Consumer Studies faculty, students in limbo
During spring semester, the administration announced its intention
to eliminate the Department of Consumer Studies. Students would
be phased out over three years, and no new admissions would be
allowed. The overt reason was stated to be lack of critical faculty
mass. When the number of faculty in the department decreased within
two years from eight to four, due to retirement and attrition,
positions were not filled, despite aggressive requests to fill
them. The department was then criticized by the administration
for not having a critical faculty mass. This is an obvious catch-22.
When vacancies are denied, there will be inevitable problems of
critical mass. Tenured faculty were instructed to find a new home
for themselves while those instructors without tenure, as well
as staff, have to fend for themselves.
Move ahead eight months to August. Is the department closed or
open? Everyone shrugs their shoulders with no answer. There was
a "confidence" vote within the College of Food and Natural Resources
at the end of spring semester not to proceed with the closure.
I assume this information is sitting on the provost's desk. There
has been no official response from that office about the state
of the department. Meanwhile, faculty and instructors are "drifting"
away to new homes and new jobs. Although I have found a potential
future home for myself in the Women's Studies Program, I am still
officially in limbo in Consumer Studies, not knowing the final
fate of the department.
Where does this leave the 200-plus undergraduate students who
remain and who have been promised that they can finish their degree
within the Department of Consumer Studies? What is communicated
to these students about the value of their identity within this
University community? How do they cope with and integrate these
issues into their personal and professional identity? Clearly,
I have become incredibly sad about why the University places such
a low priority on the needs of undergraduate students, specifically
those in Consumer Studies.
Consumer Studies is 98 percent women. Closing this department
is a gender issue, although I am sure that this would be flatly
denied by the administration. The largest majority of this department
are Apparel Marketing majors, a group of (predominantly) young
women who will end up in corporate offices of retail firms. They
will start with a salary of between $30,000 and $45,000. They
expect to be earning $55,000 to $100,000 a decade after graduation.
Not bad for a major deemed less than worthy to exist on this campus.
My question to the administration is this: Have we been falsely
labeled as a major that is associated with a feminine (i.e., fashion)
and less important "consumer" (i.e. Consumer Studies) orientation
in a larger environment of "producers" such as the School of Management
Computer Science, Engineering, biological sciences, etc.? I am
certain the answer is yes. When administration buys into these
negative stereotypes, departments are placed at risk for closure.
The administration also protects its own interests by using these
stereotypes (obviously in an undeclared manner) to give fuel to
the fire of department elimination. What department will be next?
I close with a statement about the proposed closure of Consumer
Studies from an Apparel Marketing major:
"I think men devalue professions that are female-dominated because
of general devaluation of women. Men unconsciously look at all
forms of 'women's work' both inside the home and out as beneath
them. As women try to achieve positions in this man-centric culture,
they too adopt an opinion of female-dominated areas [Consumer
Studies] as being beneath them. I think these unfair judgments
prevalent in our society also filter through our education system."