Status is the posturing we do in order to be a member of a desirable group. Status in turn has implications for how valued resources such as money, prestige, power, and honor are distributed. In an ideal world, labor economists tell us that the more productive labor is, the more money, prestige, power, and honor will be acquired via the blind mechanisms of a marketplace that knows only productivity. But this ideology belies what many of us intuitively know. Status is not only dependent on productivity, but is obtained through who you associate with. These associations may be through family connections, club memberships, school networks, fraternity membership, or what college you attend. None of these connections are blindly entered into, irrespective of their utility in the marketplace.
Universities are at the intersection of this status paradox, between a market which sees only productivity, and a social world tuned into status distinctions based on relationships. As labor economists (and university administrators) assure us, what is learned at the university makes labor more productive in the marketplace. But, this is not the whole story. Because, universities are not only about the acquisition of skills valued in the marketplace. Attendance at a particular university is as a status marker determining how money, prestige, power, and honor are distributed irrespective of what skills an individual acquires. Were this not the case, no university administrator, parent, high school student, college counselor, or anyone else would pay any attention to the college status rankings published by US News and World Report. And for this reason, it is interesting to think of what implications this annual ritual has on how we inside America’s colleges and universities view each other. For example, people teaching and learning at dominant universities like UC Berkeley view their privileges and advantages as being the just reward in a blind competition in which their true honor is recognized. Those of us who teach at lower-ranked universities (in my case Chico State) disagree. We think our own honor is unjustly hidden.
Why Chico State Is Better than UC Berkeley: A Brief Rant
I will be blunt. When it comes to undergraduate education I think Chico State does a better job than UC Berkeley. Berkeley’s classroom teachers or what they call “discussion leaders” are often inexperienced graduate students, and not the big name (and well-paid) research professors who may be famous, but often are poor undergraduate teachers. Berkeley also asks less class attendance of students. For example, Berkeley’s Introductory Sociology course in Spring 2007 had 286 students who were lectured to for two hours per week, and a smaller graduate student-led discussion section which was one hour per week. Students received four hours credit for these three hours of instruction In contrast, Chico’s Introductory Sociology classes were three hours per week of lecture with 40 students, and Chico students received only three hours credit for this. As for Berkeley’s undergraduate students, they themselves are among the smartest and hardest working high school students in California. And, at the end of four years at (continued on Page 2)