The Shuttering of Educational Studies: Neoliberalism, the Political Spectacle, and Social Injustice at a "World Class" University

By Dunn, Alyssa Hadley; Faison, Morgan Zacheya-Jewel | Educational Foundations, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

The Shuttering of Educational Studies: Neoliberalism, the Political Spectacle, and Social Injustice at a "World Class" University


Dunn, Alyssa Hadley, Faison, Morgan Zacheya-Jewel, Educational Foundations


The University is a critical institution or it is nothing.

--Stuart Hall

Higher education represents one of the most important spheres in which the battle for democracy is currently being waged.

--Henry Giroux

Late on a Friday afternoon in September 2012, faculty, students, and alumni of the Division of Educational Studies (DES) at Emory University learned, by email, that their Division was one of several slated for closure. The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, of which DES was a member, issued a statement about Emory's "new directions" and their pursuit of "eminence." A pursuit that did not include DES (Dean's letter, September 14, 2012, p. 1). According to faculty, this announcement came "totally out of the blue." After all, the Division had existed for over ninety years; it had produced hundreds of teachers and scholars, particularly women of color, who had successful careers in schools and universities around the country; and it was a vibrant community of junior and senior scholars with international recognition for their research and scholarly activity.

Yet, despite the disbelief and shock felt in the DES community, the closure of a program that focused on educational foundations and social justice was not new. Across the country, departments and programs in educational studies and foundations faced similar budget cuts or closures. In one month alone, before this manuscript was submitted, the following program cuts were announced: the elementary education Masters program at the University of Illinois-Chicago, the Masters program in social justice and activism at Loyola University-Chicago, and over 20 programs related to education at the University of Akron, as part of a proposed 55-program cut. Like DES, these programs exist at the nexus of university power politics and neoliberalism. This is despite the fact that Emory and other universities claim to be bastions of humanistic inquiry, of justice, and of community engagement.

In this article, we examine the closure of DES as an example of the ways that the neoliberalization of higher education contributes to the extinction of educational foundations programs. What happened at Emory is symptomatic of the impact that neoliberalism has had (and will have) on educational studies. With such departments goes a commitment to understanding the social, cultural, historical, philosophical, and political underpinnings of PK-12 education and, indeed, of higher education itself. We argue that neoliberalism in higher education is advanced by the political spectacle, or the ways in which onstage rhetoric differs from backstage actions (Edelman, 1970), and we do this through a detailed explanation of the DES closure. We also see this article as a way to share the voices of those affected by the shuttering of DES. We have chosen to tell their stories in narrative form, rather than through a traditional qualitative analysis, as we believe their commentary truly speaks for itself. Finally, we offer a brief discussion of why the Emory case matters and what implications this has for the future of educational foundations and teacher education.

This story is both professionally disconcerting and personally troubling to us. As a recent alumna (Alyssa) and a current doctoral student (Morgan), we are deeply troubled by both what occurred and how it occurred. Professionally, we sought to examine what it means to be in a field that is threatened with extinction, just as we are coming of age in the academy. In sections below, we share our personal stories related to the closure, but here, we wish to acknowledge that we are intricately connected to DES's past, present, and future. As insiders in this case, we sought to make the "familiar strange" by speaking with others with different perspectives on and relationships to DES. This variety of stories--from students, faculty, and alumni--are gathered here in an attempt to provide as complete a picture as possible of what it felt like "on the ground" after the closure was announced. …

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