Career inspirations, 1991: “Hackers” and “Wishcraft”

Twenty years ago, I found myself yearning to do something different with my work life. I had been practicing as a public interest lawyer since graduating from law school, and although I liked certain aspects of the work, I didn’t see myself as being a litigation attorney for the rest of my career.

Two pro bono activities sparked my thinking. As a Legal Aid lawyer in New York City, I had been elected a shop steward (i.e., union rep) to the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, the union for staff attorneys. The experience served as my discovery of the labor movement and worker advocacy, and it had a formative effect on me. We did and said many rash things as union activists, but the union enabled us to bargain for better pay and provided us with a platform for raising social justice issues.

In addition, I was serving as board chair of the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) based at my law school alma mater, New York University. PILF awarded seed-money grants to fledgling public interest law projects, drawn from funds raised from students, alumni/ae, and area law firms. I enjoyed the combination of working with the law student officers of the foundation and blending the tasks of fundraising and grant making. I also learned a heckuva lot about non-profit management and administration.

The needed nudge

However, I was hesitant to move outside of my comfort zone in terms of employment, and I feared that I would have to “start over” if I strayed too far from my credentials as a public interest litigator.


It was around that time that I encountered two books that encouraged me to think more expansively about my career. One was Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (1984; now in a 25th anniversary 2010 edition). What a great book about the early days of personal computing, starting with students at MIT obsessing over the university mega-computers that occupied entire rooms in the late 50s and early 60s! Hackers goes on to tell stories about the first homebrewed computer clubs, the formation of companies like Apple, and the development of computer games — with plenty of details about the individuals involved.

I was struck by how these computer pioneers were so utterly into what they were doing. Flow and engagement in one’s work…what a treat!


I also got hold of a self-help book, Barbara Sher’s Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want (1979; now in a 30th anniversary 2009 edition). Wishcraft helps readers identify their strengths and interests and overcome resistances to change, a terrific mix of inspirational and practical advice. It remains one of the best self-help books for people who want to transform their lives.

I don’t think that I worked through every exercise and set of questions in the book, but its basic premise made a strong impact.

NYU Lawyering Program

Inspired in part by these books, I pushed myself to look at opportunities outside of public interest litigation, and the most appealing one was a position as a legal skills instructor in the Lawyering Program at NYU. The Lawyering Program is an innovative, year-long course for new law students that combines instruction in legal research and writing with a series of clinical simulation exercises designed to introduce them to the tasks of interviewing, fact-gathering, negotiation, and advocacy. It is the brainchild of professor Anthony Amsterdam, who has made seminal contributions to civil rights litigation (especially anti-death penalty work) and to clinical legal education.

I applied for the job, and after a series of interviews I was offered a position, which I accepted right away. It was an entry-level, non-tenured instructor position, and I even had to take a small pay cut. It didn’t matter; I loved it and became immediately enamored of teaching. Three years later, I pursued tenure-track appointments and secured my current position at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

Modest yet meaningful transition

Okay, so going from legal practice to law teaching isn’t exactly a radical departure from the norm — presumably I didn’t need to be inspired by computer pioneers and life transformation experts to make the move.

Nevertheless, I thank these books for helping me to ask myself, what do I want to do with my life, and how do I get there? It has led me to a satisfying career that combines teaching and various types of law reform, public education, advocacy activities. There have been bumps along the road, to be sure, but I know that I made the right choice.

In particular, this career has allowed me to invest considerable time and energies into tackling the problem of workplace bullying. I doubt very much that I would’ve created this niche for myself had I not been given the opportunity to do serious research and writing, eventually leading to the drafting of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill and extensive contact and collaboration with folks outside of academe.


Given my interests in stopping workplace bullying, this blog often discusses the more difficult and nasty aspects of the work experience. That said, I encourage you, especially if you’ve experienced bullying, abuse, and other mistreatment at work, to ask yourself the same compound question that spurred my change in direction some 20 years ago: What do I want to do with my life, and how do I get there?

The path to a better place may not be easy — in fact, there are no guarantees that smart planning and hard work will get you to where you want to be — but this inquiry is a pretty darn good place to start.

Recycling: Dealing with workplace bullying

Targets of workplace bullying who are weighing their situations and options may find these articles from the blog helpful. Because these posts have appeared over the three-year span of this blog, there is some repetition and overlap in the information and guidance contained in them.

