Monday, December 8, 2014

Navigating Diversity Efforts in STEM through an Equity-Oriented Framework

by Christopher B. Newman, Assistant Professor at University of San Diego 

As a scholar who focuses a majority of my research on outcomes, inequities, and experiences of students of color in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields, I have often rationalized the importance of my scholarship with the argument that expanding the STEM pathways to a racially diverse citizenry will inevitable contribute to maintaining U.S. global competitiveness because diverse perspectives contribute to scientific and technological innovations. Concurrently, I have argued the increased diversity in STEM was also a national imperative rooted in historical and systemic inequities. Stated simply, African Americans and other people of color have been systematically diverted from high skilled and high wage labor markets through policy, rhetoric, sabotage, influence, and coercion (see for example Fouché, 2003; James; 1989; Slaton, 2010; Wharton, 1992). These structural barriers have contributed to the persisting gaps in the educational and labor market outcomes for people of color in the United States. Therefore, I assert the intentional actions to obstruct the educational attainment, labor market prospects, and entrepreneurial success of people of color in STEM fields can only be overcome with intentional and sustained efforts of corporations, educational institutions, federal and state policies, and other non-governmental entities.

The recently published book “Falling Behind? Boom, Bust & the Global Race for Scientific Talent” by Michael S. Teitelbaum grabbed headlines with the proclamation that the rationale put forward by corporations, legislators, and the scientific community over the past decade regarding the United States’ waning global competitiveness in STEM was based upon an uncritical analysis of data and trends. One example of how Teitelbaum (2014) scrutinizes the arguments for the decrease in global dominance is by arguing the statistical data on degree completion may be comparing “apples to oranges” as some countries report degrees and certificates in technical areas that would likely not be counted the same way in the United States. Other points of concern focus on the alleged intentional exaggeration by corporations in citing a limited labor force in STEM fields in order to pressure the federal government to issue H1-B visas. Teitelbaum alleges that corporations are pushing for these visas in order to recruit lower wageworkers from aboard. Additionally, Teitelbaum indentifies a cyclical pattern of waxing and waning interest in supporting STEM fields with immense financial resources pumped into STEM fields through federal research grants and other appropriations. This influx of funding increases the production of degrees in STEM, which saturates the market with a well qualified talent pool. Consequently, job opportunities are limited in the field and citizens begin to find other areas for employment prospects. This decrease in enthusiasm for STEM eventually leads to “shortages” and the cycle begins again. Ultimately, Tietelbaum calls for an objective assessment committee, among other things, to evaluate claims of career trends and shortages in STEM fields.

With serious concern over the validity of the global competitiveness argument, I fear the equity rationale is less well received given the prevalent notions of “meritocracy” that have stunted considerable progress (Baez, 2006; Killgore, 2009; Liu, 2010). Nine states (CA, WA, FL, MI, CO, NE, AZ, NH, OK) have legislated Anti-Affirmative Action policies and when cases are heard before the United States Supreme Court it seems the justification for Affirmative Action policies are more narrowly tailored. The movement towards a meritocratic system has made it increasingly difficult in public higher education institutions to support race-based initiatives designed to work against systemic impediments. It should be noted that some private institutions are feeling the pressure and/or stigma from wealthy alumni donors discontinue race-based initiatives for fear of devaluing institutional prestige. In this climate, I often wonder how students of color from urban school districts are supposed to compete for the coveted seats in higher education institutions when their schools are more likely to be considerably lower resourced than their suburban White counterparts? Moreover, what is the responsibility of higher education institutions? Should colleges and universities sit passively by with the expectation that the most meritorious applicants will rise to the top?

In my research, I have paid particular attention to public research universities with records of success in graduating African Americans with degrees in engineering and computer science. After conducting a multiple case study of two campuses (one in the Midwest and one in the Southeast), I found these institutions took an active role in engaging with communities of color through summer science camps for elementary and high school students and through pre-college outreach programs during the academic year.  What I found most striking was the institutional commitment to multiculturalism and racial diversity. Academic clubs with students from all different racial backgrounds participated in outreach efforts, faculty members provided access to their research laboratories to high school students, and the college of engineering also sponsored the various summer camps. These activities created an “equity-oriented” campus culture in STEM fields (Jayakumar & Museus, 2012). Through intentional and sustained action for over 20 years at the Midwestern campus the outcomes of such efforts garnered an estimated 50% undergraduate enrollment yield rate for pre-college outreach participants from the African American Community. The Dean at the college of engineering and other faculty and administrators I interviewed felt these outreach endeavors were an investment in the future of their institution.

Future research needs to move beyond blaming the student and look to higher education institutions’ role in the learning environment created. Too often research focuses on individual attributes of students, which in many ways may take a meritocratic framework with the assumption that the individual is solely responsible for their educational outcomes. Estela Bensimon, Professor of Higher Education and Co-Director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California, in her work on the equity scorecard recognizes the complexity of inequities and guides leaders to see racial achievement gaps as a problem of practice. This approach emphasizes what institutions are doing to contribute to or hinder the success of students of color. Moving forward, more research on students of color in STEM should include in the analyses institutional level support structures that may contribute to students’ successes and challenges.

Baez, B. (2006). Merit and difference. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 996-1016.

Fouché, R. (2003). Black inventors in the age of segregation: Granville T. Woods, Lewis
H. Latimer & Shelby J. Davidson. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

James, P. P. (1989). The real McCoy: African-American invention and innovation,
1619-1930. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Jayakumar, U. M., & Museus, S. D. (2012). Mapping the intersection of campus cultures and equitable outcomes among racially diverse student populations. In S. D. Museus & U. M. Jayakumar (Eds.) Creating campus cultures: Fostering success among racially diverse student populations. New York: Routledge.

Killgore, L. (2009). Merit and competition in selective college admissions. The Review of Higher Education, 32(4), 469-488.

Liu, A. (2011). Unraveling the myth of meritocracy within the context of US higher education. The International Journal of Higher Education Research, 62(4), 383-397.

Slaton, A. E. (2010). Race, rigor, and selectivity in U.S. engineering: The history of an occupational color line. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Teitelbaum, M. S. (2014). Falling behind? Boom, bust & the global race for scientific talent. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wharton, D. E. (1992). A struggle worthy of note: The engineering and technological education of Black Americans. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

AERA Division J Official Statement On the Recent Deaths of Forty-Three College Students from Ayotzinapa’s Normal School in Guerrero, Mexico

Student activism has a long legacy of forging social change across the Americas. Like many other noted episodes in this history of activism, college students in Ayotzinapa’s Normal School recently traveled to Chilpancigo, Mexico—capital of the Mexican state of Guerrero—to peacefully protest the increasing university fees and imposed governmental reforms. Forty-three college students from Ayotzinapa’s Normal School formed part of a larger national campaign that sought to commemorate the many college students who were killed by Mexican national forces in 1968. Ironically, rather than having their protests heard, local and state authorities responded with violence, military retaliation, and blatant excessive force. Not only did the local government trample their rights to protest but they also violated their human rights, resulting in the immediate death of six and the disappearance of forty-three (who were all recently confirmed deceased).

