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Rethinking the Academy

Beyond Eurocentrism in Higher Education

by Augie Fleras (Author)
Monographs XII, 342 Pages

Summary

Universities and colleges like to self-idealize as relatively neutral and value-free sites of higher learning. In reality, the idea of the Westernized academy is deeply embedded in a Eurocentric logic that not only excludes alternative forms of knowledge and knowing, but also remains racialized, gendered, and sited in coloniality with respect to governance, scholarship, and entitlements. Efforts to address this gap between the ideal and reality have tended toward diversifying the academy through multicultural initiatives in diversity, inclusion, and equity. However helpful as a first step, these interventions are insufficient in generating the kind of substantive changes that would abort the academy’s crisis of legitimacy. Moves to decolonize, ungender, and deracialize the academy will require a commitment to the transformative principles of inclusivity, including a focus on those root causes associated with structural barriers and systemic biases. It remains to be seen if the academia can rise to the challenge of deEurocentrizing the idea of the academy along postEurocentric lines, while engaging the emergent demands and evolving realities of a postmulticultural world.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • 1 Problematizing the Academy, Calling Out Eurocentricism
  • 2 Unmasking the Academy
  • 3 Conceptualizing Eurocentrism
  • 4 Indigenizing the Academy
  • 5 A Gendered Academy
  • 6 A Racialized Academy
  • 7 Toward an Inclusive Academy
  • 8 Resetting the Academy: Beyond Eurocentrism
  • Index

Preface

As someone with a lifetime of involvement in the halls of higher learning, I must confess to a kind of love-hate relationship with the academy. I’m drawn to the principles and practices – and pleasures – of a relatively freewheeling scholarship domain that animates the academy with the spirit of Socrates and his scorn for the unexamined life. Yet not all my academic experiences elicit a similar sense of pride or admiration. Of particular note is a dismay over the narrowmindedness that passes for scholarship in an institution that professes to be above the fray, yet remains driven by the politics of defining what counts as knowledge and knowing, who gets what and why, and whose voices will prevail in setting the terms of what is acceptable. Just as the world is structured by the powerful to the detriment of the powerless because of an unfair advantage in imposing their agendas on peoples’ understanding of reality (Fricker 1999), so too are the founding assumptions and foundational principles of the academy locked into a Eurocentrism so familiar and routine in the everyday of academic life as to escape detection. To be sure, the Eurocentric academy deserves commendation in advancing intellectual traditions that have vastly improved the human condition. But its exclusionary logic also reinforces a closed pattern of scholarship at odds with professed ideals and the emergence of new realities. The academy may be the site of intense discussion and debates over the “hows” and “whys” of improving ←vii | viii→peoples’ lives and life-chances. But its more privileged stakeholders are generally disinclined to acknowledge their complicity in a system that benefits them at the expense of others. Nor is there much enthusiasm for challenging the racialized, gendered, and Eurocentric coloniality in which they work and from which they profit (Moore 2007). Clearly, then, any rethinking of the academy must capitalize on the positives of Eurocentrism yet move positively beyond a Eurocentricity that disappeared – and continues to disappear – the marginalized from the corridors of power and privilege (Henry et al. 2017a, b; Moore and Bell 2017).

The interplay of internal pressures with external demands in rethinking the idea of the academy yields an unsettling scenario. Universities and colleges across settler states are on the brink of a legitimacy crisis – namely an identity crisis (“who are we now?”) and a crisis of confidence (“what should we be doing?”) – in adjusting to the realities of a turbo-changed and hyperdiverse world. This crisis of legitimacy is fuelled by growing demands to unmask the polite fictions that conceal inconvenient truths, including the monoculturality at the heart of the Eurocentric academy (Lal 2012). The proliferation of student-led protests around the world (Heleta 2016; Lightfoot 2016; Pidgeon 2016;) have proven incisive in exposing the implicit blindspots and hidden agendas that mar the academic enterprise. But while challenging the authority of a Eurocentric academy is long overdue, a disconnect is at play. Calls for change around the concepts of “decolonizing,” “Indigenizing,” “ungendering,” and “multiculturalizing the academy” are common enough. Yet references to these terms span a spectrum of responses and misgivings, from the symbolic to the performative, thereby opening up the potential for miscommunication. Proposed interventions to diversify a monocultural academy through multicultural initiatives in diversity, inclusion, and equity have proven promising, yet also more apparent than real without a corresponding commitment to systemic changes (Moore 2007). The virtue-signalling platitudes of senior administration often serve as distractions in drawing attention away from an academy that claims to be colourblind and postracial, yet remains embedded in racialized exclusions. Promises to do better frequently play out as public relations exercises in the hopes of appeasing vested interests while fostering the illusion of inclusion. Rethinking the Academy delves into the wealth of meanings implicit within these calls for change to determine whether higher education can undo the exclusionary logic of its ingrained Eurocentrism. The challenges are formidable; after all, universities and college are neither value free nor innocent of bias. More accurately, they are culturally grounded and ideologically weighted in ways so pervasive and persistent as to forestall any removal of their biases and barriers.←viii | ix→

