Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Women's Studies First on the Chopping Block in Hard Times

Women's Studies, African Studies, and other multicultural university departments and programs are first on the chopping block amidst steep budget cuts. Last year the USF WST department pulled a massive effort together to oppose merging all the "marginal" cultural departments into one department, and they were successful not because of the letters from famous feminists on their behalf, but because of student-lead protests. As an alumnus of USF and beneficiary of the strong WS department there (the largest in the south and the oldest in FL) I was proud and relieved to see its survival, and with the Obama presidency, I saw the pendulum swinging back toward the important work of small departments like these.

But I was breathing that sigh of relief too quickly. Jenn Moore posted this information on the Women's Studies list serve: "This year something similar [to USF], but arguably more dire, is happening at Florida Atlantic
University where the school is may be using the recession as an excuse to dissolve the Women's, Gender,
and Sexuality Studies department and its MA program."

The global gag rule has just been reversed, and the Lily Ledbetter Act has passed congress, but feminists are so, so not out of the hot water. I am not surprised that people against WS would use this time of financial crisis to get rid of progressive departments, but we can't let them win. It's true that budget cuts are very real and very big, but it's a repression of information and educational opportunity to systematically ax multicultural and gender/sexuality focused departments and programs of study, as Jessica on Feministing reports is the case in Georgia.

Post-feminists are using this opportunity to use economicspeak to argue that WS has outlived its usefulness, akin to arguments that American car companies deserve to fail if they aren't profitable. But to this charge, I answer that I've been involved with WS programs at three universities, and they had strong enrollment and an excellent record of service and community involvement, the professors strong records of publication and leaders in their fields. I know it's not just about WS, because for instance philosophy departments are also having to defend themselves, but what the fields most often in trouble have in common is that they are are seen as more "feminine" and generate less revenue, lead generally to lesser paying jobs, are in essence less "masculine," so while there are targeted attacks on race and gender studies, there are also attacks that consider themselves to be quantitative but succumb to patriarchal assumptions of value.


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