Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

The Neoliberal University: Theory and Practice

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

The Neoliberal University: Theory and Practice

Article excerpt

This article analyzes recent transformations and tendencies regarding academic modes of governance as expressions of neoliberal politics and policies. It traces the history and development of neoliberalism from World War II to the present, arguing that the end of the Cold War provided the opportunity for institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF to implement neoliberal globalization. These key institutions, backed by the Washington consensus, have promoted privatization and the erosion of democratic and socially responsible governance. The author examines the American University in Dubai as an example of the present and future of the academic modes of governance in a neoliberal and deeply non-democratic global order.


I wonder we were so much deceived.

--Edward Sexby (during the Putney Debates)

My aim here is to examine the "globalization" of American-style higher education as both an expression of, and a means for, the reproduction of triumphalist neoliberal economic trends and policies. Specifically, I consider "American" universities, proliferating recently in the Gulf and elsewhere, that espouse the values of liberal education but in fact are guided and governed by the logic and imperatives of transnational corporations and the broader economic goals, including unbridled capital flows coupled with increasing restrictions on workers' movement and other rights, that they represent. I then illustrate my analysis with examples drawn from my own experience of teaching for a year at an "American-style" institution in Dubai. First, however, I would like to trace the meaning and emergence of neoliberalism and globalization in the post-war era.

1. Neoliberalism

The valances of the term "neoliberalism" are multiple, to say the least, and arriving at a strict definition presents considerable challenges. Like the term "globalization" (with which it is frequently associated), "neoliberalism" is often defined by reference to processes generally agreed to exist, but the questions of who or what is responsible for the processes, and even the very "newness" of the processes, are matters of fierce debate. (1) The field of Atlantic studies, for instance, suggests active forces of globalization as early as the fifteenth century, and identifies responsible actors as specific as Christopher Columbus and as general as European urbanization. However, while we are all inheritors of a profoundly interrelated world, and while those interrelations have very deep historical origins, we are likewise participants in a quite recent and unique intensification of inter-, trans-, and supranational relations that are taking place under and through a uniquely limited number of economic and social arrangements. Globalization has come to be the preferred term to describe certain developing complex interconnections of people, nations, regions, and institutions of the world. Neoliberalism has come to be the preferred term to describe certain developing economic and social policies that directly affect the peoples, nations, regions, and institutions of the world. The effects, though, of globalization and neoliberalism are decidedly differential, the result of what a recent report by the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization describes as an "imbalance in the global rules." The report is declarative:

   The majority of the world's people ... continue to be excluded from
   directly participating in markets and globalization on a fair and
   equal basis. They enjoy none of the property and other rights, nor
   the capabilities and assets they need to enter into productive
   economic transactions.... There is a growing polarization between
   winners and losers. The gap between rich and poor countries has
   widened. (2)

It is principally in relation to governing "rules" that globalization and neoliberalism intersect. The institutions that make the rules which increasingly govern the global economy are committed to the economic models and the attendant ideology of neoliberalism. …

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