- Practicing Institutional Feelings:A Roundtable
Many scholars deploy the term corporate university to describe a set of shifts within higher education, including the ubiquity of market logics and outcomes assessment in administration, the mounting student-debt crisis, the growth of adjunct labor, the ethic of market-driven learning, and the branding of the university. Indeed, many argue that the corporatization of the university disproportionately affects fields like women’s studies that are already precariously situated in the university. As many feminist and queer scholars critique the corporate university, women’s studies has created its own institutional forms (including graduate certificates, master’s programs, and PhD programs) and has an institutional life that includes the circulation of feminist analytics (for example, intersectionality, transnational, and others) outside of women’s studies. How, if at all, does this paradox shape your research, teaching, job-market approaches, and experiences? If you were to provide a critical ethnography and/or speak from your particular institutional location, what does corporatization—if this is indeed the correct term—mean for the daily practices of feminist research and pedagogy? How do women’s studies institutional form(s) shape your investments in the field itself?
When I tell people that I am working on a doctorate in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies (WGSS), the most frequent question I get is: What will you do with that? Although at family holidays, recently the question has turned to: When will you be done with that? I hear within these questions a number of the challenges we currently face as the language and culture of the university shifts to that of a corporate conglomerate. Degrees, [End Page 217] whether undergraduate or advanced, are viewed as a means to an end, a necessary tick-mark in a series of credentials that bear the true worth. It is difficult to explain to friends and family outside of the academy that—to invoke a popular cliché—the journey is in fact more important than the destination. I feel my anxiety and defensiveness rise as I make the case for my work in academia, or as I explain the funding structures of PhD programs and the intricacies of the academic job market.
These concerns and discomforts are not mine alone. As I mentor undergraduate WGSS majors I have found that their own hesitations echo the questions above: What kind of job can I get with this degree? Although much ink has been spilled over the value of the liberal arts and on the shifting of the college experience from that of a holistic education to a specialized degree (perhaps with the value-added branding of a major university), I think such conversations beg to be considered in these pages. How does WGSS fit into this mix? I am less interested in how we justify WGSS in its institutional forms than in how we support and encourage our students and one another in the face of this demand to brand, market, and sell our intellectual pursuits.
Corporatization, for me, does not fully communicate the state of the contemporary university. Much as neoliberalism and globalization can be used to describe the violence of late capitalism without naming capital, explaining the university’s captivity by market logics with the language of corporatization misses what is most toxic and ordinary about this mode of organizing labor and learning. Increased reliance upon casualized labor, complicity in the student-debt crisis, crudely tethering learning to market demands, and so forth are not unique to the corporation, but are rather endemic to the political economy of late capitalism.
Much of what is so extractive about academic labor is more in league with the conditions of nonprofit and creative work than corporate, white-collar work. The university has long relied on “higher calling” discourses that compel workers to do more for less; murky boundaries between work and nonwork time, life, and space; and union-busting under the guise of concern for students, to name a few examples...