- Corporate Humanities in Higher Education: Moving Beyond the Neoliberal Academy by Jeffrey R. Di Leo
In the past two decades there have been numerous inquiries into the challenges facing U.S. higher education. Scholars have studied the current state and the future of colleges and universities from two primary perspectives. One perspective tends to focus on the economic and vocational nature of the university, criticizing the rising costs of education and the preparation of students for the modern knowledge economy (e.g., Arichbald & Feldman, 2010; Hacker & Dreifus, 2010; Vedder, 2004). These studies typically highlight the need for adaptation and strategic decision making by universities to maintain and improve position in the global marketplace. Another perspective focuses on the cultural and civic significance of the university, noting that academic and democratic values have been supplanted by corporatization in the administrative structure and the marginalization of areas of study seen as unprofitable (e.g., Aronowitz, 2001; Donoghue, 2008; Folbre, 2010; Nussbaum, 2010). The purpose and function of higher education and the role of faculty in implementing that vision have been central problematic issues in both perspectives.
Jeffery Di Leo’s Corporate Humanities in Higher Education (2013) focuses on these points of contention. Based on a deep reading of the relevant research, Di Leo borrows from and critiques his colleagues (Donoghue, 2010; Hacker & Dreifus, 2010; Menard, 2010; Miller, 2012; Nussbaum, 2010; Taylor, 2010), noting that many of these studies have moved past academic circles and become daily discussions among politicians and businessmen, fodder for mainstream journalism, and central themes at national conferences for research and policy associations. His concern is that academics have consistently called for the same thing—a return to a golden age of academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, when such a consensus has left academics ill equipped to argue for the value of the humanities in a neoliberal context and thus unable to defend the academic profession from external forces.
Di Leo’s purpose in Corporate Humanities is to provide suggestions to humanities scholars for changes that they and the academy can make to adapt to an age of neoliberalism. Di Leo, an English professor, university administrator, and journal editor, contextualizes his discussion amid the shrinking interest and support for traditional humanities and liberal arts. The book has three main premises: 1) neoliberalism is bad for higher education; 2) neoliberalism promotes docile academics; 3) docile research, teaching, and academic exchanges are bad. Each of these premises is engaged as Di Leo discusses practical interventions that humanities scholars can take in order to promote critical inquiry and democratic education. Of particular significance to Di Leo is the way in which liberal arts and humanities are struggling to define and defend their vocational importance as the monetary worth of a college degree becomes increasingly important to students, parents, and administrators. He writes, “The future of the humanities may in fact hinge on our ability as teachers to demonstrate the value and significance of key texts and topics through a multitude of venues and modes, that is, it may hinge our ability to be pedagogically progressive and intellectually inventive” (p. 11). Di Leo elaborates that this progressive approach would open the classroom to active dialogue between engaged students and instructors, who become collaborators in the creation of knowledge. He argues against the notion that the liberal arts can operate independently from economic forces as the producer of enlightened citizens, questioning a dichotomy between pure/ theoretical knowledge and applied/vocational knowledge in order to fully actualize its position in the global marketplace (pp. 18–24). It is only through this recognition that humanities scholars can begin to operate effectively for positive change.
The most compelling and valuable components of Di Leo’s work are his criticisms of faculty practices that maintain an uncritical status quo. Operating out of fear of change and in many cases fear of total removal from the academy, Di Leo describes a state in which humanities scholars are terrorized...