The content of Rethinking the Academy addresses the difficult and transformative project of reconceptualizing the idea of higher education beyond Eurocentricity. A problematizing of the academy by way of a Eurocentric lens exposes those racialized, gendered, and monocultural assumptions and practices that inform its diversity governance, scholarship forms, and entitlement patterns. Reference to an embedded Eurocentrism as principle and practices casts light on how the inequalities of exclusions continue to define and distort the participation and contribution of Indigenous peoples, racialized persons, and women in the academy. The concept of Indigenizing the academy by decolonizing it demonstrates how a Eurocentric intellectual space dismisses the salience of Indigenous knowledge and knowing as legitimate scholarship (scholarship used in the broadest sense to encompass knowledge systems [what we know] and ways of knowing [how do we find out]). Talk of decolonizing the academy by foregrounding the legitimacy of Indigenous intellectual traditions has generated some traction in recent years, at least in principle if not in practice. The concept of a gendered academy reinforces a belief that higher education is still a (white)man’s world. Not in the misogynist sense of openly sexist barriers, it is argued, but through the androcentric biases of a systemic patriarchy that privileges masculinist ways of seeing, thinking, and doing as normal and superior. A similar line of reasoning may be applied to the persistence of a racialized-in-whiteness academy. The academy may not be inherently racist per se although, arguably, any assessment depends on how racism is defined. Rather, higher education is whitewashed along Eurocentric lines that privilege and empower those with a common social, cultural, and racial capital. In speaking truth to power without falling into the trap of polemics or platitudes, this book addresses how the inequalities of a Eurocentric academy are reflected in and reinforced through structural barriers, implicit institutional biases, and systemic exclusions. It also acknowledges that moves to dislodge the biases and barriers of a Eurocentric academy cannot come soon enough. But any initiatives in unEurocentrizing the academy are fraught with uncertainty because of an institutional resistance to realigning its Eurocentric agenda along postEurocentric lines.

Institutions of higher education across the Global North are now under pressure to move over and make space. Initiatives to date have focused on diversifying the inclusion of students and faculty through multicultural add-ons (add-ons: adding to something that already exists) that span the spectrum from curriculum changes to Indigenous land acknowledgements. However well-intentioned they are in creating more institutional space, moves to integrate minorities and accommodate diversities have proven erratic at best, unacceptable ←ix | x→at worst, especially when confusing promises with performance, symbols with substance, and reform with transformation. Refusal to problematize the academy by snubbing its Eurocentric logic does a disservice (as the saying goes, silence in the face of oppression or exclusion is not neutrality, but complicit in the crime). It not only impedes a rethinking of the academy beyond the pale of its embedded exclusions; it also glosses over how the polite fictions of an open and inclusive academy tend to mask the inconvenient realities of hierarchy, exclusion, and power. In acknowledging that much has been done to soften the crisis but much more needs doing to defuse it, this book dismisses those glib references to higher education as beyond the fray. It constitutes a highly politicized institutional space in the political of what is privileged and promoted at a particular point in time and space (Chan et al. 2014).

The onset of another crisis may yield an unanticipated benefit. Reaction to the covid-19 pandemic crisis could provide the academic community with an opportunity to rethink the idea of the academy in term of its purpose, culture, and practices (also LaRochelle et al. 2020). To date, however, colleges and universities have responded by way of multicultural modifiers that reflect the integrative logic of inclusion. To be sure, multicultural initiatives to improve outcomes, defuse criticism, or bolster their brand are defended as a necessary step in the right direction; nevertheless, they ultimately are insufficient as a catalyst for re-aligning the idea of the academy along more inclusive lines. Yet institutions of higher learning recoil at the prospect of promoting the more substantive concept of inclusivity (“refitting the system”) for fear of exposing hard truths. But any commitment to deEurocentrize the idea of the academy must go beyond a package of multicultural top-ups affixed to a monocultural framework. In advancing transformational change, it’s not enough to modify the conventions that refer to the rules. The rules that refer to the conventions must also be challenged in resetting the idea of the academy beyond Eurocentrism (Lightfoot 2016; Yap 2020).

Rethinking the Academy explores the what, why, and how and behind the possibility of un-thinking the Eurocentric academy and realigning it along postEurocentric lines consistent with the demands and realities of an emergent postmulticultural world. To put this argument to the test, the idea of the academy is problematized – deconstructed, reconceptualized and reassessed – through the prism of a Eurocentric lens that exposes those biases and barriers at odds with its loftier aspirations. References to developments in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and the United States in challenging the authority of a racialized, gendered, and monocultural agenda complement the book’s primary focus: the ←x | xi→politics of moving beyond a Eurocentric academy whose embedded exclusions compromise the idea and ideals of higher education in Canada.

