In the face of fiscal crisis, Women’s Studies Programs are at significant risk. To name just two, Women’s Studies at Guelph University is no more, and the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada is on the chopping block. San Francisco State University took this challenge head on with their Women’s History Month Public Lecture Series, “Reading, wRioting, and Reclaiming: Feminism(s) Empowerment and the Crisis in Public Education.” The flier for this series says
California’s current fiscal crisis challenges the state’s promise to provide access to higher education to its citizens, to offer liberal arts as well as a professional and vocational curriculum, and to encourage its graduates to pursue lives of civic and social responsibility. Emerging from the activism of the 60s, feminist scholarship(s), women and gender studies curriculum have been integral to this vision, challenging and transforming the curriculum, breaking new intellectual ground, and opening doors and minds.
In times of budgetary stress it is common for institutions of higher learning to face backward and focus on ‘core areas of strength.’ Since Women’s Studies, and feminist work in general, are relatively new to the academy and tend to serve groups of students, faculty and the lay public, who are marginalized within the academy, these disciplines frequently suffer. It is easy to overlook their value. Dr. Ibram Rogers blogs that
Disciplines like women’s studies, queer studies, African-American studies, Latino studies, Native American studies, foreign languages and Asian studies should not and can not be funded, underfunded and eliminated based on the fiscal atmosphere of the times. But they will continue to be as long as they are segregated on the margins of the academy; as long as academics perceive them to be and relegate them as appetizers and desserts instead of main and vital dishes of everyday healthy student consumption.
While I do not want to trivialize the pain of university restructuring in the face of sharply declining revenues, it is important to note that it is at least possible for some of this wholesale restructuring to have some positive effects. While administrators continually develop ‘visioning’ and ‘long term plans’, it is rare for the faculty to really participate in these efforts. Further these efforts are rarely radical. Now, many universities are forced to consider radical change. Radical change could be an opportunity for redressing historical inequities that have become calcified in our institutional structures. Radical change could address the fact that white men make up the majority of the professoriate, but not the general population. Radical change could involve developing areas of faculty strength and programming that brings the demographics of our faculty more in line with the demographics of our states. Radical change could involve developing research foci and curricular initiatives that are more in line with the needs of a diverse tax payer base.
In comparison to the magnitude of university budgets, these programs are relatively inexpensive. The difference in cost between hiring a feminist scholar and, say, a physicist or an engineer is immense. We are cheap. Even so, it may seem like a luxury to think about the long term value of diversity, some of which does not immediately impact the financial bottom line of the institution. But, rather than only looking back at, and supporting, ‘core areas of strength’, we also need to look ahead to ensure that we are meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse society. There is an opportunity here for many of us to ask our leaders to face forward.