Curricular Decision-making at a Public University in a Neoliberal Context: A Case Study

Raoking, Feng, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Heinecke, Walter, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

When university faculty members plan their colleges’ curricula and their research directions, they interact with administrators, accrediting agencies, and students. The present era of neoliberalism and globalization has introduced drastic changes in the impact of these groups. Various interest groups in the US have endorsed a move toward greater social accountability in public higher education. While these measures may provide a certain kind of effectiveness and efficiency, their relationship to student learning remains unclear.
This study seeks to understand how faculty make sense of neoliberal reforms and how that translates into their knowledge production and transmission as reflected in curricular construction. Using a comparative case study design and qualitative research methods, it examines how the faculty of the English department and the teacher education department at a public university experience neoliberal policies and the consequences of these processes. The study triangulates interview and document data at each level within one public higher education system.
The findings show that neoliberal transformations in the higher education system took two major forms: increased accountability regulations and deregulated market activities. The federal and state governments attempted to capitalize on public higher education’s contribution to the economy while continuing to defund institutions and deregulate the market of higher education. The market culture flourished within the university, turning courses and knowledge into consumer products and students into customers. Such neoliberal transformations have a significant impact on faculty’s perception of the factors that contribute to their sensemaking processes with regard to teaching, research, and service. The pursuit of accountability and marketability has driven a move toward academic consumerism, managerialism, and stratification. Neoliberal economic values prevailed over traditional academic values in both departments investigated and their curricular activities. Consequently, faculty in both departments adopted the economic framing of education, viewing economic productivity as positive. Additionally, both administrators and faculty considered faculty as mobile employees in an increasingly deregulated academic labor market.
The findings of this study suggest that knowledge transmission and production in higher education are taking on new forms that reflect neoliberal interests and societal trends. Among the casualties may be academic freedom.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Faculty Work, Teaching, Neoliberalism, Curriculum, Policy Transformation
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