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1 Introduction Angela P. Harris and Carmen G. González As editors who are also women faculty of color, we produced this volume to provide a framework for understanding the contradictory culture of academia. On the one hand, the university champions meritocracy, encourages free expression and the search for truth, and prizes the creation of neutral and objective knowledge for the betterment of society—values that are supposed to make race and gender identities irrelevant. On the other hand, women of color too frequently find themselves “presumed incompetent” as scholars, teachers, and participants in academic governance. The essays collected in this volume examine the ways that higher education reflects and reproduces—yet also sometimes subverts—the social hierarchies that pervade American society, including race, gender, class, and sexuality. The United States continues to be a nation profoundly marked by racial, gender and economic inequality. The US has among the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world and the lowest rates of upward mobility (Massey 2008; Herz 2006; Scott and Leonhardt 2005; Keister 2000; Schor 1992). Notwithstanding the accomplishments of the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, white women and people of color continue to experience covert and unconscious bias in the job market that depresses earnings and restricts social mobility (Tsang and Dietz 2001; Castilla 2008; Lempert 2010). Recent studies confirm pervasive bias against people of color in employment, housing, credit, and consumer markets (Massey 2008; Pager and Shepherd 2008). Despite this evidence of persistent inequality, the belief in meritocracy and the narrative of upward mobility through hard work and self-sacrifice continue to serve as defining national myths (Delgado 2007; Hochschild 1996). Higher education, in particular, is widely regarded as the ticket to social advancement. Higher education exerts a powerful pull on the American imagination. Armed with studies showing that college graduates have far higher incomes than those who only hold a high school diploma or less, policy makers frequently exhort young people to earn a college degree (Gates Foundation 2010). Education and nondegree training programs are similarly urged upon older workers as a solution to unemployment and underemployment. And education is not only an individual advancement strategy. An educated, skilled workforce, we are told, is essential to sustain corporate investment in US research and development and prevent capital flight in a fully globalized economy. Thus, higher education is deemed essential in the United States for economic advancement and success, both individual and national (Lewin 2010b). Presumed incompetent 2 However, a large body of social science research indicates that higher education is not immune from the inequities that plague the rest of American society. Most of this research focuses on the experiences and outcomes of college and university students and indicates that Latino/a, African American, and Native American students have lower rates of college enrollment and retention than white students. The National Center for Education Statistics, for example, reports that in 2001–2, Asians/ Pacific Islanders had the highest six-year graduation rate, followed by whites, Hispanics , blacks, and American Indians/Alaska Natives. Approximately 67 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders, compared with 60 percent of whites, 48 percent of Hispanics , 42 percent of blacks, and 40 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives graduated with a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent within six years (National Center for Education Statistics 2010). Underrepresented students of color also report higher levels of stress and anxiety, caused partly by straitened economic circumstances and partly by the alienating environment of predominantly white institutions (Schwitzer et al. 1999). For many students from a working-class or impoverished background, whether they are students of color or not, college and graduate school is a mystifying —even hostile—place, full of opaque cultural codes and academic challenges for which they are poorly prepared (Terenzini, Cabrera, and Bernal 2001). Finally, for students of color, racism in the form of daily “microaggressions” is another constant concern (Solórzano, Ceja, and Yosso 2000). As psychologist Claude Steele’s research indicates, for instance, even the fear that one will be judged according to extant stereotypes can depress academic performance (Steele 1997). Although full-time, tenure-track faculty at US colleges and universities have been less well studied, at first glance they would seem to have little to complain about. These academic workers have reached the top of the privilege and status hierarchy. Although the ivory tower itself is under assault from the same economic and social pressures that have made so many American jobs increasingly precarious—an issue...


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