Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Contested Terrain of Academic Program Reduction

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Contested Terrain of Academic Program Reduction

Article excerpt

which decisions are based, when quality and centrality are not operationalized to the satisfaction of groups of organizational participants, when decisions appear to have been reached privately by the judgments of a few administrators, or when the decisions seem arbitrary and capricious because they contradict widely cherished meritocratic assumptions that rewards and sanctions are allocated on the basis of academic performances.

7 The United States was at war in the Gulf at the time, so these terms of battle were especially timely.

8 One consequence of production function thinking was that a Academic program reduction has become a common retrenchment strategy for coping with the economic recession of the early 1990s, especially for public research universities struggling with the tripartite mission of service, teaching, and research |17, 20, 45, 48, 63, 66, 68~. One recent report estimates that up to two-thirds of American public research universities have faced substantial budget cuts in the 1991-92 academic year alone |36~. Additive solutions are no longer a viable approach to resolving conflicting views over what knowledge to include in a campus curriculum, as was previously done with women's studies and ethnic studies during the 1970s. In these times of fiscal constraint, long-existing academic programs with tenured faculty can be targeted for reduction or dismantling, as occurred in the 1980s with occasional retrenchment of semiprofessional schools such as nursing and education as well as departments such as geography and sociology |14, 46, 49, 52, 51, 59, 62, 83, 84, 96~.

That academic program reduction entails intraorganizational turmoil is an undisputed empirical finding.(1) However, the nature of that turmoil warrants further scholarly attention to account for ideological patterns among professional subgroups that may not be as apparent in times of abundance. Specifically, we need to identify and account for a confluence of interests and alignments that surface across campuses.

This article seeks to make a conceptual and empirical contribution by examining academic program reduction as a site of contested terrain, where campuses are seen as arenas of organizational struggle among groups to define and control professional work |46, 79, 80, 85~. The exploratory investigation draws on interview data from case studies of two public research universities, each the flagship campus in its state, where administrators proposed retrenchment as a primary strategy for adapting to substantial cutbacks in state appropriations (in the 10-15 percent range over two years, in the 20-25 percent range over three years.)(2) Semistructured interviews with forty faculty and twenty administrators captured how they, as both informants and respondents, made sense of organizational actors' interests in the budget crisis. Analyzing metaphorical imagery |56, 67, 77, 90~, I focus on explicit and implicit alignments, that is, with whom the interviewees aligned themselves to justify their location and to whom they appealed for legitimacy.(3)

Five major patterns of language, and thus groups, surfaced among organizational participants, each with distinctive appeals to external referents for legitimacy. First, executive administrators on campus spoke in a corporate language of alterations (for example, downsizing, consolidation) calling for swift, centralized decision making in order to adapt to mandates from the state and the market. Second, subordinate administrators (for example, deans) in the tier below the executive decision makers aligned themselves with the top tier's discourse of alterations and, in a language of rationalization, tried to make sense of the content and process of budget decisions. Third, faculty research stars aligned themselves with the administrative language of alterations and justified their own entrepreneurial orientations with the language of the meritocracy in the context of national science policy. …

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