English 9118B ~ The Humanities in the Corporate University

Professor Donna Pennee

Winter Half Course.

Just as “theory” was once thought to be too difficult, even inappropriate, for undergraduate students and thus best left to graduate studies, so the topic of the corporatization of public universities seems to be left to faculty members who volunteer for (or back into) administrative service rather than studied by students who are affected by diminished public funding and public interest in higher education. Yet the daily experience of graduate (and undergraduate) students in the publicly funded university has been shaped in part by the historical relationship between the disciplinary study of literature, the rise of the nation-state, the production of citizenship, and the rise of capitalism to its current global hegemony in the form of governance by corporate managerialism. This course provides immersion in reflecting on a topic of wide interest but of little direct study.

Understanding the current scene of the what is generally called the “corporatization” of the university requires knowledge of, among other things, the history of the university as an institution, its relations to the state, to the public, and to the private, its funding arrangements, and the “mission drift” which is lamented by many members of the profession, particularly, but not only, in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

In addition to learning something of the history of how universities have become corporatized, engaging with debates that may have a bearing on the profession’s and discipline’s future can provide not only new perspectives on an education in the discipline but valuable tools for thinking about disciplinary and other practices. This course, then, is part “professionalization” (one of the keywords that we may want to study) and part “cultural studies” (understanding university and disciplinary environments as cultures that operate/are operated through the materialization of keywords in public practice over time).

Some of the keywords particular to the academic environment that may be pursued as both content and method for this course include “academic freedom,” “self-governance,” “peer review,” and “autonomy.” Additional keywords, while they are not particular to the academic environment, nevertheless are shaping that environment in ways particular to the humanities, may include “corporatization,” “globalization,” “governmentality,” “management,” and “leadership.”

We will study selected scholarship and public commentary on the university as an institution and on the humanities and English Literary Studies in particular under the pressures of privatization of public institutions and public goods. The course will involve students in the design of modes of assessment and trajectories for individual or collaborative projects, but will begin with shared reading and discussion to provide a grounding in and familiarity with an emergent field of scholarship of administration and governance, scholarship often written by faculty members and graduate students from English departments. Students who may be unsure of what could be studied in this course might wish to read a few chapters in Francis Donoghue’s The Last Professor (2008) or Gerald Graff’s Professing Literature:  An Institutional History (2007; 1987) or the Readers’ Forum essays in recent issues of English Studies in Canada (the journal of the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English, ACCUTE).

View the course syllabus here: English 9118B. PDF download