The retaliation from the Mexican government sent a message that social activism and mobilization will not be tolerated. As educators, we have an obligation to speak out against injustices where student rights are being violated in such an inhumane manner. We are all global citizens and cannot pretend to ignore the devastation that our fellow students have endured. We should not sit idly when these students acted courageously in exercising their right to peacefully protest and have their voices heard. These young men and women were bravely speaking out against injustice, standing up for a better future for their respective communities, and exercising their right to peacefully assemble. Their deaths should not have a chilling effect on those young and old among us who demand greater accountability from our public officials and our respective governments.
May their souls rest in peace, and may their spirit of social activism live on as a solemn reminder and a renewed legacy to future generations of college student activists. 

If you would like to act, please see the following link.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

How are we preparing graduate students to do educational research focused on broader systems perspectives?

by Lucy A. LePeau, Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington 

Last November, AERA Division J Vice President Dr. Adrianna Kezar started a dialogue about “thinking about needed research.” As a pre-tenure scholar, I was encouraged reading her post and subsequent posts from Drs. Gildersleeve and Museus calling on researchers to cultivate the intersections in their research and scholarship to make systemic change. Dr. Cox and Dr. Hart also drew attention to the diminishing conference proposals for AERA Division J section Faculty, Curriculum, and Teaching. They all pointed to the abundance of important research focused on students from developmental and outcomes oriented outcomes. Yet, I found myself asking two resounding questions after reading their posts: (1) How do we as educational researchers need to innovate in teaching and socializing graduate students in order to design future research to meet these pressing objectives? and (2) What would graduate education in higher education and related programs (e.g. educational policy and leadership, higher education and student affairs, organizational change) look like if faculty designed aspects of the curriculum as coalition-building movements?

In higher education, graduate students are engaged in coursework that often bifurcates issues in higher education at individual or organizational levels. We need our students to develop deep analytic skills to ground their approaches to scholarly inquiry; depth in foundational content and methodological rigor is important. However, Dr. Gildersleeve called on scholars to use strategies when developing a research agenda that included: looking at policy concerns related to a population of interest, identifying organizational complexities related to the issue, and looking at existing data/implications to address findings that one cannot conclude from individual level data. Faculty, therefore, might employ similar tactics when engaging our students in developing research agendas from systems perspectives. I offer three suggestions for continuing this line of thinking and discussion.

Challenging Scholarly Isolation Within the Classroom:
How might a class be designed to cultivate an intersection? Within undergraduate education, there is a push for interdisciplinary learning in the classroom. Some problem-based learning includes faculty members who approach a topic from more than one discipline co-teach particular classes. I suggest that more classes in higher education break down silos to link across classes for students. Faculty members are trained to develop expertise in particular scholarly domains. For example, some educational researchers study students at the individual level whereas others focus on policy implications. Rather than looking to the student to synthesize and integrate their learning across domains when taking comprehensive exams or formulating dissertation topics, what if a course was taught by two faculty members who maintained their passion and area of emphasis from a particular domain but worked with students to make connections among individual, organizational, and policy levels? Practically speaking, I acknowledge limitations to this idea due to factors such as faculty members needing to demonstrate their teaching design through course evaluations and scheduling challenges due to efficiently putting together semester course loads for faculty. However, I wonder how educational researchers might share how they challenge scholarly isolation in the classroom beyond inviting guest speakers or guest tweeting with students.

Promoting More Opportunities for Learning by Doing:
Some of my formative research experiences occurred with mentors in graduate school who invited me to research with them. It is common practice for graduate students to assume research assistantships and/or volunteer for research teams as part of their education. How are we as educational researchers sharing pedagogy for conducting research that tries to take a systems perspective? I am currently working on a duoethnographic study with a doctoral student, J.T. Snipes, who participated on a research team with me. We are both chronicling the learning that occurred in this experience from our individual and shared perspectives. The act of researching our shared process is challenging me to integrate my teaching and research agenda in a different way and for J.T. to learn more about how he sees himself as a scholar.

Including Graduate Students in Coalition Building:
Dr. Museus outlined a thoughtful example of his own work with the Asian American and Pacific Islander Research Coalition (ARC) as a venue for young scholars to contribute to scholarship focused on AAPI students and communities. How are we developing and reporting about coalition-building within graduate curriculum? One of my colleagues Dr. Danielle DeSawal is serving on the ACPA Presidential Task Force on Digital Technology in Student Affairs. She’s teaching a social media and advising course where students are collecting data for a research project and sharing those results with the digital task force. Therefore, an intentional connection is built between a research agenda connecting scholarship and practice. There are examples of this type of work occurring in higher education. How might scholars strategically collect information about these projects and then work with administrators, policy-makers, and students to translate the ideas into exemplar practices? A coalition is ideal because voices from different sectors invested in addressing pressing issues in higher education are able to discuss whether or not research findings have staying power for policy and practice.

I recognize that there are multiple innovations occurring in graduate education in higher education. I merely alluded to a few examples. It is important that we share those narratives at research conferences like AERA! These connections educational researchers make between teaching and research can propel systems approaches to scholarship.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Choosing a career path post-PhD: What do you value?

by Kimberly A. Griffin, Associate Professor at the University of Maryland

This semester, I am teaching my program’s professional seminar for new doctoral students. In addition to introducing these students to a broad survey of the “hot topics” and major areas of study in student affairs and higher education, I’m mindful of the importance of their development as students, researchers, and well-rounded scholars.  But I wonder whether this course, or the others in our curriculum for that matter, really create opportunities for them to think about what and how they’d like to contribute to our field in their own careers.  When do graduate students, in our field and beyond, really have structured opportunities to critically reflect on who they would like to be and what they would like to do?  How do we go beyond panels that present career options and information about various professions to help students make good choices about the next steps they would like to take post-PhD?

For many, career development in the context of a PhD program means training to enter the academy as a faculty member.  However, I have been reading a lot these days about how hard it is for PhDs to get a tenure line faculty job given the current market, increase in the number of adjunct positions, and tight institutional budgets.  In the 1980s, it was a bit easier for PhDs interested in academia to find faculty positions; however, the percentage of graduates in academic positions has declined over time.  In our own field, there are only so many higher education and student affairs graduate programs, and the number of PhDs produced far exceeds the number of available faculty positions posted in a given year.  Schillebeeckx, Maricque, and Lewis highlight the rapid increase in the number of doctorates awarded each year in science and engineering, which is roughly 12 times greater than the number of new faculty positions created.  At the March 2014 annual meeting of the American Historical Association, multiple panels encouraged conversation about the need for a more “malleable PhD” given the imbalance between the number of historians and available faculty positions.

