Higher education through the lens of popular culture

July 21, 2015

In her new book, Representing “U”: Popular Culture, Media, and Higher Education, Pauline Reynolds, associate professor in the School of Education, takes a closer look at a topic that isn’t discussed much in academia.

“Hardly anyone focuses on popular culture in the field of higher education,” Reynolds said. “In fact, colleagues at other institutions who do this work have been told not to do it if they want to get tenure.”

Described by Dr. Barbara Tobolowsky of the University of Texas at Arlington as a “thorough, expert, and insightful analysis” that is a “treasure for higher education researchers and students as well as lovers of media, Representing “U” is a review of scholarly literature across disciplines. Reynolds outlines major themes in literature related to the representation of institutions, administrators, faculty and students, and discusses what these themes mean for action in actual institutions.

“My book argues that artifacts of popular culture are pedagogic texts capable of (mis)educating viewers and consumers regarding the purpose, values, and people of higher education,” Reynolds said.

It’s an important topic, she said, because “professors, administrators and students negotiate the influence of pop culture and media every day in from the trustee boardroom to classroom to the residential hall. Many people randomly blame pop culture and media for influencing values towards and behaviors within higher education, but few people have actually examined specifically how  popular culture and media represents higher education and the ways in which this changes (or not) over time.”

When it comes to new work, Reynolds isn’t straying from the topic of pop culture and higher ed; she has a book proposal under final review called Mediating Academia, co-edited with Tobolowsky, that examines the representation of higher education in different cultural texts and periods, and is working on a chapter that surveys and describes higher education in comic books and strips. She is also working on a book proposal called The Reel Professoriate, which will examine the representation of faculty in movies from the 1930s to the present.