Over on the Sociology Job Market Forum, people use SLAC to mean both small liberal arts college and selective liberal arts college. I have never heard somebody say the latter in person, probably because saying that makes you sound like an asshole (add it to the list of terms I don’t like…). Of course, using the word “selective” when explaining what I mean by SLAC has also never made much sense because my school is not particularly selective. If it were, I’m pretty sure that the admissions office would select students who could pay a higher percentage of the sticker price. Next year, this will change.
From my current outsider’s perspective, there are some clear advantages to working at a school where the “selective” label actually applies. According to the venerable US News rankings, my current institution is ranked roughly 100 positions below the institution that recently hired me. At the most basic level, this means that my new institution has a lot more financial resources. These resources translate into a higher salary and lower teaching load (3-2). I am told that my new institution also has something called “raises,” where one’s salary increases in some accordance with the cost of living. I have only experienced this phenomenon once at my current institution, so I’m not entirely sure how it works, but it sounds like something that is nice to have.
Financial stability is nice, but selectivity also affects other aspects of the institution. I anticipate that the average ability level of my students will be higher and that the range of abilities will be lower. These are good things, since one of my constant struggles has been figuring out how to challenge the students at the top of my classes without losing the students at the bottom. It also means, though, that my own workload will be higher because of the increased expectations for course readings and assignments.
The biggest downside to this selectivity, though, is less student diversity in terms of race and social class. If the diversity of my students’ abilities has been one of the worst aspects of my current job, the diversity of their backgrounds has been one of the best. I’ve found that sociological concepts are given added weight when students regularly interact with those from backgrounds other than their own. Class discussions also benefit from a diversity of experiences. Unfortunately, in addition to reduced racial diversity, my sense is that the social class diversity that does exist at my new institution is less visible as students try to “pass” as wealthier than they are in an attempt to meet the standards of their peers.
Despite the fact that as a white, middle-class male (actually, I’m probably upper-middle-class now…) I decrease diversity wherever I go, I hope to work with others on my new campus to increase diversity among students, faculty, and staff. I also hope that, as a sociologist, I can help others see that bringing in students (and faculty and staff) from different backgrounds also requires that you welcome and support those students once they arrive.
I once said that applying for a different job helped me focus on how I could make my current job more like the mythical “ideal” position. While taking a different job has helped me move closer in some areas, it is clear that I have some ground to make up in others.
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