Career development that focuses on academic careers may be inappropriate for another reason: students are expressing less interest in faculty work.  While reports suggest that there are still far more qualified applicants than positions available on most college and university campuses, there is increased attention being focused on the number of graduate students who find academic life unappealing are exploring “alternative” careers, sometimes fairly unrelated to their scholarly training.  While this may not initially appear to be problematic given the lack of available faculty positions, these trends raise critical questions about student career decision-making and the nature of graduate training.  If graduate education has been critiqued for its shortcomings in preparing students for academic careers, what kind of preparation, guidance, and support is being offered for work in other fields, which may in fact be more the norm than “alternative”?

Based on my recent work, the answer would be “not much.” Over the past few years, my research has focused on the career development in graduate and postdoctoral training. I have been working in collaboration with Dr. Kenneth Gibbs Jr on a project that examines patterns of career decision-making for a diverse group of doctoral recipients.  We entered the project with a simple question: What factors and forces throughout their training influence how PhDs make decisions about their careers?

Our findings have been surprising, and I know that I have learned a great deal about graduate training, and how we can do a better job of supporting students as they consider their career options.  As we have analyzed the narratives we have collected through focus groups and over 60 individual interviews, we have begun to realize the importance of values in career decision-making and interest.  Values represented what mattered most to our participants; what makes someone passionate about their work and represented the kinds of contributions they wanted to make. We reported that it was ultimately a person’s professional values, not the number of publications someone had, time to degree, or whether or not they had a good mentor, that ultimately determined whether or not they wanted to be professors.

Some participants had wonderful mentors and strong publication records, but felt academia did not allow them to do research that was relevant to people’s lives in a direct enough way or allowed them to make enough of a difference.  Individuals who placed more value on applied research and making immediate change were more likely to express low levels of interest in the academy.  Conversely, some had difficult experiences with mentors and professors and pretty challenging training experiences overall.  However, if they valued the mentoring and training of students in a more inclusive way or felt like being a professor was the only way for them to engage in academic discovery with autonomy and freedom, academia was still their preference.  We do not interpret this to mean that mentoring and climate issues do not matter in terms of retention and the quality of students’ training experiences; they matter a great deal.  However, when it came to articulating career interests and commitments, values appeared to hold great importance.    

This all may seem very simple, but this work has led me to some broader questions about whether and how graduate students think about their career development.  Some spend a lot of time pursuing what they think is the “right” career – the one that is the most popular or lucrative.  Or perhaps the one that will attract the most attention, provide the best opportunity for life-work balance, or will make their parents or mentors proud.  Even more troubling, our research suggests there are many students who rarely have structured opportunities to think about what they value in relation to their work lives and careers at all.  They usually come to the end of their training with more knowledge about the various career options available, but no greater level of clarity in what they would actually like to do.   Therefore, it seems very important that we begin to think not only about what careers students would like to have when they graduate from their doctoral programs and how to apply for those positions, but what they value.

Students can start the process of figuring out what they value by asking themselves some key questions:
1) At the end of your career, what would you ideally have liked to have contributed?
2) What work stimulates you, and what could you do without?
3) In what environments do you work best (structured, flexible, in an office, at home)?
4) How much would you like to engage with students, and in what capacity?
5) What stages of the research and writing process do you enjoy, and what parts present significant challenges for you?

Once students are more clear on their values and interests in a general sense, the process can shift to determining which careers would be the best fit.  Career development strategies often focus on panels and workshops which present a variety of fields and career options; however, faculty, administrators, and institutional leaders must also think differently about what this kind of programming can and should look like.  For example, Fatimah Williams Castro insists that institutions, faculty, and students must take a more active role in learning about non-academic careers, the skills they require, what is needed to make a smooth transition into a workplace distinct from academe, and what networks can be of most use to them in that process.   Further, while it is certainly true that there are career options that are more viable for some fields than others, the work of helping students make meaning of their career interests and values is a responsibility that can be shared across departments, colleges, and institutions more generally.  Structured opportunities for students to engage in this work with support and guidance may create new means for students to develop interests into career goals that reflect their strengths and values.

A PhD offers preparation for careers far beyond academia, and it is important to have well trained scholars who have the ability to understand problems, think critically, conduct research, and generate strategies and solutions.  Yet, how often do we, as a field, intentionally train students to enter the field of their choice and be successful? As higher education researchers, leaders, and policymakers, it is important for members of Division J to understand these trends, examining and addressing them with both solid strategies and scholarship.

Monday, September 8, 2014

How Do We Know When Educational Research Matters?

by Amelia Marcetti Topper, doctoral candidate in Arizona State University’s Education Policy and Evaluation program; Adai Tefera, Fulton Research Specialist for Arizona State University’s edXchange initiative; and, Gustavo E. Fischman, professor in Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and director of the edXchange initiative. 

Unless you spent this spring sequestered in your office fervidly transforming your research results into acceptable scholarly languages on the off chance they will be published in some High Impact Factor journal, you are probably quite familiar with the academic debate following Nicholas Kristof’s lamentation over the state of the (university) professoriate. According to Kristof, and unfortunately many people both inside and outside academe’s Ivory Tower, academics have been accused of disconnecting themselves from public life and everyday reality, opting to while away their days in monastic solitude. Their marginalization and irrelevance has somehow both been done to them and is also their fault; academia’s very own Stockholm syndrome driven by the “publish or perish” tenure system and the overspecialization of academic disciplines (or so it goes).

Many scholars, in particular, have taken Kristof to task for his simplistic portrayal of academia as “a kingdom of isolation,” to quote the lyrics of Disney’s latest musical earworm. Commentaries in Inside Higher Ed by Allison Kimmich, Gwendolyn Beetham, and Lee Skallerup Bessette have highlighted the resource challenges institutions face in promoting engagement, the particular challenges that women and other marginalized groups confront in having their voices taken seriously, and the often discounted contribution of adjunct faculty and faculty at less-selective two- and four-year institutions. Likewise, another piece by Laura S. Logan and Stephanie Furrer highlighted the important, overlooked work that faculty do in classrooms with their students, often connecting research and reality in very real and impactful ways – sentiments shared by Carol Emberton in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  These articles, along with further rebuttals by professor/blogger Corey Robin, professor/Washington Post commentator Erik Voeten, and Gustavo Fischman and Adai Tefera’s Teachers College Record commentary, among others, speak to a tension over the role of faculty and universities in society that can be traced back to Aristotle, Plato, and Immanuel Kant.

