Thursday, July 26, 2018

The act of evaluation, majoritarian hegemony, and the double standards of meritocracy

In academia, the act of evaluation often works to reproduce the hegemonic formation.

The hegemony of a particular way of thought, of a particular racial group, of a particular religious group etc. can be maintained through strategies of evaluation based on double standards disguised as meritocracy.

So two different standards are applied to academics as they are evaluated.

Let's take the category of race.

Say in a particular culture, the majority race X is given privilege across all positions and ranks, with entirely different standards applied for members of X as compared to members of other races.

Movement to the top is dictated by standards that are often arbitrary. Various positions of decision-making are held by members of X, all the way from College level positions to positions at the level of University leadership.

The racist ideas held by members of X are circulated as normative, obfuscating the ways in which these ideas then privilege members of X within institutional settings.

More importantly however, opaque processes incorporated into evaluative mechanisms enable the implementation and reproduction of very different standards. This culture of using very different standards keeps intact majoritarian hegemony. Essential to reproducing this hegemonic formation are the invisibility of the processes of evaluation and the arbitrary nature of implementing standards.

You might for instance have a member of X make Associate Professor with tenure with five publications, none of which are peer reviewed. The same Associate Professor, let's name her Shine for this hypothetical scenario, then might make Full Professor with 13 publications, none of which are peer reviewed. In fact if you looked closely at her CV, you would see that Shine happened to publish most of her journal articles in the very special issues she edited.

Members of other races Y and Z are told at the same time that they need between 20 and 30 peer reviewed publications in top journals for them to make tenure and be promoted. And Shine is one of the most vocal proponents of these standards.

In a stroke of irony, the Associate Professor Shine, who made tenure and was promoted without a single peer reviewed publication, then goes on to become the gatekeeper and the implementer of standards, announcing how these members of other races Y & Z are not qualified enough. The newly promoted Shine is seen saying every new Assistant Professor needs to come in with 8 publications in top journals. That she has no experience herself with the peer review process is not a factor. That she is entirely unqualified to carry out any evaluation is not considered in the picture. When questioned about these arbitrary standards, she simply responds, she is doing her job as a gatekeeper of meritocracy. With the standards for what make up merit being entirely invisible. Shine goes on to become an administrative leader within the system, now rewarded for implementing standards.

The story of Shine is also the story of the sham of evaluation.

Take another instance, you might have a lecturer in another hypothetical scenario, let's call her Tissy, who consistently performs poorly on her teaching. She got the job because someone in the upper administration knew her sister through some elite girl school network. She spends her time gossiping and spreading rumours about colleagues, putting down colleagues, with little attention to the classroom. Tissy is quick to gossip how this and that colleague is entirely unproductive, herself not having produced a single peer reviewed journal article since her PhD. Students complain about her meanness, about how she says mean things about other staff on her WhatsApp group with students. Each time however, during her performance review, she receives a bonus in spite of her poor performance. And quickly, she is promoted to the next level.

In a stroke of irony, Tissy spends most of her time gossiping about how the lecturers of the other races Y and Z got in through the backdoor. Her comments about these other lecturers are often harsh and she finds none of them fit for the job. She is all too quick to evaluate the incompetence of others.

Both Shine and Tissy thrive in a system that is fundamentally biased, based on categories of race in spite of the performance of meritocracy. In fact, meritocracy is the very tool of discrimination. The sham of merit systematically erases the absence of competence among the racially privileged.

The structures of evaluation are deployed under the language of meritocracy. Yet, the ways in which these structures are constituted in everyday life of academia depict the everyday influences of racism on evaluative process. The double standards of meritocracy keep intact the hegemony of the majority race within the academic structure. This hegemony then perpetuates the myth that members of X race are the only ones capable of theorizing and producing knowledge.

Members of Y and Z races continue to struggle as they chase the 20 and 30 publication goals, and still are not good enough.

Although in this example I worked through the category of race, the same framework can be applied to hegemony of religion, ideas, etc. 

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