Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Retrenchment in the 1980s: The Politics of Prestige and Gender

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Retrenchment in the 1980s: The Politics of Prestige and Gender

Article excerpt

In terms of profile within institutions, the fields that were retrenched probably had the greatest presence of women faculty, although many of these were off track. Moreover, gender figured foremost among the social characteristics of students in retrenched fields. In education, humanities, fine arts, social sciences, and home economics, the majority of students were female, with the exception of the social sciences, at 43.8 percent women |60, table 224~. In sum, retrenched fields were those that were most likely to provide career possibilities for women in academe and in the professions.

Market arguments often are used to explain the disparities of In this article I use data of American Association of University Professors (AAUP) cases dealing with retrenchment reported in Academe between 1980-90. I try to decipher the processes and patterns that characterize retrenchment by asking who controls the process, what does the process look like, what fields and faculty are cut, and why? The theory that guides my interpretation is diverse but related: it is neo-Marxian, postmodernist, and feminist. I interpret patterns of faculty retrenchment in higher education as strongly shaped by the same class-based political/economic conflicts that are restructuring the broader economy. However, I see neo-Marxian theory as not dealing seriously with the professional class and professional labor, a drawback in a period marked by fluidity and chaos for persons claiming middle- or professional-class statuses |4, 35, 82~. I think postmodernists who have roots in the neo-Marxian tradition are a better guide to the uncharted social and economic spaces in which we currently live. They have a keen eye for uncertainty, contradiction, and the social construction of everyday life, especially in the lives of intellectuals, and are not committed to particular endings for any social scripts, let alone to grand narratives |39, 44, 79~. Finally, I think all social and economic theory must be leavened with feminist theory to account for the pervasive, subtle, and surprising gender differences that continue to mark society, postmodern or not |36, 44~.

My general line of argument is that the particular phenomenon of faculty retrenchment in postsecondary education can be understood fully only through reference to broad patterns of redistribution of wealth and power in the wider society. After 1972, higher education was increasingly defined as a state welfare rather than a production function. Access was conceived of as unlimited, making higher education no more than an entitlement program, another state regulated service, one that absorbed increasing amounts of the several states' budgets |50~. As a welfare function, higher education became vulnerable to heavy cutting in the 1980s as states experienced fiscal crisis. Generally, university managers -- presidents, chancellors, provosts, deans -- responded to fiscal constraint in the same ways that corporate CEOs responded to declines in productivity and foreign competition: they began reorganizing internally, concentrating resources on the divisions they expected to be most profitable.

The reallocation of resources within the university is beginning to restructure the professional labor force. However, not all faculty and fields in the 1980s were treated similarly. University policy makers, confronted with choices about what to cut, made decisions similar to those made by politicians and policy makers participating in the conservative ethos of the Reagan and Bush administrations: they privileged faculty and fields able to position themselves close to the market. They tried to emphasize more strongly universities' production functions. Faculty and fields unable or unsuccessful in claiming a position close to the market were more likely to be cut. Although position of faculty and field in relation to market sounds like the result of rational choice, I argue that this position is socially constructed by faculty and administrators, sometimes with little relation to free markets. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.