Two Madison Profs Make 'Collegeland' Podcast About University LifeHistorians in the News
tags: higher education, podcasts, academic labor, colleges and universities
Nan Enstad and Lisa Levenstein, long-time friends and professors, had considered starting a podcast for a few years, but the COVID-19 pandemic gave them the timely, needed push to record their first episode.
It also convinced them that the podcast, “Collegeland,” would focus on higher education. As campuses began closing down last spring, the pair began discussing their “anxiety” about the need for better storytelling about colleges and universities, said Nan Enstad, history and sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The first thing we did in September was do a search and look around for higher education podcasts, and we didn’t find any that replicate what we do,” Enstad said. “We’re looking for stories about what universities could be but are not. Unlike most PR, we’re happy to criticize universities and see what their shortcomings are and think about what universities could be.”
The “Collegeland” team noticed that higher education coverage often falls into two camps. On one hand, critics — often working at think tanks or in right-wing commentary — malign colleges and universities as elite bubbles. On the other, PR and communications departments paint them as idyllic places of opportunity. They wanted to resist both and fill the gap in between.
For her first interview, Enstad spoke with UW-Madison epidemiologist Malia Jones about her viral public health project “Dear Pandemic.” But she also knew “Collegeland” had to walk a fine line: While the pandemic had disrupted every part of university life, listeners probably would not want every episode to be about it.
In eight, biweekly episodes, “Collegeland” has featured campuses and people from across the U.S., which still only scratch the surface of a host of urgent issues, said Lisa Levenstein, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Nationwide trends show colleges and universities have increased spending on new buildings, administrative pay and pre-professional programs at the cost of lower-paid workers and the humanities or liberal arts, she said.
“These changes have been happening for the past few decades, and the pandemic in some ways has accelerated that,” Levenstein said. “There is a lot in higher education that’s going on that is amazing, that we’re celebrating and want to lift up. There is also a lot that’s concerning that we want to point out and places that need advocacy, to be questioned and maybe challenged.”
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