After being bullied at work, what next?

Bullied at work? Avoid making these common mistakes

Possibilities (resources for those considering career shifts)

“Should I stay or should I go?” Career insights from Seth Godin and The Clash

Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder and workplace bullying

No magic answers: “What should I do if I’m bullied at work?”

Should you confront your workplace bully?

A “Cozy” meeting about unpaid internships

l to r: Ross Perlin, Eric Glatt, Tiffany Ap

As some of you know, I’ve been concerned about the widespread practice of unpaid internships for some time.

These positions often exclude those who do not have the financial means to work without pay, thus creating class-based barriers to professions where the practice is very common, such as entertainment, media, the arts, and political advocacy. In addition, my own extensive legal research, published several years ago in a Connecticut Law Review article, led me to conclude that many unpaid internships in the private sector run afoul of minimum wage laws.

Meeting at the Cozy

I’m delighted that this topic finally is getting attention, and last weekend I had the pleasure of being part of an informal lunch meeting with two individuals who are making it happen: Eric Glatt, co-lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures seeking wages for unpaid interns working on the production of “Black Swan”; and Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Very Little in the Brave New Economy (2011).

Joined by journalist and Columbia Journalism School student Tiffany Ap, we met at the Cozy Soup ‘n’ Burger (Broadway & Astor Place — and my favorite New York City diner!) to talk about unpaid internships and how they relate to broader issues of work and economic justice.

Gray area

Internships have occupied a gray area in education and employment relations, standing somewhere between the status of student and that of employee. In reality, however, most interns provide tangible value to their employer, and both ethics and law point to the imperative of paying them for their labor. Thanks in part to folks like Eric and Ross, we’ll be hearing more about this topic in the months and years to come.


Related Posts

Ross Perlin’s Intern Nation explores the internship phenomenon

Unpaid interns for “Black Swan” file wage claim against Fox Searchlight Pictures

On the practice and legality of unpaid internships

Does your organization nurture growth-fostering relationships?

Last week’s annual workshop of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) Network in New York City featured the presentation of an award (posthumously) to Jean Baker Miller, M.D., a visionary psychiatrist, social activist, and co-founder of relational-cultural theory (RCT).

RCT (link here) holds that:

Growth-fostering relationships are a central human necessity. Chronic disconnection, whether on an interpersonal or societal scale, is a primary source of human suffering.

The Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women is devoted to transformational personal growth and social justice, building its programs around an RCT model.

Five Good Things

Dr. Miller boiled her core ideas down to a set of “Five Good Things” that empower people in growth-fostering relationships:

1. A sense of zest or well-being that comes from connecting with another person or other persons.

2. The ability and motivation to take action in the relationship as well as other situations.

3. Increased knowledge of oneself and the other person(s).

4. An increased sense of worth.

5. A desire for more connections beyond the particular one.

So here’s the question: Does your organization nurture these qualities? To further explore this subject, you might take a look at these posts:


For a short report on last week’s HumanDHS workshop:

Building a society that embraces human dignity

Prof says “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” promotes bullying


Santa may need a mediator to sort out this brouhaha, but there’s a professor at Long Island University who claims that the CBS holiday television classic “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” promotes bullying.

Reindeer games

As reported by Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate KDKA (link here), Long Island University special education professor George Giuliani “says ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ promotes bullying.” He’s even written “a book about it called ‘No More Bullies on the North Pole.'”

According to the professor, “the message that Rudolph’s uniqueness must have a useful purpose for Rudolph to be accepted is the wrong message for our children.”

Psychologist Paul Friday, interviewed by KDKA, takes a different view:

I think the idea that you can take something as innocent and as nice as “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and pull some kind of psychological or sociological pathology and place it on there – I think this guy has too much time on his hands.

Maybe I need a life

Okay, I’m actually going to dig deeper into this one.

To me, “Rudolph” is a great ANTI-bullying tale. The story makes us feel sorry for Rudolph, Hermey the Elf/Dentist, and all the denizens of the Island of Misfit Toys, and it teaches us that everyone brings something worthwhile to this world.

If you’re a little kid soaking it in, it teaches you about empathy and being accepting of differences and individual choices. Rudolph is ridiculed and ostracized because of a physical difference. Hermey is bullied by the senior elf because he’d rather be a dentist. The Misfit Toys are forgotten by Santa every year. But ultimately, the story ends in their acceptance.

