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Phillip Marzluf Commodifying the University: Consequences and Responses (on Benjamin Johnson, Patrick Kavanagh, and Kevin Mattson, eds., Steal This University: The Rise of the Corporate University and the Academic Labor Movement [New York: Routledge, 2003]; and Marc Bousquet, Tony Scott, and Leo Parascondola, eds., Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers: Writing Instruction in the Managed University [Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2004]) When I was a graduate student in composition and rhetoric, I remember contesting the role of professional and technical writing courses within Englishdepartments. Werethey, asIcontended, themeansbywhichEnglish marketed itself as "useful" to corporations naturally interested in the cultivation ofadvanced functional literacy skills? Were they the only option left for techie humanists suffering from science-envy? Or, more cynically, were they a mechanism for offsetting lower undergraduate enrollments and securing additional tuition dollars to subsidize the privileged research of literature professors? One venerable explanation is that technical writing, as a discipline bonded uncomfortably to English, reaches out to these engineering and science students to "civilize" them, as Hugh Blair's rhetoric had pacified gentlemen and cultivated their discriminations of taste more than two hundred years ago. The student who possessed an appreciation for taste, according to Blair, would not be "obliged to fly to low company, or to court the riot of loose pleasures, in order to cure the tediousness of existence" (35). For these techie students outside of English, the "loose pleasures " may very well be the pursuits of capital, material consumption, and a comfy job. Of course, we no longer feel comfortable enacting Blair's desire to civilize students. But, with our talk of ethics and rhetorical strategies, do we not at least hope to make the culture of the humanities more visible? Evan Watkins, who is partly responsible for the attention now paid to English departments as material workplaces, observes how English pervasively circulates its own agendas—after all, almost all students end up taking an English course sometime in their academic careers—yet how its ideology and culture remain peripheral and innocuous (22). English professors , Watkins comments, comparing their workplaces with advertising firms, certainly do not boast the same type of ideological success as marketing executives. Those of us who labor or manage within the lower status sub-disciplines of English, such as technical writing or composition studies , are even more keenly aware of how ineffectual our cultures are. Indeed, I feel as if I am constantly retreating from the far more powerful and successful cultures of my science and engineering students, and consequently struggle to make my materials more relevant, my objectives more clear, and my teaching, perhaps, more commodifiable. 254 the minnesota review From my perspective now, as a tenure-track, junior faculty member in composition studies, and one soon poised to manage a composition program , I believe that my original, naive question regarding the role of technical writing forecasts current conversations about the commodification of post-secondary education. Books such as Bill Readings's The University in Ruins; David Noble's Digital Diploma Mills; and David Kirp's Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line confound the once privileged role of the university as a guarantor of national culture and now relate higher education to issues of corporatization, privatization, utilitarianism, job crisis studies, institutional and disciplinary critique, and labor activism. These trans-disciplinary conversations invariably focus upon English departments, in part because of the large number of undergraduate students who take required composition courses, as well as the many adjunct instructors and graduate teaching assistants necessary to staff these classes. Theresa Enos's Gender Roles and Faculty Lives in Rhetoric and Composition and Eileen Schell's Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers, for example, explore the reliance of English departments upon a contingent workforce, a phenomenon that may contribute to the marginalization of women in academia, especially those who teach composition without a doctoral degree. According to Bill Readings's well known prognosis, universities emerge from their modern hulls as post-historical institutions of "excellence," which no longer hope to legitimize themselves by circulating culture, but by accumulating and exchanging capital, exploiting new markets, and branding themselves with a marketable image to attract student-consumers . In Digital Diploma Mills, Noble marks this "commodification of the research function...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 253-261
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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