Johns Hopkins University Press
  • “Never Waste a Good Crisis”: Critical University Studies during and after a Pandemic
A Third University Is Possible. By la paperson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017. xxv + 72 pages. $10.00 (paper). $4.95 (e-book).
Beyond Education: Radical Studying for Another World. By Eli Meyerhoff. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019. 272 pages. $100.00 (cloth). $24.95 (paper).
Making the World Global: U.S. Universities and the Production of the Global Imaginary. By Isaac Kamola. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019. xix + 282 pages. $104.95 (cloth). $27.95 (paper).
Teach for Arabia: American Universities, Liberalism, and Transnational Qatar. By Neha Vora. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019. xi + 217 pages. $85.00 (cloth). $25.00 (paper).

Higher education, you may have heard, is in crisis.

Since the early stages of the pandemic, academics have written incisively about how the emergency response is functioning as a pretext to speed up trends that were already remaking US higher education in the image of a (highly stratified) marketplace.1 We are watching the pivot to virtual teaching increase the “datafication” of higher education while increasing administrative oversight, restricting faculty autonomy, increasing teaching loads, and furthering the casualization of the academic labor force.2

As long as I (and my millennial cohorts) have been alive, the American University has been on the precipice of some existential catastrophe. Breathless media coverage of the imminent demise of higher education as we know it—whether due to the Culture Wars, globalization, MOOCS, or the Great Recession—has been a constant companion through our educational trajectories.3 We have also seen other, less-heralded changes in regimes of production [End Page 181] shape the casualization of academic labor.4 The effects of compounding crises have made most of us overworked and underpaid graduate students, adjuncts, and contingent faculty.

But these moves have not gone uncontested. Our time in academe has also been marked by successive waves of student and student-worker organizing—antiwar organizing in the early 2000s; successive waves of Black student-led activism to turn diversity rhetoric into material gains for Black Studies, Black students, and Black faculty; Palestinian and Muslim student-led BDS organizing; the 2010 wave of student occupations protesting austerity measures; a long series of graduate worker unionization campaigns; student-led campaigns to divest from private prisons and fossil fuels; the COLA wildcat strikes still playing out across the UC system. In sum, the millennial university has been a site of deep contestation. In negotiating these moments and movements, we have repeatedly seen that the university, like other public institutions embedded in a racial capitalist settler state, is not the hapless victim of austerity but actively co-produces the networks, ideologies, and decision-makers that create the conditions of austerity. We cannot help but see that the current apocalypse is not the result of a freestanding pandemic but part of larger power structures that have ensured the effects of this “natural disaster” are artificially distributed.

The field of critical university studies (CUS) crystallized in response to the last apocalypse of 2008 and has been grappling with the nature of the university, academic labor, student organizing, and the relation of university, state, and capital. This review essay examines four recent publications in CUS that question academic and popular common senses about what, how, and why we study in the academy. Bridging a variety of disciplinary orientations, methodologies, and audiences, all four share a desire to return the university from the imagined ivory tower to, in Isaac Kamola’s terms, “a place-in-the-world” (16). At a time when academics are called on to defend the old normal, these texts can help us see the terrain on which the old normal was built while gesturing to alternative terms of engagement for the reconstruction of the academy. What follows is a brief introduction to each book, a discussion of how its contributions stretch the field of critical university studies, and then, by way of conclusion, some reflections on how American studies scholars invested in decolonizing and abolitionist world-making might use these texts during and after the pandemic.

Kamola’s Making the World Global: U.S. Universities and the Production of the Global Imaginary is a critical genealogy of the “global” in global studies, globalization, global knowledge economy, and the global university. It approaches [End Page 182] “academic knowledge in terms of social reproduction” (xii), arguing that academics do not simply describe the world as it is but enact the world through their description. Through case studies of experts whose careers and spheres of influence pass through US universities, the US government, and the World Bank, Kamola traces how ideas produced by an elite class of white men circulated between universities, the US state, funding agencies, and international financial organizations and how these ideas shaped the horizons of knowledge production during and after the Cold War. As academics question the sanctity of university endowments, Kamola’s text reminds us that the economic common senses that structure university finances are situated knowledges that should be open to the scrutiny we bring to any other sphere of knowledge production.