Along similar lines, Adrianna Kezar’s recent blog post asks us in the higher education research community to consider our relationship to the academic community, and the ways in which we – as researchers, as scholars – serve and support our colleagues and students. We would like to add to her thoughts on this topic the importance of finding new ways to collaborate and communicate with both academics (at all levels and in all disciplines) and non-academics (in all positions of society) alike, which is particularly appropriate as we embark on a new academic year.

Namely, we are suggesting to move this debate about the role of the academic as a public intellectual one step forward, from whether or not institutionally based researchers are engaging in the dissemination and wider discussion of their research to how we can recognize and assess the diverse ways in which research, and other types of knowledge, are being produced and used. As the commentators mentioned above passionately (and persuasively) argue, the approximately 1.5 million tenure and non-tenure track faculty members teaching and researching at the nation’s 4,726 public and private colleges and universities contribute to public life in multiple and varied ways that often go unsung – or, at least, unmeasured by metrics of research quality that are limited to article “importance” (i.e., Journal Impact Factor [JIF]). While we are writing from the perspective of faculty, researchers, and students of education and education policy at the largest public research university in the country, what we propose here is relevant across disciplines and institutional contexts. Namely, we argue that it is not just a question of whether our research is intelligible (although that is extremely important), it is also a question of how research can be better accessed, whom it matters to and why, and how it is being discussed, used, and eventually applied.

Knowledge mobilization (KM) is a term used to describe strategies that seek to connect research, policy, and practice by bringing formal (e.g., empirical research) and informal (e.g., personal experience) knowledge to a broader audience. The irony of tackling our culture of arcane unintelligibility with such an academic term is not lost on us. We grant you an eye roll, or two, and invite you to keep reading. For more than 50 years this concept (as it goes by other names in other fields) aims to increase access, impact, and usability of research through multi-dimensional, networked, and interactive approaches that engage a wide range of stakeholders in a open, on-going dialogue (not just an article in leading inter/national newspaper or a TV guest spot). While this description in itself might warrant an exasperated sigh, here are two specific examples of what KM strategies look like in practice:

Accessibility of content. One of the largest barriers to the sharing of research knowledge are the exorbitant article fees required by many scholarly journals. Open access policies, the use of Open Access Repositories, and Open Access journals, such as the journals we work on – Current Issues in Education, Education Review, and Education Policy Analysis Archives – provide free, public access to articles, book reviews, commentaries, and video commentaries. Such approaches offer university-sponsored journals a way to make research more accessible and impactful to the wider public, especially when they have a strong social media presence.

Better assessment of “impact.” Access to content needs to be complemented with more comprehensive ways of determining how research knowledge is used and, optimistically, to what extent it makes a difference in how people understand and navigate the world. In the humanities and social sciences, scholarly “impact” has traditionally been narrowly interpreted through bibliometrics – e.g., citation counts and (now) article downloads. While the limitations of using number of cites as an exclusive measure of impact are well known, researchers often seen social media outlets (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) as a virtual popularity contest instead of alternative and valid ways to understand the who and how of research impact. Nevertheless, more and more scholars are using these outlets to reach a wider audience beyond the regular “customers” of research journals in education (for Kristof, these would be the very same professors who only see the light of day while in transport to their next obscure academic conference). Altmetrics are one strategy for obtaining a firmer, and (we argue) fairer, understanding of the impact of educational research, as explained by Juan Pablo Alperin: “Altmetrics are captured from the Web (i.e., social media, blogs, Wikipedia), and thus are (somewhat) more democratic – one reader, one vote. More precisely: one reader, several potential votes. Unlike citations, which can only be counted if the citing document is in a select group of journals, altmetrics are counted regardless of where in the world they are originated, with one important consequence: they open the possibility of tracking impact in new segments, both within and beyond the academy.”

We believe that KM strategies, such as the ones that we mention in this article, as well as others, are a viable, substantial improvement and complement to the hierarchical, unimodal model traditionally used to communicate research findings. Researchers at Arizona State University’s new edXchange initiative, for which we also contribute to, are trying to flatten the world of educational research dissemination and use by exploring different ways to embrace KM strategies. edXchange’s goal of mobilizing research knowledge for the common good requires making educational research more accessible by fostering exchanges (e.g., dialogues, visits, consultations, and interactions) between scholars, educators, policymakers, journalists, social entrepreneurs, civic organizations, and concerned individuals to develop solutions that answer today's most pressing educational challenges.

Although the initiative is only a year old, it has already begun the work of engaging in interdisciplinary research-based collaborations to mobilize research relevant knowledge through: a) its Saturday Scholars series, which features TED Talk-style presentations aimed at fostering dialogue with non-specialized audiences around the results of research projects conducted by middle school students, teachers, superintendents and foundation leaders, and scholars during the academic year; b) the creation of the Scholarly Communications Group, to support the journals sponsored by ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and complementing the publication of research articles with video-commentaries, translations, and altmetrics for assessing impact; and, c) with support from the Spencer Foundation, over the next year edXchange will be studying how and when tenure and non-tenure track faculty members at three research universities engage in knowledge mobilization strategies.

As those of use who work in higher education know, faculty members at all types of institutions have been contributing to the intellectual life of the country for more than 400 years through their engagement with students, collaborations and partnerships with their local communities, and the sharing of their research in both academic and nonacademic settings and venues. KM strategies and initiatives, like the ones explored in this commentary, can help us capture and better share with the public the many ways college and university faculty members connect and collaborate with their local, regional, and national communities.

Amelia Marcetti Topper is a doctoral candidate in Arizona State University’s Education Policy and Evaluation program, specializing in higher education. Adai Tefera is a Fulton Research Specialist for Arizona State University’s edXchange initiative, specializing in knowledge mobilization and equity in educational policy. Gustavo E. Fischman is a professor in Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and director of the edXchange initiative. edXchange welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with students, teachers, schools, foundations, and communities on educational research. Share your ideas with us at, @edxchange.

Monday, September 1, 2014

What to Do about a “Color-Blind” Supreme Court?

by Liliana M. Garces, Assistant Professor in the Higher Education Program and Research Associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University

In the aftermath of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, colleges and universities face an important challenge: How can they further racial diversity in their student bodies and address racial inequities with policies that can only indirectly consider race? Legal decisions and state laws over the last few years have increasingly restricted the tools institutions of higher learning use to help assemble a racially and ethnically diverse student body and address gaps in educational opportunity. However, my research and that of other scholars suggest that furthering racial diversity in higher education requires directly tackling the ways in which race matters in shaping educational opportunities and students’ experiences. Not doing so risks further deepening educational and social inequities.

