In an ethnographic study set within a biology department of a public university in the United States, incongruity between the ideals and practice of science education are investigated. Against the background of religious conservative students' complaints about evolution in the curriculum, biology faculty describe their political intents for fostering science literacy. This article examines differences that emerge between the department's rhetorical commitment to improve science understanding amongst their students and the realities of course staffing and anxieties about promotion and tenure. Because tenure-track faculty are motivated to focus their careers on research productivity and teaching biology majors, other biology courses are staffed with adjunct instructors who are less equipped to negotiate complex pedagogies of science and religion. In practice, faculty avoid risky conversations about evolution versus creationism with religiously conservative students. I argue that such faculty are complicit, through their silence, in failing to equip their students with the science literacy which their own profession avows is crucial for a well-informed citizenry in a democracy.
This summary article situates the articles in this collection within the historical unfolding of the commodification and neoliberalisation of higher education. From the 1970s to the present, the article suggests that commodification and neoliberalisation are two social forces that in many nations are difficult to disentangle. It is important to see these forces as analytically distinct as they set up contradictions whilst transforming higher education in many nations in the world. While commodification begins the process of turning university programmes and degrees into commodities that a consuming public buys, neoliberalism puts pressure on universities to document that people are getting value for the money they spend. Neoliberalism also questions how we measure the quality of a product. Together these forces create an increasingly contradictory space where faculty work becomes very conflicted. The article then goes on to situate each of the articles in this contradictory university space. Finally the article discusses some ways faculty can move beyond resistance and collusion and find ways to reclaim higher education.
My Ethnography of the University (EUI) course 'Muslims in America' introduces undergraduate students to the racialisation of Islam and Muslims in the U.S. at large, and in the University in particular. In this article, I describe how an anti-racist pedagogy coupled with student ethnographic research can yield a rich learning process. Beginning with one of the key debates in the scholarship on Muslims in the United States, I introduce students to the productive ways in which a multiracial history of American Islam can inform their ethnographic research. Additionally, I elaborate the potential for student research to transform university policy. The University offers a valuable ethno- graphic site for the critical study of the history and place of Muslims in U.S. society, politics and culture.
Soo Ah Kwon
Drawing on existing literature and student ethnographic projects, this article examines Asian American undergraduates' overwhelming focus on individual racial identity and practices of racial segregation in their ethnographic research about the University of Illinois. The author examines how such racial segregation is described and analysed as a matter of personal 'choice' and 'comfort' rather than as the result of racial inequality, racism and the marginalisation and racialisation of minority groups. This lack of structural racial analysis in the examination of Asian American students' experiences points to the depoliticisation and institutionalisation of race in higher education today. Race is understood and more readily analysed as a politically neutral concept that invokes celebration of racial diversity and 'culture' and not as a concept marked by power and inequities as it once may have been.
The Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI) joins a long history of critique, challenge and transformation of higher education. EUI courses are an important site for the creation of non-traditional narratives in which students challenge 'business-as-usual' in higher education. For under-represented students, this includes inquiry and analysis of the racial status quo at the University. In this article, I provide a student's perspective on EUI through my own experiences with EUI research as both an undergraduate and later graduate student investigating race and racism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I). Using ethnographic methods and drawing on critical race theory, I provide two examples of EUI research that critiqued the University's management of race. The first example is a collaborative ethnography of the Brown versus Board of Education Commemoration at U of I – a project that I joined as an undergraduate (Abelmann et al. 2007); and the second is my own dissertation on 'racial risk management', a project that emerged from my encounter with EUI. I discuss both projects as examples of Critical Race Ethnography, namely works based on empirical research that challenge institutions' racial composition, structure and climate.
This special issue is dedicated to William F. Kelleher (1950–2013), inspiring teacher, brilliant thinker, activist scholar and co-founder of the Ethnography of the University Initiative
Gina Hunter and Nancy Abelmann
Welcome to this special issue of Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences. As guest editors, we are delighted to be able to share the experiences of the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI, www.eui.uiuc.edu), a multi-disciplinary course-based initiative that fosters student research on their own universities and is
housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I). EUI is at once a pedagogical approach, a teaching community and a digital archive. EUI also works as a research agenda committed to student engagement with university practice and policy – and thus to institutional critique. In this editorial introduction, we provide an overview of EUI’s history, innovations, organisational structure and guiding values. We also introduce this issue’s authors – faculty members, an administrator and a former student – all of whom have taught with EUI and have documented here the ways in which taking the university as a research subject transformed their courses and teaching, and in some cases, their programmes and learning.
Timothy Reese Cain
This concluding contribution to the special issue on the Ethnography of the University Initiative based at the University of Illinois locates the project at the intersections of several of the main currents in modern higher education: the push for undergraduate research, calls for critical inquiry into higher education, an interest in pedagogical communities and excitement over technological innovation. It further identifies the challenges facing EUI as it enters its second decade.
Siobhan B. Somerville
This article offers a first-person account of the author's experience teaching an undergraduate course on local queer culture, using her own campus as the site for primary research. The course asks how students might understand the role of Midwestern public universities in the production of queer culture. And how might such knowledge revise understandings of queer culture and its locations, both in the past and in the present? The author describes the course design, the goals of introducing undergraduate students to two scholarly methods (archival research and ethnography) and a number of original research projects undertaken by students.
This article describes the findings of an undergraduate Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI) course in which students examined the university's efforts to improve the racial climate of the campus. These institutional efforts are intended to create a more comfortable environment for under-represented minority students who often comprise a significantly smaller group on campus than in their home neighbourhoods and high schools. Many minority group students experience isolation and discomfort connected to a lack of 'ownership' of campus spaces and traditions, which tend to be monopolised by white students. In my EUI class, which was sponsored by the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) at the University of Illinois (U of I), under-represented minority students focused their ethnographic projects specifically on campus-sponsored programmes intended to facilitate interaction across racial and ethnic groups. Of particular interest to students were programmes related to residence halls and campus social spaces. The findings presented here indicate that campus-sponsored programmes to increase race awareness that depend upon students' voluntary participation may be less effective in bringing students together than required classroom-based programmes and informal interaction through shared extra-curricular passions.