Leveraging Higher Education Departments to Promote Institutional Change for Equity and the Public Good
Neoliberal ideology in U.S. society and globally is transforming post-secondary institutions into economic drivers of their public purposes, that of promoting societal betterment and educational opportunity. Attendant with the neoliberal transformation of higher education’s purposes has been an erosion of the equity pursuits of postsecondary institutions as they privilege enrolling less diverse students more likely to persist and graduate.
Neoliberalism has also distorted the college access imperative and divorced it from addressing historic inequities and marginalizations present in higher education. Instead, the college access imperative is largely situated in the need to meet workforce development needs. The purpose of this paper is to increase awareness about how Higher Education preparation programs resist the neoliberalism transformation to higher education by describing how one specific such program, the Higher Education Department at the University of Denver, is actively resisting the influence of neoliberal ideology in campus life.
We offer examples drawn from our curricula and co-curricula in which departmental faculty, staff and students embody and enact grassroots leadership focused on advancing equity and the university’s public purposes.
We conclude by describing recommendations for other Higher Education departments interested in promoting their institution’s public purposes and equity pursuits while resisting neoliberalism. We also offer reflections intended to encourage other Higher Education departments to take up this vital work
Our hope is that this paper serves as a call to harness the power and expertise within Higher Education department to actively resist neoliberal practices and center equity and social justice. Our intent is to spark ideas, offering organizing practices, and research focused on examining the role of Higher Education departments and degree programs in leading postsecondary institutions in society.