ASHE Redux

Fenster writes:

Back in the innocent year of 2011 I attended the national conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education in Charlotte, North Carolina. I wrote about my impressions at a now-defunct blog mostly dealing with higher education but the blog is still up and my post is here.

I will start this follow-up post in the same way I started the 2011 post: by letting readers who may not follow higher education inside baseball know a little about the purpose of the organization. From 2011:

“ASHE is a scholarly society with about 2,000 members dedicated to higher education as a field of study.”

Got that? The main society for the academic and scholarly study of higher education, not a student services group, or a diversity bootcamp, or a political indoctrination center. Not even fundamentally a practictioner group. Practitioners look from. Scholars look at.

Even then, in the crisis mode that was developing, there was plenty of room at ASHE for a scholarly while engaged examination of the beast. As I wrote in 2011:

“Higher education is, by most accounts, in a period of dramatic change, if not crisis.  The issues that have long bubbled under the surface are increasingly mainstream concerns: too many administrators (Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty and the Goldwater Institute’s analysis of bloat in American universities), faculty productivity (Richard Vedder’s UTexas study), a lack of student learning (Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift), the corporatization of the university, the subsidies flowing to big research and big athletics from student tuitions, the lack of usefulness of much of what passes for research, colleges as amenity-driven leisure factories, the cost-benefit trade-offs of expensive postsecondary education, the pedagogical challenges of enhanced and well-designed on-line alternatives and new modes of credentialing, the so-called higher education bubble,  etc.  The list goes on.

But very little of this debate was on display at the conference.  This seemed a bit odd, especially since the conference title was “Meeting the Challenge of a Changing Future”.  For the most part, it seemed, the faculty studying higher education were proceeding with their fairly narrow-gauged research as if Rome were not burning.”

If you read my post you can see I was having a hard time squaring the scholarly nature of the society with what seemed to be a strong endorsement of the quasi-religious tenets of the Church of Intersectionality.

Now, we didn’t use that hiughfalutin’ word in 2011. But the concerns that fall under that umbrella in the current period were on abundant display. Questions related to identity, race, gender, feminism, under-represented populations, sexual preference (trans had not yet arrived in a big way) and affirmative action loomed large.

And not only did they loom large but it was almost as though there existed a quota, set at 40%, for such issues in connection with all conference modalities.

“By my count something like 40% of the conference seemed to revolve around questions of diversity and identity.  This rough proportion seemed to hold for a variety of modalities: papers delivered collectively as part of concurrent sessions, papers delivered individually at table sessions and symposia devoted to topical discussion.  Even the past dissertations of the year seemed to hold to this rough rule, with somewhere between a third and a half of winning dissertations dealing with such topics.”

I found that remarkable at the time. But, as I say, those were the innocent years.

I got an email today from ASHE announcing its 2020 Awards.

No names required here. The shorthand version will do.

Presidential Medal: A woman of color whose “research examines the sociocultural influences on socialization during graduate education and the professional experiences of underrepresented populations, particularly Black women, in academia.”

Honorable Mention 1: A woman of color who serves as a Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

Honorable Mention 2: A woman of color whose “research agenda focuses on higher education policy related to access and equity for historically underrepresented groups, particularly students of color.” No, that’s not the same person as the medal recipient.

Distinguished Service Award: A woman of color recognized for having since 2008 organized the Annual Laninx/a/o Scholar Collective Dinner.

Dissertation of the Year: A woman of color who penned “Collective Resistance in Higher Education”, dealing with the issue of undocumented students.

Dissertation of the Year Honorable Mention: A black male (!) whose dissertation discounts the concept of fit in the search process and calls for a greater focus on diversity.

Early Career Award: A woman of color (whew!) whose work “has deployed Critical Race Theory to explore the experiences of Multiracial students, staff, and faculty and has interrogated the varied ways race and racism emerges across various higher education contexts.”

Distinguished Career Award: A woman, probably of color, whose “singular focus (has been) on increasing racial equity in higher education outcomes for students of color.”

Mentoring Award: A white woman whose focus has been on”mentorship as a mechanism for addressing inequities facing marginalized groups.”

Outstanding Book Award: a (presumably) gay male, for Gay Liberation to Campus Assimilation.

Research Achievement Award: An man of Asian descent (POC?) who “has applied his research to advance social justice in educational policy and practice for over two decades.”

Special Merit Award: To the the Indigenous Scholars Collective, which has “initiated a transformation in ASHE that tilts towards justice and makes ASHE a better educational organization.”

Special Conference Lecture: An Asian woman whose work relates to STEM and community colleges (note: the first award not explicitly on the catechism).

Award for Exemplary Scholarship 1: A (Native American) woman of color who “embodies the spirit and gifts of cultivating with love exemplary scholarship that unearths, unhinges, and uplifts those in which academy refers to “underrepresented” populations.”

Award for Exemplary Scholarship 2: A woman of color who “has made significant contributions to the study of Black women in higher education.”

Award for Research in International Higher Education: to a book that “presents a timely and much-needed analysis of existing research and scholarship on key areas in the study of education abroad with a truly global focus.”

Excellence in Public Policy Awards 1: to a woman of color who “teaches courses on higher education law, equity and diversity in higher education, and race, law, and education.”

Excellence in Public Policy 2: A white man (Armenian or of Armenian descent) who handles federal relations and policy for the American Association of State Colleges and Univeristies.

OK, there you have it: the complete 2020 list of awards, in the order in which the announcement presents them. If you’ve gotten this far you will spot just one white man, the guy in the caboose that is more or less the only person dealing with issues, you know, serious issues of policy. Even he is a practitioner dealing with one aspect of a complex set of institutions in a kind of crisis. It is noteworthy that for an organization that styles itself as being dedicated to higher education as a field of study the scholarly contributions are completely one-dimensional, and that many of the awards have no real scholarly grounding.

Sixteen awards to individuals (not collectives or group efforts).

Women of color: 11/16

Men of color: 2/16

Total people of color 13/16

White women: 1/16

Gay white men: 1/16

Total white men: 2/16

Female/Male 13/3


As I half expected the society has gone way around the bend since 2011. The 40% rule no longer applies, at least in the area of annual awards. It is about as close to 100% as you can get without being there.

Interestingly–and in keeping with my observations when more active in the field–higher education is very much a black thing. Indeed whereas in 2011 there was a certain amount of diversity in Diversity it is now a much more uniform thing, in keeping, I expect with the composition of the institutions and the educational programs that support them. Gay, transgender and feminist issues are present but all appears subsidiary to preoccupation with the color Black.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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1 Response to ASHE Redux

  1. Ann K. says:

    I was a grad assistant in the ASHE office when it was headquartered at Texas A&M in the early ‘90s. The conferences were very much like that even back then.


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