The Death of Critical Thinking at Neoliberal U.

AuthorRousseau, Nathan

AS THE ECONOMIST JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES OBSERVED IN 1935, "The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist" (cited in Beaulier et al. 2008,65). This article examines the rise of neoliberal principles in US society, particularly in higher education, and shows ways in which faculty, wittingly or not, have been complicit in creating a work environment that undermines teaching, scholarship, and service to the public good.

Neoliberalism and the Rise of the Entrepreneurial University

For most of the twentieth century, US society was organized around large corporations, particularly in manufacturing. However, challenging economic conditions in the 1970s led to sweeping changes in the 1980s. These changes included deregulation, corporate takeovers and mergers, and offshoring. In the wake of these changes, US society moved to a market-centered, neoliberal worldview in which the economy as a social institution no longer represents one institution among many, but rather is the central institution upon which all other institutions are based.

Neoliberalism in academia received a boost in 1980 when the Supreme Court ruled in National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University that full-time faculty members are "managerial employees" who are "involved in developing and enforcing employer policy." (1) This decision challenged the hundred-year-old position of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which asserted that "... faculty are not employees of a university, like workers in a factory, but are appointees of a university, which is not an ordinary business. While such appointees acknowledge a responsibility to the authorities of the university, their professional activities entail serving the wider public" (Finkin & Post 2009,34). This decision diminished the professional status of faculty, in essence reducing faculty to knowledge workers.

The transition to the new entrepreneurial university was also facilitated by federal legislation and new programs in the management of research and teaching. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 created a patent policy that allowed universities and businesses to have automatic ownership rights to federally funded research. As Jennifer Washburn (2005, 69) argues, "The collective effect was a dramatic increase in the overall amount of publicly financed research now subject to proprietary commercial control." Corporate financing of research has had a significant negative impact on the maintenance of standards in scholarship. In a survey of3,200 hundred scientists, 15 percent admitted to changing the design, methodology, or result of their investigation because of pressures from the funder (McGarity & Wagner 2008,65).

Neoliberalism's influence on government has been to model society on the market, and to fashion the self as an entrepreneur (Brockling 2016,60). Entrepreneurial workers must increase self-organization and self-monitoring, not for themselves, but rather for the institution (Brockling 2016). In Foucauldian terms, faculty function in a mode of governmentality where they engage in self-management within the terms specified for them by pressures from inside and outside the university. Some of these pressures include cuts in budget and staff and the redefinition of daily discourse in managerial terms. Both inside and outside of academe, market terms like brand and incentivize have infiltrated daily discourse. Even those cognizant of these changes within the academy are likely to refer to themselves as stakeholders rather than faculty. Minimally, the use of these and other terms such as value should be contested when defining the role of faculty.

Budget cuts in higher education reflect the neoliberal trends affecting every institution. About one-third of the workforce is employed on a contingent basis (Hyman 2018, 10). As other industries have downsized and outsourced, so have colleges and universities. Today, the majority of educators in higher education are employed on a contingent basis (Childress 2019,22). Education has joined the ranks of grounds and food services as an outsourced strategy.

The elimination of full-time, permanent employment in education began with the Reagan administration's spending cuts in education (Lambert 2014, 41). Industry leaders realized that contingent labor could become a "valuable and permanent management tool" (Hyman 190). Flexible scheduling turned out to be a cost-saving measure for industry and a source of uncertainty for workers. But in neoliberal terms, uncertainty or contingency increases a worker's freedom and autonomy. Just as the Supreme Court maintains that a corporation is a person, neoliberalism holds that a person, regardless of resources, is a corporation.

Teaching and Learning

The movement toward contingent labor in education, along with public outcry for greater accountability in measurable teaching outcomes, contributed to the rise of Centers for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs) on many college campuses. These centers house both university based and outsourced organizations. Since accountability is part of the neoliberal drive in education, it should not be surprising that some of the participants in these centers...

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