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Salute to One of Higher Education’s Top Scholars

Libby Morris and James Hearn

Sheila Slaughter, the inaugural Louise McBee Professor of Higher Education, is retiring this year. Attempting to capture what she has meant to the study of higher education worldwide is an impossible task. Attempting to capture what she has meant to the Institute of Higher Education is similarly challenging. Sheila has been a scholar, mentor, colleague, friend, provocateur, and partner since joining us from the University of Arizona in 2005. She has forced us to ask challenging questions about the field and about our own work, never shying from an opportunity to challenge accepted practice when there was a chance that that practice could be differently understood or improved upon.

When Sheila gives talks or publishes books and articles, people pay attention. Her perspectives on the most fundamental issues in our field are wrestled with, appreciated, and used across the globe. Indeed, when the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) gave her the 2014 Howard R. Bowen Distinguished Career Award—“presented to an individual whose professional life has been devoted in substantial part to the study of higher education and whose career has significantly advanced the field through extraordinary scholarship, leadership and service”—the committee emphasized the global impact of her scholarship, noting that one nominator called her “perhaps the best known and most influential American scholar of higher education in the rest of the world.”  

Sheila’s work spanning four decades has examined numerous issues, including faculty professionalization, academic freedom, intellectual property and technology transfer, the commercialization of research, and gender in higher education.  Her on-going work funded by the National Science Foundation is charting and examining the implications of the networks of university trustees that link universities to corporations. Many of these issues are implicated in one large strand of Sheila’s work that stands especially tall.  Sheila and her colleagues, first at the University of Arizona and then at the University of Georgia, identified and explored the outlines of  “academic capitalism” by conceptually tying together seemingly disparate developments in universities and societies worldwide.  Those pioneering insights spawned a truly remarkable ongoing research program for Sheila, and helped launch research careers of those who have followed and built on her work.  They have changed the ways we think and talk about higher education in the modern world; opened up new areas of inquiry; and shined spotlights on problematic, entrenched relationships and trends affecting higher education around the world. Contemporary researchers on the university’s role in the economy and society universally acknowledge Sheila’s many scholarly contributions in these and other areas (see sidebar).

But focusing solely on Sheila’s research would not do her career justice. Sheila has served in numerous institutional and national roles, dating at least to her efforts on behalf of the Teaching Assistants Association as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. Indeed, it was as a steward for that first graduate student union to successfully bargain a contract in American higher education that Sheila learned fundamental and valuable lessons about corporate higher education in a capitalist state. In the years since, she has continued to make significant contributions by sharing her unique insights and abilities with professional, disciplinary, and scholarly associations. She has served in multiple editorial capacities, on the American Association of University Professors’ Committee T on Governance, as a consultant to the National Science Foundation, and as a collaborator with numerous international initiatives. From 1995-1996, she was the president of ASHE, the leading scholarly and professional association in our field.

Of course, Sheila has played crucial roles in the Institute, as well. As a senior faculty member, she has been intimately involved with shaping the culture and the future direction of the Institute. She has consistently helped us consider strategic ideas from all perspectives, and her emphases on ensuring quality, attending to the public good, and seeing things straight have been essential to our successes.

The course Social Theory and Higher Education, which she created and taught, has constituted a formidable but cherished piece of our core curriculum for doctoral students.  Students taking it inevitably come out of it with deepened and widened understanding of the societal role played by colleges and universities. In the course and more broadly, she has been fully committed to the Institute’s teaching mission of building students’ knowledge of social-science theory and research. She has pushed students to be rigorous, theoretical, disciplined, and bold. Benefitting especially from Sheila’s extraordinary guidance and support have been the many IHE students she has advised and employed as research assistants, as well as the postdoctoral associates whom she has funded and mentored.  In every respect, she has filled our highest expectations for the Institute’s Louise McBee Professorship.

Sheila’s retirement will surely expand her opportunities to pursue her many interests, including hiking, traveling, and knitting. We all understand the numerous good things awaiting her. Yet she will also maintain her close ties to and interaction with the Institute, including continuing to lead her trustees research project and continuing to mentor her graduate students.  While we will appreciate the intellectual spark that she will still bring to the Institute, we will certainly miss her regular presence in Meigs Hall.

Sheila Slaughter:

A brief overview of her career

Louise McBee Professor of Higher Education (2005-15)

Co-/authored books = 7 (2 translated into foreign languages)

Edited books & journal issues = 11

Published articles in 23 different peer-reviewed journals

Presented papers in over 15 different countries outside the U.S.

MP for approx. 50 doctoral degrees (numerous awards won by students)

ASHE awards & honors:

     Howard Bowen Distinguished Career Award

     Research Achievement Award

     Served as president and vice president

AERA Fellow

AERA Lifetime Research Achievement Award

Erasmus Mundi Fellow, HeDDA, (EU)

Erasmus Mundus Scholarship, Danube University Krems

Research Fulbright: Australia

Type of News/Audience:


Professor Emerita of Higher Education

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