Higher Education Administration for Social Justice and Equity
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Higher Education Administration for Social Justice and Equity

Critical Perspectives for Leadership

Adrianna Kezar, Julie Posselt, Adrianna Kezar, Julie Posselt

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eBook - ePub

Higher Education Administration for Social Justice and Equity

Critical Perspectives for Leadership

Adrianna Kezar, Julie Posselt, Adrianna Kezar, Julie Posselt

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About This Book

Higher Education Administration for Social Justice and Equity empowers all administrators in higher education to engage in their work—to make decisions, hire, mentor, budget, create plans, and carry out other day-to-day operations—with a clear commitment to justice, sensitivity to power and privilege, and capacity to facilitate equitable outcomes. Grounding administration for social justice as a matter of daily work, this book translates abstract concepts and theory into the work of hiring, socialization, budgeting, and decision-making. Contributed chapters by renowned scholars and current practitioners examine the way higher education administration is organized, and will help readers both question existing structures and practices, and consider new and different ways of organizing campuses based on equity and social justice. Rich with case studies and pedagogical tools, this book connects theory to practice, and is an invaluable resource for current and aspiring administrators.

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A Call to Just and Equitable Administrative Practice

Adrianna Kezar and Julie Posselt
This book is a call for justice and equity in higher education administration. Most of the classic textbooks for courses in administration in higher education do not explicitly examine issues of power and privilege, and few are anchored in values of social justice or equity. Meanwhile, general higher education administrative books about being a dean, department chair or business officer also rarely speak to the values that can and should underlie these roles. Books aimed at social justice and equity in higher education, on the other hand, typically do not address administrators in common roles such as department chairs, deans, division heads, and assistant directors, an exception being student affairs. Those books are typically aimed at staff members in positions centered specifically on diversity or equity efforts, such as chief diversity officers, cultural directors, or vice presidents for multicultural affairs (Williams, 2013). It is our contention, however, that all administrators have the potential to use their roles to create equity and encourage greater justice.
This book aims to address this gap with readings that will empower educational practitioners of all types in higher education to engage in their work—to make decisions, hire, mentor, budget, create plans, and carry out other day-to-day operations—with sensitivity to power and privilege and with capacity to facilitate equitable and just outcomes. Its chapters illustrate (1) how the practical activities and daily choices made by administrators, faculty, and staff are associated with value propositions and (2) the potential for improving administrative practice through a clear examination of these value propositions along with ongoing self-reflection. Presently, the few books that do address social justice and leadership tend to present the issue in terms of broad principles and abstractions—separate from daily practice (Dugan, 2017; Theoharis, 2007). By contrast, we position administration for social justice as a matter of daily work so that practitioners can more readily translate these abstract concepts into their responsibilities.
In this chapter, we illustrate how historical and current influences have shaped current administrative processes, and we lay out a framework for equitable and just administrative practice that rests on six principles. We begin by describing how historical structures and cultures in higher education have long privileged the powerful and disenfranchised marginalized groups, and how prevailing neoliberal culture on campuses runs counter to social justice and equity commitments. Our framework then begins by defining what we mean by equity and social justice—two important terms often used without precision and defined quite differently in the literature over time. Additionally, we have asked our chapter authors to define how they conceptualize these terms so that our meaning is well articulated in this volume. We then move to outlining a framework for administrative work through mindfulness and wise decision-making that can lead to equitable and socially just practice by explicit development of a critical consciousness of power and putting students at the center of administrative work. We end by exploring what it means to routinize this type of administrative practice and the complexities involved in such work.
Briefly, however, we want to acknowledge implicit notions that may prevent some readers from a deeper engagement with this text if not addressed. Administrators reading this might be thinking, “Well, surely I am for just and fair decisions” and thus presume a book like this will add little value to their current thinking. We want to be clear that we are not suggesting administrators are not committed to justice, but rather that the environments that most work within and their standard operating practices (as we discuss below) often do not promote justice. Thus, administrators often find themselves pressured to make compromises misaligned with their ideals of justice and equity. What is more, even the most skilled administrators are human, and like all humans, have biases that may run counter to equity and justice. Without clear processes in place, we are more likely to make unjust decisions, given our biases and environmental pressures. To sum, we believe administrators are not lacking an ethical or moral compass, but that there are very real threats to keeping our actions and decisions aligned with it.
Other readers may be thinking higher education has gone too far with social justice, that it compromises freedom of speech, debate, critical thinking, or academic freedom. Some news reports have (mis)characterized social justice as antithetical to these important traditions of open thinking on our campuses, but we find this argument a straw man and an attempt to delegitimize the equity aims our institutions of higher education are uniquely positioned to fulfill. Campuses can, do, and must hold social justice, academic freedom, and critical thinking in balance. Our book offers guidance to administrators in achieving this balance. Our view of social justice in this volume is capacious and expansive and we believe addresses many of these critiques. The process of mindfulness that we argue for will prepare administrators to combat the more baseless critiques of social justice.