Neha Vora’s Teach for Arabia: American Universities, Liberalism, and Trans-national Qatar might also be read as an investigation of globalizing US higher education, as she addresses the phenomenon of the “branch campus,” specifically the exclaves of universities like Virginia Commonwealth University, Georgetown University, and Texas A&M clustered in the Education City meta-campus in Doha, Qatar. Rather than reflexively treating Gulf campuses as unprecedented outliers of our knowledge economy, Vora locates American branch campuses in a transnational political economy and “rehearsals and reconfigurations of a much longer history of encounter” (17). In doing so she reveals as much about the desires and architecture of liberal arts education in the US as she does about Qatari students and nation builders. Vora names the ideological function of white nostalgia for an idealized liberalism as an obfuscation of contemporary power relations within the academy, a phenomenon that might illuminate logics behind pandemic-era rallying cries to “protect” other endangered public institutions. As we formulate the publics that we want the university to serve during and after the pandemic, Vora’s work is also a reminder that youth in the Middle East (and, by extension, international students more generally) are “compulsory interlocutors” (174).

La paperson (an avatar of ethnic studies and critical pedagogy scholar K. Wayne Yang) also provincializes liberal arts education in A Third University Is Possible, a short book from the University of Minnesota Press’s Forerunner: Ideas series addressed to a student audience (much like Roderick Ferguson’s We Demand: The University and Student Protests in the American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present series). S-he approaches the university as a settler colonial technology and argues that within the space and time of “the colonizing university also exists a decolonizing education” (xiii). Characterizing [End Page 183] the university as “an assemblage of machines . . . driven by decolonial desires, with decolonizing dreamers who are subversively part of the machinery and part machines themselves,” la paperson calls on students to realize the potential of “structural agency” which s-he terms the “scyborg” (xiii). Hir reminder not to invest in reforming the university as the horizon of our political desires, and the proscription against utopias, might be read as an invitation to rethink the place of the institution in our individual and collective lives during and after the pandemic.

Eli Meyerhoff’s Beyond Education: Radical Studying for Another World goes further than the previous two texts in displacing received practices of study. It is an indictment of the entire enterprise of education itself. Meyerhoff argues that education is just one possible mode of study among many alternatives, each bound up with a mode of world making. The education mode of study, for instance, is bound up with “modes of world-making that are associated with modernist, colonial, capitalist, statist, white-supremacist, heteropatriarchal norms” (4). Beyond Education traces the historical emergence of the defining characteristics of this mode of study, for instance, tracking the vertical organization of grade levels to the fourteenth-century communes of the Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life in post-Plague Lower Germany, and the binary figures of educational value and waste like the graduate and the “dropout” to Enlightenment-era treatises constructing an educated self against the savage other. In a chapter co-written with collaborator Erin Dyke, the authors reflect on practices of autonomous study “against and beyond the university as we know it” in the Experimental College of the Twin Cities. Combining historical, philosophical, and (auto)ethnographic accounts, Meyerhoff reminds academics and organizers that “institutions built around the education-based mode of study are parasitic upon alternative modes of study,” as they “appropriate and recuperate alternative modes of study up to a point” (19). As we look toward the reconstruction of the academy during and after the pandemic, Meyerhoff’s work calls us to shift our focus from institutions to relations and relationality.

All four texts refuse a zero-point epistemology that positions itself as somehow “outside” the university; all four authors lead with their own positionality: as workers, teachers, “colonialist scraps,” and political actors. Across their varied sites, methods, and audiences, they share an urgent sense that the university as we are asked to imagine it (in the pre-pandemic normal) has only ever existed in ideology. Rather than call for a defense of the institution, they ask us to question why the old normal was what it was, and in doing so, these works invite and incite us to embrace contingency in theory and praxis. [End Page 184]