And with that said, I’ll return to watching DVDs of “The Wire.” Have a holly jolly holiday, everyone!


Hat tip to John Smurda of Ohio Healthy Workplace Advocates for the KDKA piece!

At-will employment and the legality of workplace bullying: A brutal combo punch

In the U.S., the combination of at-will employment and the lack of protections against workplace bullying make for a brutal combo punch that often leaves mistreated workers legally powerless.

In October I wrote a short post criticizing the rule of at-will employment, which allows an employer to terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all. In America — in contrast to many other nations — at-will is the presumptive employment relationship.

This leaves workers especially vulnerable when they are subjected to severe workplace bullying by a supervisor, enabled by the employer. Because most bullying falls outside the protections of current employment law, workers have scant legal recourse, and employers have little incentive (at least from a liability standpoint) to act preventively and responsively.

Hollomon v. Keadle

When I first started researching potential legal protections against workplace bullying, I assumed that a tort claim called intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) would provide severely abused workers with sufficient redress.

I was in for a big surprise: Most bullying-type lawsuits that allege IIED are unsuccessful, with courts routinely dismissing claims even before they get to trial, mostly on grounds that the offending behavior was not sufficiently outrageous. (Furthermore, in many states, IIED claims against employers are precluded by workers’ compensation laws.)

My “poster case” for this reasoning came in Hollomon v. Keadle, a 1996 Arkansas Supreme Court decisions that involved a female employee, Hollomon, who worked for a male physician, Keadle, for two years before she voluntarily left the job.

Hollomon claimed that during this period of employment, “Keadle repeatedly cursed her and referred to her with offensive terms, such as ‘white nigger,’ ‘slut,’ ‘whore,’ and ‘the ignorance of Glenwood, Arkansas’.” Keadle repeatedly used profanity in front of his employees and patients, and he frequently remarked that women working outside the home were “whores and prostitutes.”

According to Hollomon, Keadle “told her that he had connections with the mob” and mentioned “that he carried a gun,” allegedly to “intimidate her and to suggest that he would have her killed if she quit or caused trouble.” Hollomon claimed that as a result of this conduct, she suffered from “stomach problems, loss of sleep, loss of self-esteem, anxiety attacks, and embarrassment.”

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that even if every one of Hollomon’s allegations were true, Keadle’s behaviors were not sufficiently outrageous to allow the case to proceed to trial.

Hypothetically speaking

You may be thinking, what about self-help measures? What if Hollomon had stood up to this guy and basically told him off, perhaps right there in the waiting room where he routinely humiliated her in front of patients? What if she would’ve told him, you pompous, threatening jerk, how can you treat me like this in front of your own patients? Have you no decency?

Had this occurred, the rule of at-will employment would’ve permitted Keadle to fire Hollomon immediately, on the spot, while adding a few more choice words on his own.

No free speech rights

But then you might ask, doesn’t Hollomon have a right of free speech under the First Amendment? Doesn’t she have a right to dish it right back to Keadle?

In a nutshell, no. Constitutional free-speech protections do not apply to private-sector employees. (They also are very limited for public-sector workers.) While it’s possible that anti-retaliation provisions of other laws might protect certain types of whistle blowing and reporting activities, there are no obvious possibilities under this scenario.

Indeed, had this been a larger medical practice with an HR office, the at-will rule would’ve permitted the firing of Hollomon merely for filing a complaint about Keadle. The only remotely viable avenue that I can see for Hollomon in approaching HR, looking at it from a 2011 rather than 1996 lens, is taking some of Doc Keadle’s abusive language and trying to fashion it into a sexual harassment complaint. But that could be a stretch.

Yes, there’s more

Let’s take this scenario one more step. Suppose that after being terminated following her hypothetical outburst in the waiting room, Hollomon applied for unemployment benefits.

Unfortunately, it’s possible the employer could successfully oppose her claim on grounds she was fired for misconduct. You see, misconduct is one of the standard reasons why unemployment benefits can be denied. While state courts and agencies vary widely in what they define as misconduct, in some states this may be sufficient to deny her application.

One-way boxing match

Talk about a one-two punch: The combination of at-will employment and the general legality of workplace bullying means that an employee being subjected to targeted, ongoing psychological abuse at the hands of a supervisor often has little, if any, legal protection to stand upon.

