collection reflects an array of authors—women authors, bestselling novelists, African-American authors and writers of children’s stories…..Read the full story on Drew University’s site.