←xii | 1→

1

Problematizing the Academy, Calling Out Eurocentricism

Introduction: Unsettling a Eurocentric Academy

“Everything is up in the air, all narratives for the moment have been blown open – all the metrics are off, if only briefly.” Dionne Brand 2020

We live in interesting yet paradoxical times. Awareness is mounting that the world is not some stable and static mosaic of stuck diversities and fixed ethno-silos. It’s increasingly perceived as a fluid and messy mismatch between territories and identities, political and cultural boundaries, and formal citizenship and new patterns of belonging (Beck et al. 2017). Conventional modes of seeing, thinking, and doing are under challenge from all angles. To one side are the centrifugal forces of globalization such as transnationalism, digitalization, and neoliberalism in eroding the insularity of social forms from nation-states to institutions. To the other side are the centripetal dynamics of complex diversities (from hyperdiversity to a postethnicity turn) that amplify pressures from within for moving beyond the past. The end result of this interplay is a baffling and contested dynamic of tensions, contradictions and developments. Localization accompanies internationalization, the proliferation of identity politics conflict with the universalism of a cosmopolitan ethic, a multicultural heterogeneity challenges the monocultural logic of globalization, institutions are under pressure to accommodate ←1 | 2→against the backdrop of a neoliberal austerity, and the politics of an authoritarian nationalism clash with the dynamics of a global diaspora (Bauman 2000).

The academy is hardly exempt from these harsh realities and conflicting demands. Universities and colleges are confronting a crisis of unprecedented proportions, including a seismic shift in the entrenched values and embedded structures of an age-old institution. This crisis of legitimacy is differently expressed, ranging from how they see themselves and their mandate in responding to a changing and diverse world, to how a coronavirus-damaged campus (from physical shutdowns to remote learning) is transforming peoples’ experiences of the post-pandemic academy (Myrick et al. 2020). Traditional forms of governance and scholarship are threatened with closure in an era of digital communication, the commodification of education, the consumerization of students, neoliberal business models, fake news and phony credentials, and a political correctness seemingly out of control. No less disruptive are upheavals to the academic workforce. Increases in the number and sweep of senior administrative staff are offset by redundancies at lower staffing levels, while precarious staffing patterns are now solidly entrenched as a preferred business model in the “gig” academy (Kezar 2020). In short, the optics don’t look good, and the paradoxes that engulf an academic landscape – a site of enlightenment as well as a domain of embedded exclusions – are captured by George Clement Bond (2012: 103) who writes:

At the same time that the academy is parochial and provincial, it is also cosmopolitan and universal. It is an intimate part of the social milieu in which it operates yet, it is tied to the production of ideas that transcend immediate circumstances. Its members are the products of history and yet they are the producers of history and authoritative interpretations. Contemporary academics enjoy the status of that accrues to them of being of and within the “Ivory Tower”….And yet, they exist as workers performing their activities within the mundane demands of everyday life.

In other words, multicultural-themed initiatives in diversifying the academy along a diversity/equity/inclusion axis have come a long way. Yet the academy remains metaphorically an ivory white tower whose systemic Eurocentrism and monocultural logic perpetuate the structures of racism, sexism, and coloniality (Stockdill and Danico 2011).

The academy is enduring additional scrutiny in the wake of the fallout that galvanized anti-racism protests around the world in response to video-captured incidents of police brutality. Activists and critics accuse the ivory towers of systemic1 racism and implicit biases, culminating in demands for dismantling those ←2 | 3→structures and ideologies that dismiss or devalue BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) minorities (Hirji, Jiwani, and McAllister 2020; Kennedy 2020; Peoples and Dillard 2020). The academy is also under pressure to put the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion into practice in ways that challenge conventional patterns of governance, scholarship, and entitlements. But the politics of doing what is doable and right intensify debates over the idea of the academy. They range from those who admire its progressive and enlightened ethos to those who denounce it as a “heteropatriarchal, white supremacist place” in need of an overhaul or replacement (Rinaldo Walcott in Widdowson 2018). In between these admittedly ideal-typical responses are those who fret over the integrity of the academy as a site of higher learning (Pettigrew and Vance 2016; Smith 2020). They fear the now “woke” academy is moving too fast or is becoming too accommodating in the process imperilling the very idea of higher education.

Details

Pages
XII, 342
ISBN (PDF)
9781433186066
ISBN (ePUB)
9781433186073
ISBN (MOBI)
9781433186080
ISBN (Hardcover)
9781433176364
Language
English
Publication date
2021 (July)
Published
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XII, 342 pp., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Augie Fleras (Author)

Augie Fleras earned his PhD in anthropology and Maori studies from Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand). In 2018 Fleras received a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Ethnic Studies Association. He is the author of numerous book publications, including Citizenship in a Transnational Canada (Peter Lang, 2018) and Postmulticulturalism (Peter Lang, 2019).

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Title: Rethinking the Academy