CGHE Webinar 217

The Origins and Evolution of Academic Drift at the California State University, 1960-2005

Date: Thursday, 17 June 2021 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Location: Zoom webinar, registration required
Speaker(s):
  • Amal Kumar, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Event Materials

This event is now archived and we are pleased to provide the following event media and assets, along with the original event overview.

Academic drift has been a central concept in higher education scholarship for the past half-century. Across contexts, the canonical theoretical framing is as an isomorphic process by which prestige-seeking lower-status academic institutions adopt the substantive and symbolic forms of more elite universities. Despite emerging evidence that prestige might not be the only impetus for academic drift, higher education scholarship is yet to identify an alternate mechanism and explore its evolution at the field level over an extended period of time.

In this talk, I will explore the origins and evolution of academic drift through a historical study of the California State University (CSU) system between 1960 and 2005. I find that the impetus for academic drift within the California State University system stemmed not from the pursuit of prestige but from a sense of perceived injustice about CSU’s organizational identity as institutionalized by the California legislature in 1960. Tracing the evolution of academic drift within the CSU system as a contingent phenomenon over the course of 45 years, I extend present research by demonstrating how CSU’s attempts to gain recognition were contested at various times both within the university and at the field level. Collectively, these findings identify organizational identity as an alternative causal mechanism for academic drift and develop a novel conceptualization of the phenomenon as a political and contested fieldwide process with historically contingent origins and an uncertain outcome.

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