In Fisher v. University of Texas (2013), the most recent challenge to an affirmative action policy at the University of Texas, Austin, the Court reaffirmed a compelling interest in the educational benefits of diversity.  Simultaneously, the Court also emphasized the very limited ways in which race can be used to attain this goal. In a separate challenge to a state ballot measure that banned affirmative action in Michigan (Proposal 2), Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Against Affirmative Action (2014), the Court reversed a lower court ruling that found the law unconstitutional, leaving in place bans in 7 other states (California, Washington, Florida, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma).

In the aftermath of these cases, the practice of considering race in admissions remains constitutional under federal law, when not otherwise banned by state law. However, the approach used to evaluate admissions practices in the legal arena has shifted, with important consequences for institutional policies and practices.  Rather than understanding race-conscious policies as a way to further diversity or to address persistent racial inequality, the various opinions in Schuette demonstrated that the majority of the justices on the Court view race-conscious admissions policies as “preferences” that embody racial discrimination, not policies that address it. This perspective equates any classifications on the basis of race with harmful racial discrimination. The use of race in admissions policies, therefore, is viewed as highly suspect, and, as the Court articulated in Fisher, must require the consideration of all other possible “race-neutral” alternatives before race is considered.

These legal developments reinforce what scholars have termed a “color-blind” approach to admissions and higher education policy, with important implications for strategies intended to address inequities. As scholars who focus on racial inequity have argued, a color-blind approach runs the risk of obscuring the ways in which race continues to matter in shaping students’ experiences and educational opportunities—ways that are extensively documented by social science research. A color-blind perspective also ignores important links, as established by social science research, between historical legacies of racial exclusion and contemporary reasons for racial inequality—legacies that institutions need to consider and address in order to expand access and opportunity for students of color.

The implications of these legal developments are significant and raise questions: How are institutions responding to a legal environment that asks for “diversity” work to be done within a color-blind approach? Do these institutional responses address, or risk further deepening, racial inequalities?

A substantial and growing body of evidence has already documented the detrimental consequences of a “color-blind” approach in education policy.  After bans on affirmative action passed in various states, the enrollment of underrepresented students of color declined across a number of important education sectors, including selective colleges, graduate fields of study, law schools, and medical schools at public postsecondary institutions in these states.  In addition to declines in the racial/ethnic diversity of the student body, a study I presented to a higher education audience found that these restrictive laws have had a negative influence on broader efforts to support and maintain racial diversity on campus. As described by key administrators, faculty, and staff leaders at the University of Michigan, Proposal 2 effectively silenced conversations around race and racism, rendering efforts around racial diversity less visible and making individuals feel less empowered to undertake efforts to support racial diversity at the university.

And even if institutions are not directly limited in considering race in admissions, they might still change their policies or practices in response to legal rulings like Fisher or Schuette to avoid the threat of litigation or preempt a ban. Such responses may further exacerbate educational inequities.

Colleges and universities, however, need not accept the illusion of color-blindness. Faced with demographic changes and realities of racial and ethnic inequities that threaten the health of our democracy and success as a nation, administrators and policymakers have an imperative to craft policies that serve the interests of all members of U.S. society. Doing so requires addressing the real ways in which race operates to shape educational access and success.

A starting point includes re-examining conventional ideas of qualification and merit in postsecondary admissions decisions. In an analysis of these legal developments, I’ve argued that legal decisions have contributed to a false dichotomy between our understandings of diversity and educational quality, as well as our understandings of efforts that promote diversity with those that address racial equity. Institutions have the power, through their policies and practices, to reframe the ways these concepts are perceived and enacted.  We’ve come to view racial diversity as coming at the expense of educational quality, when, in fact, educational quality may require it.

Another important area involves implementing policies that acknowledge the dynamic nature of diversity.  When educators or lawyers talk about diversity in postsecondary education and the related concept of “critical mass,” they talk about it primarily in terms of the number, or percentage, of students of color on a college campus. As my colleague Uma Jayakumar and I have suggested, achieving the educational benefits of diversity depends on a symbiotic relationship between the environment and students. While the number of students of color plays a significant role in shaping a campus climate and culture, the campus climate and culture, in turn, influence whether students feel welcome to attend the institution and their experiences while on campus.  This more dynamic understanding of diversity can help us answer the question in the legal debate as to when an institution has achieved a “critical mass” of students of color, move away from discussions of critical mass as a one-size-fits-all concept, and generate the evidence necessary to justify race-conscious policies in the legal arena and beyond.

Justice Sotomayor’s lengthy and powerful dissent in Schuette, joined by Justice Ginsburg, asked for members of the judiciary to directly address race as consequential in societal inequality:

As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter.

In the spirit of her call, universities and social science researchers should not sit back and turn a blind eye to the extensive body of work demonstrating the harmful consequences of a nominally color-blind approach to educational policy.  With increased communication and collaborations among researchers, administrators, and legal counsel, institutions can re-envision admissions policies to more effectively capture students’ potential and prepare all students to fully participate in our multiracial society.

A condensed version of this argument will appear in: Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education (2014). The elusive quest for civil rights in education: Evidence-based perspectives from leading scholars on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

Follow Liliana Garces at Twitter at @garceslm

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Organization, administration, and leadership: Addressing the relevance gap in higher education research

by Jay R. Dee, Associate Professor of Higher Education, University of Massachusetts Boston

The preparation of college and university leaders is a primary function of most graduate programs in higher education.  While some students in our programs seek to become policy analysts, researchers, or faculty members, most aspire to positions of senior administrative leadership.  The curricula in our programs largely reflect those career aspirations.  According to research by the Council for the Advancement of Higher Education Programs (CAHEP), nearly every graduate program in higher education has at least one course in organization, administration, and leadership (Freeman, Hagedorn, Goodchild, & Wright, 2014).

Given that historical function, it is surprising how little research is conducted on issues of higher education organization, administration, and leadership.  For the 2014 AERA annual meeting, the “organization, management, and leadership” section received the fewest proposals in all of Division J.  This is not a recent development.  In 1983, Victor Vroom, the highly-regarded management scholar from Yale, noted that “there is a paucity of research on leadership in higher education… remarkably little research has been conducted on the institutions of higher education in which most of the researchers [of leadership] are located” (p. 367).

The lack of research on organization, administration, and leadership may contribute to a relevance gap for the field of higher education.  Without a more robust literature, we have little to contribute that can inform the day-to-day work lives of provosts, deans, and chairs.  Again, this is not a new problem.  In 1985, George Keller criticized the field of higher education for failing to produce research that is relevant to leaders.  “College presidents and deans do not consult the [higher education] literature or use it… If the research in higher education ended, it would scarcely be missed” (p. 7).  Similarly, in focus groups with practitioners and researchers, Kezar (2000) found a gap between the research that is produced and the needs of practicing administrators.  The gap between research and practice, in fact, has become a common theme of ASHE presidential addresses – see, for example, Terenzini (1996) and Eisemann (2009).

