A feminist analysis of women academics' experiences of restructuring in a South African University.
Given the changes in South African Higher Education in the context of globalization and the tension over the nature and role of higher education in social, political and economic transformation, the question arises: How has South African Higher Education been positioned in this global arena to respond to local and global pressures? More importantly, if South African universities are to play a significant role in transformation, then they ought to be places that uphold and promote the goals of social justice, namely full and equal participation for all. The broad focus of this study was the relationship between gender and higher education restructuring and the implications thereof for gender equity. This study therefore aimed to investigate how women academics were experiencing institutional restructuring in the context of national higher education reform and globalization and the implications thereof for gender equity. Using theoretical constructs drawn from feminist standpoint theory and methodology, and my own autobiography and experiences, I conducted in-depth narrative interviews with fourteen women academics in the university. Investigating gender inequality and inequity in the context of higher education reform necessitates studying the characteristics of the restructured university as a social system and its relation to individual behaviour. Standpoint feminist theory allows for the interrogation of individual and intentional action in the context of structural constraints in terms of race, class and gender. The research site for this investigation was the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Given my experiences as a woman academic in a restructured university and my position as a researcher/participant, it made sense to use UKZN as the site for my research. There were two key reasons for selecting this as my research site: the restructuring of the university as a result of the wider transformation in higher education in South Africa; the formation of UKZN from and the merger of two universities in the province, one a historically white institution (HWI) and the other a historically black institution (HBI). I drew on Nancy Fraser‟s (2008) three-dimensional theory of justice to make sense of women academics experiences of higher education restructuring and its implications for how we understand and address gender and social injustice in the current context of globalization. The study found that participants experienced tensions in assuming an academic identity. Factors such as their temporary status, the lack of respect afforded to them within the institution and within their disciplines, their lack of a standing in a discipline as well as their perceived lack of expertise and research significantly influenced their construction of themselves as academics. The prevailing dominant masculine discourse and ethos served to reinforce feelings of inadequacy and inferiority further entrenching the ambivalence participants experienced in assuming an academic identity. For them, assuming an academic identity is an emotionally laden experience, influenced by the values they attach to their work and the emotional investment they make to teaching and learning. They perceived the university executive, in its corporatization of the university and its adoption of new managerial policies and practices to have privileged profits and not people. They saw this as compromising the purpose and role of universities. Participants experienced development of institutional policies and accompanying practices as exclusionary. Decentralization has resulted in an increase in administrative and bureaucratic work for academics. They experienced the emergent corporate culture as hostile, alienating and destructive; believing that it has eroded academic autonomy and collegiality: and saw this as negatively impacting on staff morale which left staff feeling excluded, marginalized, and alienated. For participants, their growing sense of alienation from the institution is the result of incongruence between their personal and professional values and the university‟s corporate values. As women, they value teaching, their students who they do not see as clients, their colleagues and collegial ways of working, not competition for rewards. They value the production and dissemination of knowledge for the betterment of society and do not see it as a commodity. Increased workloads, fewer resources, larger classes, semesterization and modularization, greater administrative responsibilities have resulted in greater constraints and less control for academics over their work. Career advancement is now closely tied to quantitative indices of value and worth which define an academic in the corporate university, which further alienates women from their academic work and the institution. For these women academics, collegiality and collaboration not competition, individuality not individualism, the process not the product is what counts, not the counting of what one does. This study concludes that the reinforcement of male dominated approaches, so prevalent in universities not only threatens equity gains, it leads to greater inequity in terms of misrecognition. Like other research findings, this research has demonstrated that the corporatization of the university and the prevailing masculine culture of new managerialism are set, to once again privilege men and disadvantage women (Metcalfe and Slaughter, 2008) thereby entrenching maldistristribution and misrecognition in relation to gender. According to Metcalfe and Slaughter (2008), women are advancing in their careers in the context of academic capitalism, but a celebration of their success ignores the majority of women who have not achieved similar gains, because of they have not adapted to fit the individualistic, competitive, market-based criteria now used to reward academic staff, which denies them parity of participation.