Masaryk University is dropping Gender Studies. Now what?

There is a worrying trend growing within Central Europe, where deans of universities are dropping the Gender Studies major. First in Hungary, then Poland, now the list includes Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.

Masaryk University professors had been building the Gender Studies major since 1997, beginning with student organizing and planning within Sociology committees. In 2005, Masaryk University was finally open to adopting gender studies within their curriculum. Then in 2011, the sociology department was considering a stand-alone MA in Gender Studies. But attitudes shifted between 2011 and 2018.

Lucie Jarkovska currently works at Masaryk University within the Sociology department. She has specialized in gender studies and education, publishing research on how sex education has been taught in different countries. Jarkovska thinks that the reason for the dean’s decision was because of social stigma.

“Gender studies is a burning political issue,” Jarkovska said. “Some say it is not a real science.”

The Dean of the Sociology department Břetislav Dančák stated that the decision was based off low enrollment numbers within the major. Jarkovska and her colleague Kateřina Lišková do not believe this to be the case.

Meanwhile Jarkovska noted that they never officially saw figures on money earned from grants, the number of students enrolled, or any tables on how much they would be losing.

Liskova also noted how there has been more criticism of gender studies than there was in 2004, with more tension against progressive ideologies.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made the controversial decision to ban gender studies at any university within Hungary. In Poland, there are growing threats of universities dropping gender studies.

Jarkovska notes that the gender studies situation in the Czech Republic is not as bad as what is going on in Hungary and Poland. “It could be much worse,” Jarkovska said. Blanka Nyklova, a Gender Studies scholar within Prague’s Institute of Sociology, believes that the administrative friction against gender studies is because of world-wide phenomena.

“You will hear that what they used really were neoliberal arguments framing the whole thing as an economic necessity—a dictate of the market so to speak—which I believe is really dangerous,” Nyklova said. “At present, when you do it now, it means that you kind of turn a blind eye on what’s going on in the world—not just in Central or Eastern Europe, but in the world. You can see it in the U.S., as President Trump and the rhetoric of the people, and when it comes to gender relations in society, you can definitely see it in Western Europe as well and you can see it as very pronounced in Eastern Europe.”

Nyklova argues that progressive milestones can always be reversed. “To put it very mildly, I think it is very unfortunate,” Nyklova said. Liskova states that gender studies enrollment has mainly been dropping because of the negative stigma carried with the major, and students getting intimidated by the alienation of some students and anti-gender movements that have been growing.

“Some majors are always in the line of fire when social climates change,” Liskova said.

Professors in the Gender Studies field hypothesize this shift away from gender studies is a by-product of growing nationalism and rejection of supposed Western influence.

“It is a very complex issue, not everything is in black and white. If you see what some call the ‘anti-gender movement,’ which again is global, you will see that there are so many different actors that don’t have the same agenda to begin with,” Nyklova said. There is this divide of values between the East and West, as if objectively existing, where we cannot actually accept the ideologies that are coming from the West regarding gender relations. […] If you tracked the sources of feminist theories, you will see there are inspirations from across the globe.”

Liskova stated that whenever someone brings up numbers, that it is only used against them. Professors within the gender studies department have been assuming the worst for a few years now, with looming threats of the major getting dropped. The gender studies professors suggested that Masaryk University implement a stronger stand alone MA for gender studies to attract more students, but such plans never came into fruition.

“Next time you have to fight for Bachelor’s,” Jarkovska said.

Low numbers have also plagued the league of Gender Studies professors, where a team of originally six people had been reduced to three. Liskova noted how there was diversity within the sociology department, but because of lowering numbers, it is gradually becoming more difficult to uphold the gender studies division. Jarkovska also noted there seemed to be a hypocrisy towards gender studies, stating that some committee members argued that gender studies is a new field, but that new fields such as Systems analysis or modern workplace degrees do not get the same treatment as gender studies.

For now, it may be a few years before Jarkovska and Liskova can re-introduce the topic to committees. “I don’t think it will be coming back. As the decision ages, the potential to change something goes away,” Jarkovska said.

Students now have the option to get a BA in Sociology and take an MA with more specialized Gender Study courses within the Sociology field, or transfer to a university in Prague.

The problem is that previous students have transferred in the past and did not find much success. Liskova claimed that students got bored since some of the courses in the Prague Master’s program were identical to the courses they took within their BA. Liskova also notes the irony with these changes orchestrating more gender studies topics into sociology classes may paradoxically motivate more students to go into gender studies.

Currently, students already enrolled in the gender studies major will still be able to continue taking courses. The official “dropping” of the courses will be implemented once all the current students graduate. Students in the Gender Studies major have been volunteering, working on NGO’s and gender collectives.

“A certain culture is lost once these students graduate,” Jarkovska said.