National Association for Kinesiology in Higher Education

Executive Summary:  2020 NAKHE Annual Conference Keynote Address

Hal A. Lawson, Ph.D.
Professor of Educational Policy & Leadership and Professor of Social Welfare
University at Albany, State University of New York

As the third decade of the 21st Century begins, Kinesiology, the discipline with alternative names, has arrived at a crossroads. Mirroring work underway in other disciplines, disciplinary stewards must take stock of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in rapidly-changing higher education institutions and their surrounding societal contexts. The idea of disciplinary renewal is fit for purpose because it encompasses alternatives such as safeguarding and strengthening past-present achievements, jettisoning outmoded and sub- standard programs, reconsidering priorities, and redesigning programs.

Familiar phrases borrowed from the private sector offer planning-related guidance, and many are in good currency in the Neo-liberal university prototype. Examples start with quality controls, outcomes-based accountability, cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses, and strategic positioning in fast-changing markets. Meanwhile, as concern grows about the spiraling costs of higher education, the value-added effects of university degree programs are a top priority. Together these concerns signal the risks associated with false advertising and academic fraud in programs lacking a critical mass of practice-competent faculty members.

An endemic tension highlighted in the ensuing analysis also presents a timely opportunity for national and international dialogue in service of disciplinary renewal. The career preparation needs of vocationally-oriented undergraduate and graduate students— arguably the majority of students seeking specialized undergraduate majors and degree programs—may not be met systematically by faculty specialists who pursue and disseminate sub-disciplinary knowledge apart from its application and use values in the diverse worlds of policy and practice.

There are no surprises here because 20th Century Kinesiology was developed in accordance with the arts and sciences disciplines. In this prototype, faculty members’ curiosity and their pursuit of knowledge for its own sake are enlightening and have intrinsic value. Like students in other disciplines, Kinesiology students’ uses of the knowledge they gain are variable and subject to individual’s choices. Five other features of this arts and sciences model follow suit. Together they introduce its selectivity and silences and pave the way for alternatives.

One such alternative model for Kinesiology is presented as a generative idea. A high reliability, helping discipline departs from the arts and sciences model. It anticipates tough questions regarding what and whose interests drive Kinesiology’s development and future trajectory. It emphasizes faculty members’ social responsibilities, and it brings program quality and accountability issues to the forefront of futures planning. Significantly, this model illuminates needs to consider program deletions when departmental programs are vulnerable to allegations of academic fraud.

This high reliability, helping discipline prototype provides opportunities for Kinesiology’s redesign, including mechanisms for addressing hyper-specialization and sub- disciplinary fragmentation. New relations between Kinesiology’s sub-disciplinary specialists and interdisciplinary teams investigating children’s health-enhancing physical activity/sport and physical education teacher education and school programs provide case examples.