Interview with Gina Hunter (Ethnography of the University Initiative)

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.

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Goodman, “Acts of Negotiation”

I’ve been interested lately in a stream of new work coming out on language politics in global higher education. Yesterday I came across a new paper on English language instruction in Ukraine: Bridget Goodman’s “Acts of Negotiation: Governmentality and Medium of Instruction in an Eastern Ukrainian University,” just published in Anthropology & Education Quarterly. It’s a fine-grained ethnographic analysis of what’s at stake in teaching in multilingual situations.

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On campus ethnography: the Columbia “Sex Study”

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education had an unusually detailed article on the Columbia self study of student sexual behavior.  For those with access to the Chronicle, see https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Sex-Study-That-Could-Alter/242484.  Various attempts to attach this here as a pdf failed. Sorry.

Aside from the politics of research which are fraught, the study is interesting both in content and also for the contrast and comments made by Elizabeth Armstrong, whose work I greatly admire.  After reading this and thinking for a moment, I am amazed that anyone is surprised at what is happening. We herd together 18-21 year olds without parental supervision and with some spending money in intimate environment in which liquor and drugs are easily available and then say we are surprised when, in addition to liquor and drugs, they do “that”.  Are we as foolish as we seem to be?  Are we willing to change campuses to the point necessary to change this social environment? I doubt it.

 

The wreckage

For those who have not seen it, this piece from Inside Higher Education on the personal and professional consequences of “precarious” is unflinching in showing the costs of the neoliberal university in both personal and professional terms.  https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/02/13/historians-quit-lit-essay-rejects-notion-leaving-higher-ed-equals-personal-failure

I particularly like the call for those who made it to tenure to reflect on this.  My own career, despite all the hard work, was significantly built on chronological luck of entering the professoriate when it was a possible vocation and not a fee-for-service job overseen by armies of non-academics.  What obligations do the tenured now have to the “wreckage”? If there is an obligation, how is it to be met?

Davydd

Joshua Sperber, “Making the Grade – Rating Professors”

I was delighted to come across Joshua Sperber’s new research project about Rate My Professors. In Making the Grade – Rating Professors, published in CUNY’s New Labor Forum, Sperber studies what happens when students can “rate their professors” on the web. The project was based on an online survey of 41 students and 47 adjunct professors, which seems to have elicited a wealth of rich qualitative data. Continue reading Joshua Sperber, “Making the Grade – Rating Professors”

The Academy and Freedom to Dissent

Cris Shore, a well-known anthropologist of higher education whose work we’ve discussed before, sends in a critical commentary on current threats to academic freedom.

I recently participated in a roundtable debate on higher education at the AAA meeting in Washington (DC) on the subject of ‘The Academy and the Future of Freedom to Dissent’, which raised some interesting thoughts for me on what constitutes the greatest threat to academic freedom in universities.

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George Marcus on academic capitalism in the humanities

I’ve been reading some of the academic capitalism literature lately, since I’m writing about French images of capitalism in higher education. It turns out that, a few years ago, George Marcus offered an intriguing auto-ethnographic anecdote about the way that academic capitalism becomes standard even in seemingly very “critical” corners of the American humanities.

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Practicing academic anthropology in the USA

Cris Shore is mentioned in an article in Inside Higher Education on a session of the AAA meetings on teaching anthropology in a “red state” in the US. Hardly surprising that a pro-evolution, anti-racist, anti-sexist field would attract the ire of many.  I wonder if others in this group were present and have any reflections to share about this session or if Cris wants to elaborate?

Students as course evaluators

Chronicle of higher education on student roles in course evaluation

This Chronicle of Higher Education story is both welcome and disturbing. It is welcome because it credits students being intelligent enough to evaluate constructively what and how they are learning in classes.  So far so good.  But the rather breathless tone of this essay ignores the fact that the Tayloristic premises of higher education institutions as organizations has primarily created students as passive consumers of “education” rather than active partners in a process.  This reveals the native Fordist model that dominates and its associated “banking model”.

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A Response from Davydd Greenwood

Davydd Greenwood sends in a second response to Eli Thorkelson’s recent comments on Creating a New Public University and Reviving Democracy.

We are grateful for a review that invites a dialogue and we hope these topics will be discussed more broadly and from additional perspectives. Eli has been an important partner in this work ever since his undergraduate years and will continue to be long after we are gone.

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