Academic Mercantilism, Militarism, and Managerialism

By Braus, Ira | Academe, January/February 2011 | Go to article overview

Academic Mercantilism, Militarism, and Managerialism


Braus, Ira, Academe


Academic Mercantilism, Militarism, and Managerialism Academic Repression: Reflections from the Academic Industrial Complex Anthony J. Nocella II, Steven Best, and Peter McLaren, eds. Edinburgh: AK Press, 2010

Reviewed by Ira Braus

Academic Repression posits that academic freedom, what Michael Bérubé calls "a scholar's right to be controversial," has been tested more broadly since September 11, 2001, than at any other time during the last century. In this volume of thirtythree essays (excluding several prefatory pieces and an afterword), one finds familiar names such as Henry Giroux, Michael Parenti, Robert Jensen, Ward Churchill, Howard Zinn, and Cary Nelson. Other contributors, similarly eloquent but less well known, include Takis Fotopoulos, Deric Shannon, Maria Cotera, and John Asimakopoulos. The essays are grouped in six sections: "Contextualizing Academic Repression," "Academic Slapdown: Case Studies in Repression," "Repression at Home and Abroad: Middle East and African Perspectives," "Dispatches from the Margins: Gender, Race, Sex, and Abilities," "Fast Times at Corporate Higher Ed.," and "Twilight of Academia: Critical Pedagogy, Engaged Intellectuals, and Political Resistance." Here I will touch on two I found especially compelling.

Henry Giroux's "Higher Education after September 11th" exposes a toxic brew of mercantilism, militarism, and managerialism that he feels has strained academic freedom, as codified by the AAUP and like-minded groups, since September 11. His account of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates's "Minerva Consortium," a federal initiative meant to renew academia by funneling its brain power into projects such as the "Human Terrain System," is wryly entertaining. (The project's name could be translated as "Do anthropological research in occupied countries for strategic purposes.") Playing ironically on the name of the initiative, Giroux sounds out its implications for domestic politics:

Unfortunately, Gates's view of the university as a militarized knowledge factory, Professor Leopold's instrumental understanding of faculty as a "brand name," and the university as a new marketplace of commerce are not lines drawn from a gag by Jon Stewart. . . . Instead such ideas have become influential in shaping the purpose and meaning of higher education. Hence, it no longer seems unreasonable to argue that, just as democracy is being emptied out, the university is also being stripped of its role in a democratic setting where . . . a democratic ethos can be cultivated, practiced, and sustained over generations.

Giroux traces the above "branding" to an ideological control that cultural conservatives have sought to wield over academia for the last two centuries, activities spurred by religious or nationalistic fundamentalism. This phenomenon explains mid-twentieth-century campus offshoots of McCarthyism, such as the founding of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and William F. Buckley's antisecularist God and Man at Yale. Giroux shows that similar tendencies persist after September 11 in the surveillance of academics and nonacademics, notably by conservative activist David Horowitz and organizations such as Campus Watch and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. He makes the case by asking, "Can one really believe that Horowitz is a voice for open inquiry when he portrays the late Peter Jennings, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Garrison Keillor, and Katie Couric as activists for 'left-wing agendas and causes'?"

No less penetrating in its insight is Ali Shehzad Zaidi's "Powerful Compassion: The Strike at Syracuse." In this gem of historical reportage, Zaidi recounts the 1998 strike as counterpoint to a theme trumpeted endlessly by corporatized university administrations: the ends justify the means. …

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