Sexism in higher education research?

On a day when my twitter feed was full of sexism and scandal, I downloaded a new paper by Peter Kandlbinder, called Signature concepts of women researchers in higher education teaching and learning. It’s just been published in Studies in Higher Education, which is one of the gee whiz, gold star, highly ranked higher education journals.

Apart from the fact that the title reminded me of signature dishes of famous chefs, the paper was both useful and shocking. Useful because it draws attention to the contribution of four female researchers in higher education teaching and learning: Sheila Slaughter, Carolin Kreber, Angela Brew and Sarah Delamont. The signature concepts of these researchers are academic capitalism (Slaughter), scholarship of teaching (Kreber), teaching-research nexus (Brew), and postgraduate supervision (Delamont). Kandlbinder also identifies the pathway that each researcher adopted which led them to becoming known for their signature concept: create a unifying concept (Slaughter), publish in multiple journals (Kreber), link two fields together (Brew), and provide advice for practitioners (Delamont). Kandlbinder also notes that each researcher began exploring their signature concept during their doctoral studies.

Now onto the shocking bit: Kandlbinder chose to include a couple of comments from anonymous reviewers, I think on his earlier paper on Signature concepts of key researchers in higher education teaching and learning. One of these reviewers said:

“…higher education [research] is…dominated by the names of ‘seven old men, mostly now retired, who are linked to old concepts, largely generated 30 to 40 years ago with little to recommend them since’.” (p3)

I’m shocked that Kandlbinder included this comment in his paper. While I respect that it is the perspective of the reviewer, and that it might be an opinion shared by others, I find the comment to be harsh and unhelpful.

I’m not saying that sexism in academia doesn’t exist – a recent thesiswhisperer post and associated comments talk about this, and the issue has been explored by many researchers such Joan Eveline in her book Ivory Basement Leadership. I’m saying that comments along the lines of ‘old men, old concepts’ don’t help anyone. Why devalue someone’s work because of their gender or age?

In the Acknowledgements section, Kandlbinder thanks the six (!) anonymous reviewers of, I assume, his paper Signature concepts of key researchers in higher education teaching and learning, which talked about the work of seven male researchers. He says that the reviewers encouraged him to go back at look at his data to find the contributions of female researchers. So that’s fantastic, good on those reviewers. But don’t diss the guys just because they are guys. I’m all for critiquing the concepts – and will do so in my next post on student approaches to learning.