In an era when expansion is no longer the obvious solution for dealing with curricular change in research universities, the question of how and why institutions allocate resources among departments, the organizational units that deliver curricula, should become increasingly important. Resource constraint has caused widespread restructuring in public research universities, but few studies examine its effects on departments, although the broad goals of restructuring are to redesign institutions to lower costs, achieve greater student learning, give more attention to teaching, and contribute to regional economic development (Guskin, 1994; Gumport & Pusser, 1996; Massey & Zemsky, 1994), all efforts that depend on departmental cooperation. Institutional resource allocation affects departments in a number of ways. The resources available to departments shape who is hired, how much and whom they teach. Quality of faculty and work load, in turn, influence research norms and productivity. Changes in patterns of resour ce allocation among departments are critical to understanding the shape of knowledge in the twenty-first century.
In the 1980s, prompted by periodic state and institutional budget crises, researchers began to study internal resource allocation among departments within colleges and universities (Ashar, 1987; Ashar & Shapiro, 1990; Hackman, 1985; Melchiori, 1982; Morgan, 1983). But in the 1990s, questions about internal resource allocation among departments generally were put in the broader context of restructuring. This shift meant that attention turned away from departments as units that created and delivered particular kinds of knowledge and curricula efficiently and effectively and toward individual faculty performance on productivity measures as well as individual faculty response to institutional incentives (Layzell, 1996; Levin, 1991). If departments were considered at all, they were treated as generic departments that reacted to institutional and professional incentives rather than as departments organized around concrete kinds of knowledge, peopled by faculty with similar characteristics who trained students for specific careers (Fairweather, 1996; Massy & Wilger, 1992; Massy & Zemsky, 1994). Costing studies were the exceptions, but these used econometric models to identify abstract cost structures among departments aggregated in broad fields of study, a process that reified rather than explained patterns of difference in institutional investment (Brinkman, 1990; Dundar & Lewis, 1994).
Along with a relatively small number of researchers using critical theory and feminist perspectives, we see this shift from department to individual, or, conversely, broad field of study (science and engineering, humanities, social sciences) as the unit of analysis, as masking increasing stratification between departments and within universities (Bellas, 1994, 1997; Gumport, 1993; Kerlin & Dunlap, 1993; McElrath, 1992; Slaughter, 1993; Volk, 1995). Critical researchers view faculty and the curricula they deliver as organized in departments that powerfully mediate individual faculty performance. Faculty delivering some curricula may not receive the same resources as faculty associated with other curricula, just as faculty in departments preparing students for certain careers may not be given the same support as faculty in other, more favored departments. Department, rather than individual faculty performance, may be a powerful explanatory variable. Faculty located in underresourced, overextended departments m ay not be able to respond fully to the complex array of institutional incentives and disincentives that characterize multimission public research universities. We think that understanding which departments receive resources and why is critical to understanding the far-reaching reorganization and revaluing of knowledge that is presently occurring.
To explore our questions about resource allocation among departments, we reviewed the several theories that purport to explain variance in allocation. …