This post will be short because the problem it concerns is not new, and the difficulty both of articulating and of destabilizing its comfortable embrace is profound.
To be an academic (and let it be underscored at once that not all academics are intellectuals, and not all intellectuals are academics) is have been accepted into a certain guild. This guild, of late, prides itself on its commitment to diversity. This commitment is good and worthy. Diversity is not my focus here but rather something like the internal limitations of diversity, which pertain to class.
Class is not an easy dynamic for Americans to absorb. (I say “dynamic” because the occupation of a certain socio-economic class is not a “thing”, it is not reified or unidimensional, but rather relational and multidimensional or intersectional.) One American ideology–absurdly assumed in the face of hourly empirical contradiction–is that Americans live in a classless society. Whether our democratic polity actually positions each citizen (and who counts as “citizen”?) as equal before the law and in the voting booth is fodder for another conversation, but clearly, in our mass- culture, image and media-driven civil society, no one is equal to anyone. Jockeying for greater status, distinction, and salary are the game, and not to play is by default to lose.
The competitive qualities of class formation under global capitalism also are fodder for a different conversation; I raise this depiction here only because I want you to imagine something. I want you to imagine that you have a colleague in your department who does not abide by bourgeois business-ethics demeanor as we academics all know it. This colleague doesn’t know the intricacies of Robert’s Rules and would probably scorn them. This colleague is not aware of discursive nuance, or how to defer properly to senior colleagues, how to indicate that delicate balance between fearing and resisting the Dean, and how to bury political commitments in the ever-shifting costumes of accepted buzzwords. This colleague frequently uses cuss words, doesn’t always use an inside voice, and doesn’t always dress in a way that signals professionalism. Then: imagine that the issue on the faculty agenda is (you guessed it) increasing diversity in the department.
This scenario is completely hypothetical. I draw it out to point out that bourgeois class propriety is an internal limit to academic diversity. It is assumed (though this assumption is neither theorized nor discussed) that professors should comport themselves with a professional decorum, discourse, and sensitivity to department hierarchies. In other words, professors should be good bourgeois denizens of academic territory. Not to do so is to upset the apple cart that quietly aligns academic habitus with capitalist habitus. Not to do so would be to open for discussion and theorization the elitism endemic to–indeed essential to the production of– a college education.
But in our age of the 1% vs the 99%, perhaps, just perhaps, it is time for us to face such assumptions head on and at least be brave enough to have a faculty conversation about them. Think about it: an Ivy-league educated and polished male academic can sexually harass and even rape female students over the course of decades and it doesn’t come to light (or its discovery doesn’t result in embarrassing consequences for him) because his habits mesh so well with expected class decorum. But a non-bourgeois scholar, with an accent, crass opinions, and clothes that make your eyebrows squinch…THIS scholar might be barred from an academic career, despite being universally beloved by the undergraduates, particulary undergraduates who come from (you guessed it) diverse demographics.