Historic and Organizational Barriers to Equity

Today’s sociopolitical conditions in higher education present clear challenges to equity and social justice; these conditions continue higher education’s history of conferring social status and privileges to groups who already have it and allowing (or even facilitating) injustices (Cabrera, 2014; Wilder, 2013; Kezar, 2010). As an enterprise, higher education institutions were largely founded to support the intellectual development and career opportunities of elites, and wealthy white men have had disproportionate access until recently. Resources have been inequitably distributed through public policy, providing the least resources to community colleges that serve low-income, first-generation, and minority students and most to research universities that serve mostly privileged students (Gumport & Bastedo, 2001). Slaves built the earliest campuses on land taken from indigenous peoples, making colleges some of the biggest beneficiaries of Euro-American expansion.
Within universities, too, the organization of higher education over time has established power asymmetries that impede socially just and equitable processes outcomes. To maintain their market share and attract financial resources, campuses have pursued prestige through research and athletics, oftentimes de-emphasizing teaching and learning and undergraduate education (Kezar, Chambers, & Burkhardt, 2005). Public research universities have undermined their historic mission of providing access to in-state students of modest means by shifting enrollment priorities to international and domestic out-of-state students (Jaquette, Curs, & Posselt, 2016). Resources often flow on campuses to prestigious departments and colleges such as business schools, while schools of so-called “pink collar occupations” like social work, nursing, and education receive limited funds and support. The unequal distribution of resources and prestige has led to the dissolution of key areas of study and weakening of others that are essential to a liberal arts education and critical thinking needed for democratic development.
Longstanding organizational divisions and hierarchies also pose barriers to equity. Presidents ran institutions as autocratic tyrants until the development of disciplines led to greater autonomy over curriculum and instruction for departments and their faculties in the early twentieth century, and faculty demanded input into decision making in the 1930s. Tensions between administration and faculty interests remain today in many colleges and universities, hindering the effective collaboration through which more equitable outcomes might be achieved. This tension is reflected in the division between academic and student affairs (Kezar & Lester, 2009). On many campuses, academic affairs has been siloed from and privileged over student affairs. Administrators in training also need to be aware that this division, and the historical tendency to accord academic affairs more status than student affairs, renders decisions that do not always support students’ success. This same hierarchy also exists with other divisions and roles (auxiliary services, technology, and administrative support) generally being subordinate to the academic core or divisions that are revenue-generating such as alumni affairs, research, or development.
A third way in which campuses have historically organized in ways that undermine social justice is through their relationship with their local communities. Studies of “town and gown” show how campuses have often exploited surrounding neighborhoods. They engage communities mainly opportunistically, such as for service learning or for campus resources (i.e. cultural events) and rarely give back to these same communities. In cities, it is not uncommon for universities to participate in gentrification, buying up land to expand the campus, replacing independent businesses with franchises that will be friendly to the student population, and pushing people out of their homes and communities. Our brief discussion here only scratches the surface of the ways that inequities, exploitation, and hierarchies are woven into the fabric of higher education as an enterprise and institution. Transformation of structures and cultures is necessary, compelling the need for fresh vision about administration.