The consequences of this relevance gap are quite serious for both higher education researchers and practitioners.  As Museus (2014) argued in his blog post, if our research does not reach practitioners, then it cannot transform and improve higher education.  Our research could generate significant findings that have no impact – a discouraging outcome for any field of study.  For practitioners, the consequences are also detrimental.  Because college and university leaders lack a robust literature that is tailored to their unique needs, they are likely to look elsewhere for solutions to the challenges that confront their institutions.  They may turn to consultants who offer quick fixes, only to find that these pre-packaged solutions are often a poor fit with the cultures and capacities of colleges and universities.  The frequently-encountered pattern is that the quick fix fails, administrators and faculty blame each other for the inadequate results, trust and collegiality are damaged, and the institution is no better off than before the “fix” was implemented.

In this essay, I provide a brief analysis of the state of higher education research, and offer some possible reasons why the field fails to produce a sufficient amount of research on organizational, administrative, and leadership issues. Then, I turn to the more pragmatic issue of what we can do to rectify the problem.

Light on the meso

Higher education research has tended to focus on macro- and micro-level issues.  At the macro level, researchers have used institutional theory and academic capitalism as frames to analyze the external forces that are reshaping higher education institutions.  At the micro level, the field has produced a voluminous literature on college student experiences and outcomes.  These patterns of research, however, have left a hole in the middle of our field of study.  We lack sufficient research at the meso-level, exactly the level at which administrative practice occurs.  This argument is similar to Kezar’s (2013) blog post, in which she called for higher education research to take a broader systems perspective.  To achieve that systems perspective, the field of higher education needs to produce sufficient research at all three levels of analysis: macro, micro, and meso.

Why are higher education researchers not pursuing studies of organization, administration, and leadership?  Access to study sites and participants might be a problem.  College presidents and other senior administrators might be difficult to schedule for interviews.  Trustees may not want to “go on the record” with their views.  Lack of funding is likely another contributing factor.  Multi-site organizational research is expensive, and foundations and government agencies are not keen to support it financially.  A further reason might pertain to perceptions about such research.  Some scholars might view research in this area as implicitly endorsing top-down administrative practices, rather than giving voice to less powerful groups.  Research on organization, administration, and leadership, however, can encourage administrators to critically question their own assumptions.  The growing use of critical theory in the field of management demonstrates how scholars can use organizational studies to examine marginalization and promote authentic forms of organizational participation (Grey & Willmott, 2002; Zald, 2002).  In our own field, Estela Bensimon’s (2004) research with the Diversity Scorecard clearly demonstrates how organizational research can improve experiences and outcomes for students from underrepresented communities.

Paths not pursued

One potential remedy to this problem is to reinvigorate previously-productive, but currently dormant strands of research.  Our field has an aggravating tendency to pick up a topic with robust energy, only to drop it a few years later.  We have many strands of research that were elegantly executed, but then left to stand on their own, without further elaboration or critique.  Kezar and Eckel (2002a, 2002b), for example, broke important new ground in the study of organizational change.  But where have been the follow-up studies to elaborate or critique their findings?  Similarly, Tierney and colleagues conducted significant research on governance and decision making (Tierney & Minor, 2003; Tierney & Lechuga, 2004).  I have not seen any new research that updates or expands upon those publications.  At one point, we had an extensive literature on deans and department chairs, thanks to Walt Gmelch and Mimi Wolverton, among others (Gmelch, 2004; Wolverton & Gmelch, 2002).  But that line of inquiry seems to have disappeared.  Researchers can re-engage these topics, and frame new studies that update and expand our understanding of issues relevant to practice.

In addition to reinvigorating previously pursued paths of research, our field needs to engage more extensively with practitioners to identify issues that need further investigation.  Fortunately, our graduate programs are populated with many mid-career practitioners.  We need to listen to our students, so that we, as researchers, can understand the complexities and practical challenges that characterize their work.  Also, we need to encourage our students to engage in research that is relevant to their own concerns, rather than steer them toward completing a component of our own research agenda.  We can also connect more extensively with presidents, provosts, and deans by attending the conferences in which they participate, such as the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) or the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), or by volunteering to serve on a governance committee so that we can interact with them directly in the work setting.

Furthermore, we can team-up with scholars in the field of management.  They may also have an interest in studying colleges and universities as organizations and could be effective collaborators.  We can attend conferences in their field and incorporate new theoretical frameworks into the study of higher education institutions.

As a final recommendation, I suggest that we keep foremost in our minds the audiences for which we are writing.  In his 1985 article, George Keller described higher education research as a “literature without an audience” (p. 8).  If we seek to produce relevant research, then we should consider the needs and priorities of the audience for which we are writing, and that consideration needs to occur when we are conceptualizing and designing our studies, not after we already have the findings.  My very first ASHE proposal was rejected (and rightly so), because, as the reviewers noted, I had not thoroughly explained the implications of my study for practice.  In fact, I had not thought much at all about the practical relevance of that study, except when I struggled to add a couple sentences at the end of my proposal.  Clearly, I had engaged the process backward.  The needs and priorities of our audience should shape the types of scholarship that we conduct.  We should not simply tack-on to our manuscripts a brief section on “implications for practice” and believe that we have satisfied our obligation for producing relevant scholarship.  Instead, we should clarify exactly for whom our research is intended, while we are conceptualizing and designing our studies.

Higher education is an applied field of study, and our research should seek to impact practice.  Our field has a solid base of research at the macro and micro levels, but is insufficient at the meso (organizational) level, thus producing a relevance gap between the research that we produce and the needs of practitioners.  The current leadership challenges for practitioners are daunting, and higher education researchers should not neglect them.  If our goal is to transform and improve higher education, then we need to engage more extensively in research on organization, administration, and leadership.


Bensimon, E. (2004). The diversity scorecard: A learning approach to institutional change. Change, 36 (1), 45-52.

Eisenmann, L. (2009). ASHE presidential address, 2008. Practicing what I teach: Does a career as a higher education professor inform my work as a dean? Review of Higher Education, 32 (4), 515-535.

Freeman, S., Hagedorn, L., Goodchild, L., & Wright, D. (2014). Advancing higher education as a field of study. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Gmelch, W. (2004). The department chair’s balancing acts. In W. Gmelch & J. Schuh (Eds.), The life cycle of a department chair. New Directions for Higher Education, No. 126 (pp. 69-84). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Grey, C., & Willmott, H. (2002). Contexts of critical management studies. Organization, 9 (3), 411-418.

Keller, G. (1985). Trees without fruit: The problem with research about higher education. Change, 17 (1), 7-10.

