Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Does Meritocracy Stall Social Mobility, Entrench Undeserving Elites, And Undermine Higher Education?

Chronicle of Higher Education, Does Meritocracy Stall Social Mobility, Entrench an Undeserving Elite, and Undermine Trust in Higher Education?:

That seems to be the emerging bipartisan consensus. “On the evidence we have, the meritocratic ideal ends up being just as undemocratic as the old emphasis on inheritance and tradition,” writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. “Our supposedly meritocratic system is nothing but a long con,” declares Alanna Schubach, a college-admissions coach, in Jacobin. “Merit itself has become a counterfeit virtue, a false idol,” argues Daniel Markovits, a professor of law at Yale University, in a new book, The Meritocracy Trap (Penguin Press). “And meritocracy — formerly benevolent and just — has become what it was invented to combat. A mechanism for the concentration and dynastic transmission of wealth and privilege across generations.”

An attack on meritocracy is invariably an attack on higher education, where meritocrats get sorted and credentialed. So the turn against meritocracy prompts big questions. Has meritocracy in fact failed? Is it time for universities to rethink the definition of merit, and, more broadly, higher education’s role in American life? Are meritocracy’s critics too sweeping in their indictment? Is it still — flaws and all — the fairest way to organize society? If we do away with it, what comes next?

We put these questions to 10 scholars and administrators from across the academy. Here are their responses.

  • Anastasia Berg (Cambridge), The Case for Admissions Lotteries
  • Leon Botstein (Bard), Meritocracy Isn’t Broken. Assessment Is.
  • Jason Brennan (Georgetown), Meritocracy Is All We Have Time For
  • Agnes Callard (Chicago), What We Talk About When We Talk About Meritocracy
  • Thomas Chatterton Williams (New York Times), Meritocracy’s Condescending Critics
  • Walter Kimbrough (Dillard), The Price of Merit
  • Daniel Markovits (Yale; Author, The Meritocracy Trap), The Opposite of Opportunity: Meritocracy Has All Of Us Trapped in a System of Despair
  • Jennifer Morton (City College of New York), The Worm at the Heart of Meritocracy
  • Lauren Schandevel (WeThePeople Michigan), Let’s End the Charade
  • Caitlin Zaloom (NYU), What Failure Feels Like: Middle Class Families and the Hidden Injuries of Meritocracy

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


"Does Meritocracy Stall Social Mobility, Entrench Undeserving Elites, And Undermine Higher Education?"

Yes. Have we forgotten the .71 correlation coefficient between USNWR law school rank and the % of grads who find jobs AS LAWYERS after graduation?

Also maybe look up the history of the word "meritocracy." Hint: it was coined to describe a rigid caste system in a dystopian satire.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Oct 2, 2019 10:54:33 AM

Perhaps they aren't defining meritocracy properly? Merit has nothing to do with credentials.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Oct 3, 2019 3:54:03 AM

"Entrench an Undeserving Elite"

Thanks for the laugh to start my day. Let's see, what is academia? Isn't it supposed to be a meritocratic elite? Particularly a law professor at Yale? If we're now supposed to be against meritocracy, what are we supposed to be for? Dumbocracy? Should Yale Law start hiring Joe the Plumber? I wonder if some of these elites ever read what they write and then look in the mirror?

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Oct 3, 2019 7:34:40 AM