It’s cases like Hollomon v. Keadle that prompted me to draft the Healthy Workplace Bill, which provides severely bullied workers with a claim for damages, creates legal incentives for employers to minimize potential liability, and protects those who report workplace bullying from retaliation. After all, one-way boxing matches are monstrously cruel, even if they are “just” a battle of words.


For more about the Healthy Workplace Bill, please go here.


For serious study

If you really want to study the relevant inadequacies of current American employment law, several of my law review articles will either keep you up all night or help you get to sleep:

The Phenomenon of ‘Workplace Bullying’ and the Need for Status-Blind Hostile Work Environment Protection – Georgetown Law Journal, 2000 (first comprehensive law review article on workplace bullying, including a thorough discussion of IIED claims for workplace bullying-type behaviors).

Voices from the Cubicle: Protecting and Encouraging Private Employee Speech in the Post-Industrial WorkplaceBerkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 1998 (explains why private-sector employees have few free speech rights; slightly dated but basic legal discussion largely holds up today).

Human Dignity and American Employment Law – University of Richmond Law Review, 2009 (setting out the philosophical and public policy parameters for a system of employment law that safeguards human dignity).

Building a global society that embraces human dignity

I’ve just had the privilege of participating in the annual workshop of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) Network, a global gathering of scholars and practitioners devoted to advancing dignity and ending humiliation in our society. The workshop was held on Thursday and Friday at Teachers College of Columbia University.

Here’s how HumanDHS describes its mission:

We are a global transdisciplinary network and fellowship of concerned academics and practitioners. We wish to stimulate systemic change, globally and locally, to open space for dignity and mutual respect and esteem to take root and grow, thus ending humiliating practices and breaking cycles of humiliation throughout the world.

We suggest that a frame of cooperation and shared humility is necessary – not a mindset of humiliation – if we wish to build a better world, a world of equal dignity for all.

It’s not easy for me to capture to breadth and depth of this gathering. In programmatic terms, it consists of several roundtable discussions, dialogue sessions, and lectures (plus a dash of live musical entertainment) — in other words, on the surface it may appear to be just another conference. But what happens during that time is very special, a sharing of experiences, research, ideas, and actions ranging from trauma and healing in Romania to cultural issues implicated by English language instruction in Zanzibar. You can look at the overall agenda here.


The founding president of HumanDHS is Dr. Evelin Lindner, a physician, psychologist, and self-styled global citizen whose life mission is rooted in the displacement of her family during the ravages of the First and Second World Wars. Evelin speaks in visionary terms of what our society can become, and she’s ever conscious of how pain and trauma call upon us to embrace those ideals.

The director of HumanDHS is Dr. Linda Hartling, a psychologist and leading authority on relational-cultural theory who worked with renowned psychiatrist Jean Baker Miller. Linda’s work in identifying different types of workplace cultures is one of the most valuable framing concepts I’ve encountered in trying to grasp variations in organizational life.

Evelin and Linda would be quick to emphasize that HumanDHS is a large assemblage of people dedicated to both scholarship and action. Ideas, research, and theory are deeply respected. Concrete actions to advance positive individual and social change are celebrated.

World Dignity University

This year’s workshop also served as a sort of brainstorming session about a new HumanDHS initiative, the World Dignity University, described as follows:

The education branch of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) aims to increase our understanding of the negative consequences of humiliation and generate support of alternative approaches that promote human dignity. We have therefore begun in 2010 to form a World Dignity University.

We wish to disseminate the research findings related to dignity (with humiliation as its violation) to a wide variety of audiences. Thereby we wish to contribute to the capacity of people to build peaceful societies and be mindful of how humiliation may disrupt the social fabric and how social cohesion may be sustained by preventing humiliation from occurring.

Although still in the very early stages of development, World Dignity University will offer educational programs and a university press dedicated to addressing human dignity and humiliation. I’m tremendously excited about its potential. See the video clip above for more of Evelin’s and Linda’s ideas about this initiative.

Personal appreciation

My discovery of HumanDHS several years ago has been a genuine gift, made possible by the welcoming spirit of its pioneering core group. Today I serve on the HumanDHS global advisory board, at this year’s workshop I shared some of my work concerning workplace bullying and the practice of intellectual activism.

