"incompetent scholars"

Glenn Stone (stone@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Thu, 3 Mar 1994 08:50:15 EST

You will remember from Intro to Statistics that things can be
classified or measured along various scales, viz. dichotomous,
nominal, ordinal, interval, and so on. The choice of scale for a
variable, and the possible values it may take on, is often largely a
matter of rhetoric.

I have noticed a common rhetorical tactic in debates on affirmative
action is to turn to a dichotomy for categorizing abilities, with the
distinction being "competent" vs. "incompetent":

>categories of people created by years of exclusion, discrimination, by their
>own collective resistance. These groups are much more cultural constructs
>than biological ones. Different communities have different experiences and
>those experiences and the viewpoints which emerge from those experiences
>should enrich anthropology. I believe most anthropologists recognize that
>such a multiplicity of viewpoints strengthens anthropology, despite the
>discomfort which may be the temporary result. We are not talking about
>hiring incompetent scholars, which I do not believe is a major problem. The
>real question, I suggest, is whether an all male, all white, often middle
>class faculty can adequately represent these multiple viewpoints. Given the

That is, the hiring mechanism must screen out the "incompetent", but
then should turn to other criteria.

My experiences in searches suggests that the process doesn't, can't,
and shouldn't work that way. The cv's of the "incompetent" and
inappropriate are usually culled immediately, and then the real
process begins, of evaluating the scholar's work and potential -- what
sorts of training does s/he have, what questions is s/he asking, what
progress has been made in getting answers, how convincing and
insightful are the answers, how well does this fit in with our present
strengths and future directions,how strong will s/he be in front of a
large intro class, what will s/he offer grad students, and so on.

It's not a matter of "competent" vs "incompetent". In fact, if hiring
*was* based on a simple dichotomy, given the ferocious competition for
even the least desirable jobs in anthropology departments these days,
the distinction would be between "outstanding" and "not outstanding".

Glenn Davis Stone BITNET: stone@cunixf
Columbia University INTERNET: stone@columbia.edu