Critical University Studies without Alibis

These texts are all critical studies of the university, but they also share a degree of antagonism in their relationship to US critical university studies. Although a genealogy of CUS might begin as early as Immanuel Kant’s 1798 The Conflict of the Faculties, the origins of the current field formation are generally traceable to a set of late-1990s books on the effects of market logics on the US academy, most influentially Bill Readings’s 1996 The University in Ruins and Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie’s 1997 Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University. But the field did not coalesce into a conversation until universities were reeling from the Great Recession of 2008 and the tuition protests of 2009 and 2010. These developments coincided with the publication of Christopher Newfield’s Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class (2008), and Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (2008). These two texts in particular feel synecdochic of the first wave of CUS scholarship. They are prominent in CUS reading lists, often as objects of critique for their idealization of a “golden age” narrative that largely glossed over the post–World War II university’s racial exclusivity and reliance on the academic-military-industrial complex. The first decade of the 2000s also saw the publications of texts concerned with the material conditions of academic labor, including the Edu-factory Collective’s first issue of its web journal, “The Double Crisis,” and some contributions to the Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations, Collective Theorization anthology edited by Stevphen Shukaitis and David Graeber, with Erika Biddle, which named the material conditions of academic labor, including shared governance, unionization, and the cultivation of an academic commons.

The field formation acquired a name at the 2011 national meeting of the Modern Languages Association in a panel organized by Heather Steffen, then a graduate student in literary and cultural studies.5 CUS, as a term, gained widespread visibility outside language and literature scholarship with the 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education article “Deconstructing Academe: The Birth of Critical University Studies,” by Steffen’s adviser and collaborator Jeffrey J. Williams. At this juncture critical university studies seemed a field grounded in literary theory and labor studies focused on the four-year research university and the public good ideal approximated most nearly in the postwar Keynesian university. But 2012 also saw the publication of Roderick Ferguson’s The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference; Sara [End Page 185] Ahmed’s On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life; and the anthology Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzáles, and Angela P. Harris. The color-blind approaches of many earlier CUS texts were put in stark relief by these texts’ frank engagements with the political and libidinal economies of racial capitalism. Thus, if the first moment of critical university studies held up the university as a public good in danger of becoming “ruined” or “unmade,” the introduction of voices from the interdisciplines was a reminder that the university had always been ruining and unmaking the lifeways and worlds of Black, Indigenous, and other minoritized peoples, and had always been parasitic of their bodies and bodies of knowledges.

The following year, 2013, saw the publication of what is likely the most influential text of this wave of CUS, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, a text/poem/manifesto that inspired “undercommoning” as a way to relate to others caught in the web of academic knowledge production. Harney and Moten invited students and co-conspirators to become “guerrilla intellectuals” stealing the university’s resources and redirecting them to build a “fugitive network” of Black radical study. The same year saw the publication of Craig Steven Wilder’s Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, a sweeping and meticulously researched history of colonial US colleges that definitively placed the slave-trading economy and the domestication of Indigenous territories and lifeways as the conditions of possibility that allowed US higher education to cohere as a national project. Although these latter texts are read at least as widely as Newfield’s or Bousquet’s, they are still positioned as interventions in the main (read: white) corpus of CUS. Whether this reflects the outsider-insider perspective of the interdisciplinary “identity knowledges,” or their marginalization, is an open question whose answer is likely contingent on the citational context. Wilder’s text has been widely embraced by historians involved in the Universities Studying Slavery (USS) consortium and the various “truth and reconciliation” projects represented there.6 But the disciplinary disconnect between historians and literary theorists seems to have kept Harney and Moten’s ideas, or even the more classic CUS worries of privatization and corporatization, outside the bounds of most USS-style work.

These four texts might be read as an extension of the interdisciplines’ interventions into the ever-thinning mainstream of CUS, or as a third moment of CUS, in which the university is no longer allowed to claim any innocence [End Page 186] as the hapless victim of austerity measures but is understood to actively co-produce the networks, ideologies, and decision-makers that create austerity regimes and implement them disproportionately on the already dispossessed. Kamola’s study drives this understanding home as it demonstrates the trajectory of ideas through elite white spaces. For instance, his chapter on how the World Bank, under the leadership of A. W. Clausen, abandoned the imaginary of national development to treat the world as one unified financial market and education as a private good, tracks how the idea of human capital elaborated by economists at the University of Chicago and the Labor Workshop at Columbia University crystallized the World Bank’s previously loose usage of “human capital” into a calculation that determined “that in sub-Saharan Africa the per-pupil cost of a university degree averaged one hundred times the cost of primary education, compared with twice the cost in industrialized countries” (129). This calculation, then, became an “objective” factor shaping the World Bank’s decision to “demand a substantial defunding of higher education as part of structural adjustment policies imposed upon African countries,” most acutely felt in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, fields that the World Bank characterized as “market unfriendly” (131). Kamola further argues that the same understandings of human capital, return on investment, and education as an individual investment with a measurable rate of return have shaped right-wing and libertarian demands to withdraw state funding from US higher education since the 1980s.