In addition, I join with New York Law School professor Michael Perlin — a leading authority on mental health law — in having strong connections to both the HumanDHS Network and the Therapeutic Jurisprudence movement, the latter of which has been a common topic on this blog.

Workplace bullying and families of targets

Workplace bullying often creates victims in addition to the target of the abuse. In particular, close family members often pay a price as well, as personal relationships are severely tested and sometimes fractured.

Many bullying targets, and those who have interviewed, counseled, and coached them, have known this for a long time. Now, emerging research is helping to build the evidence-based case. Here are two helpful pieces:

“Workplace Mobbing: Individual and Family Health Consequences”

Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry co-authored a 2007 piece, “Workplace Mobbing: Individual and Family Health Consequences,” Family Journal (2007) (abstract here; subscription necessary to access full article):

Family members of mobbing victims, of course, are significantly affected. . . . The victim’s preoccupation with the mobbing experience is likely to result in both obsessive preoccupation and general lack of communication or in a need to constantly talk about the mobbing as if it were the only aspect of the victim’s life. …If the victim is forced out of a job, the resulting loss of income causes financial stresses and the ensuing strain of shame and humiliation of not being the provider he or she once was.

Depending on the circumstances of a mobbing victim’s expulsion from the workplace, questions about reemployability may surface, affecting the entire family in a profound way. The victim’s shame and humiliation may then come to encompass other members of the family. Marriages in which one spouse was a mobbing victim will be affected at every level of the relationship.

“The Fallout from Abusive Supervision: an Examination of Subordinates and Their Partners”

Dawn Carlson and Merideth Ferguson, with Pamela Perrewe and Dwayne Whitten co-authored this newly published study, “The Fallout from Abusive Supervision: an Examination of Subordinates and Their Partners,” Personnel Psychology (2011) (link here; subscription necessary to access pdf):

(O)ur first theoretical contribution is that abusive supervision contributes to the experience of work-to-family conflict and relationship tension. Further, abusive supervision works through work-to-family conflict to contribute to relationship tension. Thus, our research contributes to abusive supervision research in demonstrating that these stressful events do not just affect subordinates while at work but also contribute to the experienced strain of the subordinate and his or her partner….

…Our second theoretical contribution is that the negative experiences from abuse cross over into the family domain of the partner as well as the family domain of the subordinate via the tension in the marital relationship.

…Consistent with displaced aggression theory, the tension and strain manifested in the marital relationship and relating to abusive supervision may indicate a subordinate’s need to take out the day’s frustrations on someone besides the supervisor….

Welcomed research

For readers who have experienced workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse, this research simply may be stating the obvious, and in somewhat subdued tones to boot. Indeed, the summarized findings of these studies cannot begin to capture the heartbreaking realities of individual stories that many targets and their family members can share.

Nevertheless, we need these studies to support the personal accounts. They help to validate our claim that workplace bullying has destructive ripple effects that extend well beyond its immediate targets.

Fancy internship vs. “summer job”?

Say you’re a young college student, weighing your options for the summer. Assuming you have some choice in the matter, what’s better preparation for a successful career, a summer internship with a prominent business or non-profit group, or a summer job filling shelves and running a cash register for a local supermarket?

A professor’s answer

As a university professor, my strong advice to most students would be to take the internship. Whether they are aiming for a plum job out of college, or perhaps vying for a spot in graduate or professional school, the internship will carry more weight than 10 weeks stocking shelves at the grocery store.

Indeed, it’s probably not even a close call.

But indulge me for a minute…

When I was in college some 30 years ago, most undergraduates did not expect to do a summer internship unless, perhaps, they were enrolled in a professional program such as nursing, engineering, or social work. For political science majors like me, summers typically meant doing some type of low-wage job working in a store, a factory, or the great outdoors.

I spent a couple of my summers working for a local drug store chain as a stock clerk. During an interim year between graduating from college and starting law school, I returned to the company in the midst of a terrible recession. The work involved unloading trucks, tagging merchandise and stocking shelves, and customer assistance. While I wouldn’t call the job backbreaking, at the end of a busy shift, I knew I had earned my meager wages.

I didn’t ignore the bells & whistles that might give a boost to my law school applications. I was a department editor of the college newspaper, a senator in the student government, and a volunteer for numerous political campaigns. But I understood the difference between a paying job and extracurricular activities.