Kezar, A. (2000). Higher education research at the millennium: Still trees without fruit? Review of Higher Education, 23(4), 443-468.

Kezar, A. (2013, November 7). Thinking about needed research. Community of Higher Ed Scholars, blog of AERA Division J.  

Kezar, A., & Eckel, P. (2002a). The effects of institutional culture on change strategies in higher education: Universal principles or culturally responsive concepts. Journal of Higher Education, 73 (4), 443-460.

Kezar, A., & Eckel, P. (2002b). Examining the institutional transformation process: The importance of sensemaking, inter-related strategies, and balance. Research in Higher Education, 43 (4), 295-328.

Museus, S. (2014, February 4). (Re)envisioning a collective agenda focused on systems and transformation in higher education. Community of Higher Ed Scholars, blog of AERA Division J.

Terenzini, P. (1996). ASHE presidential address, 1995. Rediscovering roots: Public policy and higher education research. Review of Higher Education, 20 (1), 5-13.

Tierney, W., & Lechuga, V. (Eds.) (2004). Restructuring shared governance in higher education. New Directions for Higher Education, No. 127. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Tierney, W., & Minor, J. (2003). Challenges for governance: A national report. Los Angeles, CA: Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, University of Southern California.

Vroom, V. (1983). Leaders and leadership in academe. Review of Higher Education, 6 (4), 367-386.

Wolverton, M., & Gmelch, W. (2002). The college dean: Leading from within. Phoenix, AZ: ACE/Oryx Press.

Zald, M. (2002). Spinning disciplines: Critical management studies in the context of the transformation of management education. Organization, 9 (3), 365-385.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Importance of Community to Our Work

Part of the Division J Post-Conference Download series

by Adrianna Kezar, AERA Division J Vice President and Professor, University of Southern California, Rossier School of Education

In Ann Austin’s comments when receiving her research award from Division J this year she talked about the importance of community as a part of her academic career.  She made me think deeply about the importance of community to our work.  And the concept of community is certainly not without complication, because community isn’t always perfect, inviting, or safe.  But when it works, as it clearly has in Ann’s career, it can be so enriching.  It made me think about how we could be more supportive as a community, because my experiences certainly have been mixed.  But I try to think about those moments when community has been demonstrated to me and what I can learn from those experiences.

As I thought back, Yvonna Lincoln epitomized the notion of the best we should strive to be or a vision of a strong community.  My own experiences with Yvonna might help illustrate this point.  Imagine your first time presenting at a research conference, a paper that you’ve written on your own -- not with your advisor --  and your discussant is Yvonna Lincoln  and the rest of the panel is filled with well-established qualitative scholars like John Creswell and Norman Denzin.  While I was terrified, Yvonna provided excellent feedback, praised the paper publicly, and by the end John and Norman were asking for copies of my paper.  But it wasn’t just that Yvonna  liked my work -- she engaged it deeply and provided me with incredibly detailed feedback.

I next encountered her at AERA-J emerging scholars workshop where she presented about her career and doing research.   Once again, she was so giving of her time and, in addition to presenting at the preconference, she stayed around to answer questions and informally speak with us.  Yvonna makes a conscious effort to get involved and volunteer to spend time with early career colleagues and to offer advice.  She makes herself available to everyone, not just graduate students who are connected to a well-known adviser in the field.

Then I’ve noticed Yvonna sitting in sessions and asking questions to help stimulate feedback and provide guidance for scholars.  When walking around the conference this year, I saw Yvonna talking to graduate students and early career scholars in one spot or another.  When I have asked Yvonna to review a paper as an editor, she always says yes.  And of course, she was at the business meeting this year to support Ann Austin when she received the research award.  Yvonna is present to give back to the community at all stages of one’s career.

In recent years, I’ve wondered where my senior colleagues are and what they feel their commitment to community is.  Laura Perna’s and Paul Umbach’s recent study showed that senior researchers are not reviewing proposals and providing feedback for more junior scholars.  I notice that there are few senior people attending sessions to help provide feedback to scholars.  And increasingly volunteers are more junior and it’s hard to get a balance on committees of both junior and senior colleagues.  I hear from journal editors that they can’t get senior scholars to review articles.  So, what’s happening?

That’s one of the things that I reflected on at this year’s AERA meeting.  How many people are going to have experiences like Ann, where she felt there was a strong academic community to support her --  that included of course her own peers, but also more senior scholars that helped guide her through and provide her with support at multiple levels.  We know mentoring as a community is important to make people successful, but I do wonder what kind of commitment exists for that type of mentoring and support.  And there is a strong pull to dash off with a couple of your closest friends and takes a moment to catch up.   There isn’t much time to do that kind of replenishing work for ourselves.  But I do think it’s a question of how we balance more our commitments to the community as well as replenishing our own well-being.  And maybe you don’t have the energy at the conference, but then maybe you need to review proposals and provide needed feedback to junior scholars or say yes to reviewing articles for journals even when you feel the time is pressed.  And we have to think about supporting and creating community beyond our own individual students and consider the broader community – epitomized by Yvonna Lincoln.

But I also thought about community in another way at this conference.  My father passed away two weeks ago, right before the conference.  Clearly I was devastated and yet I had a lot of responsibility in front of me.  I reached out to a few of the division volunteers to let them know, just in case I might need some backup or support.  The notes of support and the way people extended themselves to pick up extra work just in case it’s needed was truly exceptional.  Many people came up to offer their condolences.  Some of these people know me well, but others hardly know me at all.  I felt true warmth, kindness, and gratitude for people’s authentic sense of care.  It reminded me that community at its best -- like Ann pointed out -- can make all the difference in the world.

So as I reflect on this year’s AERA,  I want us to think about -- as a community -- how we can move closer to being a community that supports and mentors  individuals throughout their careers and throughout life travails.

This post is part of our Post-Conference Download series. Over the weeks following the 2014 Annual Meeting, we will feature several reflections on the conference.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Equity Questions in Global Contexts

by Rebecca Ropers-Huilman, Professor and Chair of the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development in the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development

I begin writing this blog from a courtyard in Lund, Sweden, where I am attending a conference on gender equity in higher education. I traveled here from Vienna, where I am spending a semester learning about the ways in which gender equity policies are implemented and contested in Austrian universities. My conversations with European colleagues during the last several months as well as at this conference bring into greater clarity critical questions that are necessary for those of us around the world to engage in if we are interested in making real progress in equity.

Who is doing work toward gender equity and how is it valued?

I have learned that in Austria, the vast majority of people doing equity work are women. In fact, when I requested an interview with a senior university leader who had women’s advancement explicitly noted as one of his job responsibilities, I was referred by his (female) administrative assistant to one of his (female) colleagues. During the interview, it was clear that his colleague was the driving force for gender equity at the university. His name did not come up. Nor did anyone else refer me to any men when I asked for recommendations of people who could help me understand how gender equity policies were being implemented in Austrian universities. If gender equity is seen only as a “women’s problem,” I think our efforts will be stymied.

