Gina Hunter is an anthropologist teaching at Illinois State University, in the Midwestern United States, and a longstanding participant in the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI). The EUI, which we’ve written about before, is an institutional initiative housed at the University of Illinois which aims to support reflexive student research projects about higher education. The project has been around since 2002, and Hunter was its co-director from 2006–2014. She generously took the time to answer a number of questions about the project, its politics and context. The interview, if I may say so, is particularly relevant for teachers thinking about the politics of students doing critical research on their own educational institutions.
Mariya Ivancheva is currently working on a research project with the Universities of Leeds and Cape Town called “The Unbundled University.” Some of her recent work includes “The Discreet Charm of University Autonomy: Conflicting Legacies in the Venezuelan Student Movements” (2016), “Academic freedom and the commercialisation of universities: a critical ethical analysis” (2016, with Kathleen Lynch), “The age of precarity and the new challenges to the academic profession” (2015), and “The Bolivarian University of Venezuela: A radical alternative in the global field of higher education?” (2013). You can also follow her on Twitter or Academia.edu.
Eli Thorkelson: I was really interested to see that your early work was about Walter Benjamin’s theory of utopia, and that you’ve written a great deal about Bulgarian women’s and environmental movements (and migrant workers in Britain) as well as about university politics in Venezuela and precarious academic labor in Europe. Do you think you could say a few words about how your research projects have evolved since you entered the academy?
Mariya Ivancheva: Where to start… All these different topics and field-sites might sound thematically and geographically eclectic – even more so, given that my current field research is in South Africa. The new project I just started working on with the University of Leeds and the University of Cape Town is on widening of access to higher education through digital technologies, in contexts where marketization and disaggregation of traditional degrees (unbundling) are going on. And yes, many times we come to study topics that mix our biographical and intellectual trajectory with contingencies of educational institutions and the job market…
Bonnie Urciuoli teaches anthropology at Hamilton College.
Eli Thorkelson: I’ve known you and your work for quite a while, Bonnie, and we went to the same graduate program at Chicago (albeit 30 years apart), but I only just found out as part of this interview that your early work was on Puerto Rican speech communities, and then you gradually became more interested in American constructs of multiculturalism, race and class, right? And then a few years after you got tenure, you started working on higher education diversity discourse, focusing on your own institution, Hamilton College. How did that shift come about? Was there some moment when you decided that you had to write about where you worked?
Bonnie Urciuoli: I got to Hamilton in 1988, and within a year or two I noticed students, generally recruited through HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program), who came from the neighborhoods where I had done fieldwork or neighborhoods much like them, and who could easily have been younger members of the families I worked with on the Lower East Side (1978-79) or in the Bronx (1988). HEOP plays a key role. It was established and funded by the state to provide higher education assistance to academically and economically disadvantaged students who show academic promise. The decision to admit a student through HEOP takes place in the admissions process, and students are offered financial packages combining grants, loans, and work-study, some funding from the state, some from the college. Incoming cohorts are 30-40 per year. All participants attend a five-week summer program before their first year. This is a sort of college prep boot camp with classes in various subjects taught by college faculty. (The boot camp part is because of how the residential aspect of the program is run, not so much the academics.) HEOP cohorts include white students, often children of college plant or clerical employees, or sports (usually football, sometimes basketball) recruits but the white HEOP kids tend to disappear into the mass and HEOP is generally identified with Latino, Black, and Asian students. Those kids tend to become the core of the student ‘cultural’ organizations (LaVanguardia, Black Student Union, Asian Cultural Society). From 1972 through 2001 HEOP was the main source of ‘diversity’ for the college; in 2001 the college started partnering with the Posse Foundation to develop another ‘diversity’ source. But I am getting way ahead of my story. Also if you’re interested, I have a ms under review on this very topic. Not to mention a book chapter.
Carol Brandt works on science education at Temple University.
Eli Thorkelson: Your work on science education seems like it comes pretty directly out of your own higher education trajectory, which was in anthropology, botany, and educational thought, right? Do you think you could start out by telling the story of how this diverse set of interests formed, and how you ended up in New Mexico doing your PhD and working on American Indian science education?
Carol Brandt: As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, I was an anthropology major and studied archeology. At first I was in the human osteology lab and working on disease patterns in prehistoric human populations as a work-study. At the same time, I was strongly interested in biology and had almost completed double major, if I had only done the organic chemistry. After graduating with a BA in anthro, I found a position working with the University of Colorado at the Dolores Archeology Project in southern Colorado. It was one of the last huge US Corps of Engineers projects in the Southwest that involved inundating an obscene amount of land at near Mesa Verde by damming the Dolores River. This area had thousands of Puebloan and Basketmaker sites dating from 200 BC to 1200 AD. Because I had biology and botany coursework in college, I found myself doing archaeobotanical analysis for several years. Eventually I decided to get a MS in Botany at Colorado State University to continue this work. After getting my MS degree, I worked for the Pueblo of Zuni doing archaeobotany for six years.