What I learned

When I got to law school, I was wholly intimidated by the array of internships, fellowships, and similar opportunities that many of my classmates already sported on their resumes. I hasten to add that they didn’t flaunt these credentials; it simply was part of what they had done.

Looking back, I wish I would’ve been more appreciative of what I learned in my less glamorous minimum wage jobs. I gained a work ethic. I learned how to follow instructions and take directives. I learned how to treat a customer with respect. And I learned what it means to start at the bottom and to earn a pat on the back for the work I did.

I’m not claiming that someone can’t learn these things in an internship. And I concede that it sounds like I’m wallowing in nostalgia for a job that — in actuality — I regarded simply as a way to save money for college. But there’s something about a genuine, humble, entry-level job that teaches us some valuable lessons for the years to come.


Related post

Ross Perlin’s Intern Nation explores the internship phenomenon

Has tackling discrimination led to a more elitist society?

Has greater social equality fueled the creation of a more elitist society? Alexander Still, in a recent piece titled “The Paradox Of the New Elite” for the New York Times, raises this question:

IT’S a puzzle: one dispossessed group after another — blacks, women, Hispanics and gays — has been gradually accepted in the United States, granted equal rights and brought into the mainstream.

At the same time, in economic terms, the United States has gone from being a comparatively egalitarian society to one of the most unequal democracies in the world.

Many of us will assert vigorously that the U.S. has hardly reached the promised land when it comes to equal opportunity. Nevertheless, it would be hard to argue that substantial progress hasn’t been made.

Concentrated wealth and opportunity

During this time of social progress, we’ve also witnessed a tremendous concentration of wealth and opportunity through what some might call the American meritocracy. As Still explains:

But with educational attainment going increasingly to the children of the affluent and educated, we appear to be developing a self-perpetuating elite that reaps a greater and greater share of financial rewards. It is a hard-working elite, and more diverse than the old white male Anglo-Saxon establishment — but nonetheless claims a larger share of the national income than was the case 50 years ago, when blacks, Jews and women were largely shut out of powerful institutions.

So…Still raises a provocative question: Are the two trends — less discrimination and the rise of a supposed meritocracy — related or coincidental?

Class struggle, if not warfare

In a recent post, I wrote about Chief Justice Warren Burger’s 1971 judicial opinion in the case of Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971), where the Supreme Court struck down two job requirements — a high school diploma and passing scores on two aptitude tests — that had the effect of excluding most African American job applicants from consideration for higher paying jobs in the company. In addition to holding that the company’s hiring policy had discriminatory impact, the Court found that the company could not prove that the requirements were closely related to skills and abilities necessary for the jobs in question.

Here’s the relevant piece of Justice Burger’s opinion:

The facts of this case demonstrate the inadequacy of broad and general testing devices as well as the infirmity of using diplomas or degrees as fixed measures of capability. History is filled with examples of men and women who rendered highly effective performance without the conventional badges of accomplishment in terms of certificates, diplomas, or degrees. Diplomas and tests are useful servants, but Congress has mandated the common sense proposition that they are not to become masters of reality.

In that one paragraph, the Chief Justice brilliantly anticipated the craziness to come: High-stakes educational testing at multiple levels. The U.S. News & World Report rankings of colleges, universities, and graduate programs. Out-of-control anxieties over college admissions. Employer love affairs with graduates of elite institutions. Higher and higher settings of the credential bar to enter professions and obtain opportunities.

Higher education as an example

Don’t get me wrong: Discrimination still exists. Definitely.

But over the past decade I’ve seen these class-based patterns gaining a stronghold in my world of higher education. New (or resurgent) barriers of class and privilege are nudging aside the old ones of race, gender, and sexual orientation, especially when it comes to faculty recruitment. As our faculties are becoming somewhat more diverse in terms of “check-the-box” demographic categories, they are becoming even more homogeneous in terms of socio-economic and professional backgrounds, with heavy emphasis placed on holding higher degrees from a very small number of elite universities.

The implications for teaching and scholarship are enormous. Knowledge sharing and creation increasingly are being funneled through very narrow bands of life experiences and perspectives. It’s a problem that transcends standard-brand categories of diversity and political ideology, which may be one reason why it isn’t receiving much attention from within the academy.

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