I have also learned that women often do work associated with gender equity without recognition or compensation. While there are exceptions to this lack of recognition, it is clear that equity work is not seen as an institutional good worth rewarding in tangible ways. I recall Ben Baez’s (2000) work exploring the benefits faculty of color experienced as they engaged in institutional service, though their capacity to do the research that the institution would value most highly was limited by time spent on service. Shelly Park’s (1996) work, which questioned “Why doesn’t women’s work count?”, also comes to mind. In both cases, these scholars urged that the institution take seriously service/leadership work by women and people of color given its importance to institutional functioning.

In Austria, even though policies are quite clear about what is expected in relation to gender equity, it strikes me that the question of who does the work and how is it rewarded is still an important one. The preponderance of women doing equity work is, of course, also true in the United States. In both contexts, I would ask why gender equity, if it is a priority, is not valued more explicitly within our reward structures and expected to be done by women and men.

How should educational leaders select and balance quantitative and qualitative measures of gender equity?

Many of the reports on gender equity around the world focus on numbers. For example, we know that women are the majority of undergraduates in most nations (UNESCO, 2012). We also know that the percentage of women decreases as the positional power increases, including at the levels of professor or rector/president. In the Nordic countries – arguably one of the best regions in the world in terms of gender equity – 87% of the research centers targeted for excellence funds are directed by men (Husu, 2014). These numbers are important, but they are enough to determine what our future strategies should be.

I suggest there are many qualitative questions that are also important if we want to make meaningful change toward equity. To what extent are academic staff and students free to pursue questions based on their expertise knowledge and experience of the world? How are scholars in both female-dominated and male-dominated disciplines valued and rewarded? What is the range of perspectives and epistemologies that are available to and incorporated by those at all levels of the academic hierarchy (from beginning student to most senior professor)? Do people across identity categories feel satisfied and supported in their work? Is fairness a principle that is widely understood to guide administrative and academic action? Are policies in place that acknowledge and respond to both differences and similarities of those throughout the university community? Who makes important decisions for the various levels of the university? Who is the university? Each of these questions deserves qualitative investigation.

What individual and institutional strategies are most effective, and in what ways?

In the Austrian context, a strong gender equity policy framework supports the work of scholars and leaders as they attempt to engage in work that changes both institutions and individual practices. Leaders and scholars point to quotas that require at least 40% of women and men in decision-making bodies. These quotas have led to women serving as approximately 50% of all Vice Rectors. They also point to the Working Group for Equal Opportunity, a group that exists in each university that has the power to stop hiring processes if they believe that inequitable practices have been used to come to a decision. While Austrian colleagues acknowledge problematic aspects of these policies, they assure me that they are the most effective tools that they have in moving from a strongly hierarchical and male-dominated system to one which is slightly less hierarchical and more equitable in gender representation across the institutions.

My United States-educated mind resists the idea of using a quota or any sort of numerical expectation to achieve equity. Yet, Austria (and other nations) have prioritized a type of fairness that insists on equity in specific ways over the hope that educating and trying very hard to be fair and kind will somehow yield equitable results. While their policies have not yet produced gender equity at the full professor levels, Austrian universities are experiencing substantial shifts in numerical representation. I am hopeful that both Austria and the United States will continue to examine policies, informal and formal practices, and gendered assumptions that make current inequities seem natural.

How will gender be understood and positioned in increasingly diverse societies? How/can/should intersectionality be institutionalized/advocated?

Gender equity in Austrian contexts seems primary and intentionally foregrounded. It is explicit in public documents and, arguably, institutionalized in significant ways. My observations of United States gender equity practices mirror those of Mary Ann Danowitz Sagaria and Lyndsay Agans (2007) when they suggest that gender equity is subsumed under a broader category of diversity. Our social institutions must move toward more intersectional approaches to understanding individual and collective experience and action. Equity achieved for “women” without taking into consideration the many different identities that inform their lives will be empty and will continue to replicate the hierarchical power structures we are attempting to deconstruct.

Yet, I am impressed with the ways in which gender equity remains on the radar in Austrian and European Union higher education in ways that seem to make it more explicit and, therefore, actionable. All of the students in my Austrian class had heard of the policy of gender mainstreaming and had some sense of what it was. I cannot think of any comparable policy framework that is as ubiquitous in the United States. How might we develop such a framework for action that is intersectional? How might we communicate it widely and develop buy-in across our communities or at least our institutions? We need to acknowledge that educational leaders and scholars who are multiply marginalized in our communities are necessary to inform our collective equity efforts.

Is equity a central measure of quality, or is it a secondary aspiration to be attempted once all other priorities (financial stability, internationalization, research prestige, global rankings, etc.) are achieved?

For me, this last question is critical to our choices and commitments to equity. Austria’s most recent University Act in 2002 outlines the principles of public universities in the country. Of a list of twelve principles, four relate to equity in a direct way. Number 3 insists on a “diversity of scientific and artistic theories, methods and doctrines.” Numbers 9 and 10 direct universities to be guided by “equality of the sexes” and “social opportunity.” And Number 12 articulates that universities should give “special attention to the needs of the handicapped.” The essential tasks of universities soon follow, with “gender equality, and the advancement of women” as number 9 of 11. Further direction in the document requires universities to have a plan for the advancement of women, to establish “an organizational unit responsible for the co-ordination of activities relating to equal opportunities, the advancement of women and gender research.” Performance contracts between universities and the Ministry include indicators related to gender equity.

There is some disagreement about whether or not the promise in each part of this Act is being fulfilled. However, I am impressed by the articulation of clear commitments and expectations. I am also impressed with the movement of Austria in the last decade. I am excited to see what comes, fully acknowledging that resistance, complexity, and redefinitions of equity and equity practice are sure to emerge.


Baez, Benjamin. (2000). Race-related service and faculty of color: Conceptualizing critical agency in academe. Higher Education, 39(3): pp. 363-391.

Danowitz Sagaria, Mary Ann, & Agans, Lyndsay (2007). Frames, changes, challenges, and strategies. In Mary Ann Danowitz Sagaria (ed.) Women, Universities and Change. Gender Equality in the European Union and the United States (pp. 215-222). New York: Palgrave.

Husu, Liisa. (May, 2014). Interrogating gender paradoxes in academia: Nordic and European perspectives. Conference on Gender Equity in Higher Education. Lund University.

Park, Shelley M. (1996). Research, teaching, and service: Why shouldn't women's work count? The Journal of Higher Education, 67(1): pp. 46-84.

UNESCO. (2012). World atlas of gender equality in education. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Paris, France.