Administrators’ Neoliberal Psychic Prison

Especially since the 1980s, economic principles have emerged as the driving value system for many administrators, derailing social justice goals that emerged in the 1960s to 1970s (Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004; Kezar, Depaola, & Scott, in press). While social justice has never been a dominant value system on campuses, there have long been seeds of this perspective in the notion of higher education as a public good. And in the 1960s and 1970s, social movements played out on campuses across the country, pushing administrators to consider policy consistent with social justice values. This was followed by a backlash of neoliberalism in the 1980s. Neoliberalism is the philosophy and system of political economy aimed at marketizing and privatizing public goods, and of pushing corporate values and practices onto public institutions (Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004). It privileges a market-based, capitalist mindset and economic drivers for public and government-based institutions. Campus cultures are increasingly fueled by two neoliberal trends, which tend to work in opposition to the social justice and equity approaches we describe in this book.
First, the neoliberal value system driving campuses focuses on revenue generation, finances more generally, efficiency, and technocratic concerns and solutions (Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004). A more corporate orientation to campus operations has become prevalent, reflected in actions ranging from outsourcing, contingent labor, and declining worker benefits and support, to treating students as customers, downsizing less profitable majors, and commercialization of research. New opportunities on campus are also being approached through a more corporate mindset: from curricular decisions (i.e. vocationalize the curriculum or move to revenue-generating online programs) to student development (i.e. partner with a business offering advertising to students in order to fund an initiative). Campus administrators face unprecedented pressures around cost-cutting and revenue generation given the decline in public finances, but also the general perception that higher education is not cost-effective. There is more need to justify financial decisions, and financial scrutiny increasingly drives behavior. Campus leaders are also increasingly being pushed to technological solutions and technocratic ways of operating through data analytics and modes that appear to offer neutral and efficient answers to problems. A focus on efficiency, cost/revenue generation, and technology solutions have typically subordinated principles and practices aimed at social justice and equity.
Second, the neoliberal psyche presses educational practitioners to perceive that they have little time and must make decisions immediately, thus limiting two key strategies for democratic decision-making: reflection and dialogue. These pressures run counter to the value placed on reflection and dialogue by scholars of social justice, such as Paulo Freire. Administrators report being more harried and in a constant state of crisis, running from one emergency to another. The culture on campuses supports and rewards quick decisions and efficiency in decision making as well. Promotions are awarded to administrators who are decisive. This neoliberal notion of time is articulated as part of a productivity model, but it can also be seen as a way to prevent administrators from thinking independently or acting with intentionality. Indeed, it has been argued that part of the power of neoliberalism is its ability to create an environment in which alternative positions cannot be considered. Social justice and equity may not be inherently opposed to neoliberalism, but the spread of this psyche has made it more challenging to raise and get attention to these perspectives. They may be thought of as luxuries rather than as foundations.
Through the chapters in this book, educational practitioners are challenged to resist the neoliberal psyche—to see and step out of its value system. We wish to empower administrators to see that a neoliberal way of operating is neither necessary nor desirable, but rather a deceptive and troubling fiction. Campus leaders can embrace a different value system that centers on social justice and equity, and can redefine how they go about the practice of administration guided by an ethic of wisdom and mindfulness. They can shed this neoliberal psyche, but it will require a conscious and deliberate re-orientation to administrative work. It starts by acknowledging that tacitly you have absorbed a value system that is so prevalent that it can be difficult to even recognize. Revenue generation, efficiency, technology, and marketing/branding need not define the values for administrative work. And indeed, if they continue to, higher education will lose its soul.

A Framework for Equity and Justice in Higher Education Administration

Most higher educational practitioners do not begin their careers intending to conduct their work in ways that undermine equity or student opportunities. Without an alternative to the neoliberal mindset, however, it can become all too easy to slip into such modes of action and decision making. Here, and in the chapters that follow, we propose a framework for administrators who wish to use their jobs to create equity and justice. It consists of seven key components, which are elaborated in the remainder of this chapter:
1.Clear definitions of equity and justice
2.Mindful administrative practice
3.Wisdom in judgment
4.Critical consciousness about power
5.Knowledge of self and positionality
6.Student centeredness
7.Routinizing mindfulness and wisdom

Clear Definitions of Equity and Justice

One challenge for educational practitioners is developing, articulating, and enacting views of equity and justice that are both targeted enough to address the real needs of specific populations and the social hierarchies in which they are embedded, but also expansive enough to reach across multiple hierarchies. As editors, our own view of social justice and equity for the purposes of this volume is multifaceted and multidimensional, encompassing race, gender and gender identity, social class, sexual orientation, and religion, and others as the needs of specific contexts demand. We also recognize that forms of justice may be interrelated, such as environmental and social justice. We strive for a capacious approach, one that accommodates multiple dimensions of equity and justice, and which is inclusive to the diverse population of students and other stakeholders of higher education today. Both our own frame and those of the book’s chapters, admittedly, are US-centered.
Shared understandings and explicit definitions of guiding principles are critical for effective action. Here, philosophies of justice and action are useful in providing focus and priorities. Many modern theories of justice fall short because profound social inequalities that the theories eschew are actually reinforced through the theoretical tenet of “equal opportunity” as a condition of justice. Equal opportunity does not go nearly far enough in the United States, where the opportunity structure neither serves nor includes people from all backgrounds equally well. Rather, it tends to best serve the interests of groups who created it (e.g. people who are wealthy, men,...

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