Each chapter of Kamola’s Making the World Global is structured around a conjunctural analysis grounded in close readings of a key author like Clausen, whose work was pitched as a description of the world-as-it-is, but actually acted on the world to reshape it into that image. The introduction presents the book’s project as a disruption of CUS’s implicit progress narrative and the contradictory assumptions that the university is either the victim of outside forces pushing austerity on administrators or a world apart unshaped by “nonacademic institutions” (15). Mapping the institutional networks that people and ideas travel is also an insistence that knowledge production is not an abstraction but takes place in specific sites.

Kamola further proposes that we destabilize the university as an object of study by recognizing the ways in which it has always been contested (although the voices of student protestors or dissenting academics are not particularly highlighted within the chapters).7 Making the World Global foregrounds “the Harvards, MITs, and New York Universities” because, as Kamola explains, these institutions “stand in as prototypes of the American academy” as it is “emulated [End Page 187] and exported around the world,” and it is worth investigating how and why these institutions have won this place (16). At the same time, Kamola also consciously brings in the restructuring of higher education in African countries into “contrapuntal relationship [to help] demonstrate the structured and material hierarchies and asymmetries that continue to organize not only the production of academic knowledge but also what it means to say the world is global” (xii). However, this commitment to representation has the unfortunate consequence of inclusion without explanation: individual American thinkers and the global monetary institutions they lead are analyzed closely for intentions and impacts, while “African universities” only appear as sites where these ideas play out and are contested by thinkers whose work is mentioned but not discussed here. For the reader unfamiliar with the political economic history of higher education in African nations, “African higher education” remains a resource-starved monolith—albeit one that fosters revolutionary postcolonial theory and praxis.

Like Kamola, Vora closely reads a variety of policy documents, including the World Bank’s Arab Human Development Report (2002–5), the RAND Corporation’s Education for a New Era (2007), Qatar National Vision 2030 (2008), and other statist documents. But where Making the World Global is shaped around intellectual histories, Teach for Arabia makes sense of these documents through ethnographic encounters spanning a decade of rapid growth and change for an increasingly diverse set of institutions, as well as personal experience of navigating the often-segregated and -segregating social, pedagogical, and political worlds of branch campuses (28). The careful study of individuals enmeshed in larger structures of power is reminiscent of the most incisive contributions to Presumed Incompetent or Sara Ahmed’s discussion of how administrators navigate diversity mandates, but more sustained than the former and at more scales than the latter. Vora’s disentangling of liberalism from the liberal arts college, her shifting the perspective on our “questions about which practices, infrastructures, and institutions constitute public good,” requires that we understand the history of US higher education itself as one of encounter and not take its terms of assessment for granted.

Vora is particularly interested in disrupting received knowledges about the “illiberalism” of Gulf countries and exposing how these assumptions “foreclos[e] nuanced research and instead invit[e] knowledge production that reproduces statist interests and imperial entanglements” (25). A compelling example is her discussion of how US academics casually analogize their working conditions with those of the kafala, the infamous migrant labor contracting system [End Page 188] practiced in Gulf countries including Qatar. Vora points out that this metaphor occludes the decision-making powers of US universities themselves—the immediate source of job insecurity for academics. At the same time, understanding kafala “as an illiberal extension of Arabian tradition and the rentier state, rather than as a modern form of governance that is connected to transnational processes,” obfuscates how this contract system is an articulating node in a modern transnational economy. Attributing it to an ahistorical illiberalism hides how kafala “continues to generate profit for multinational corporations, for middlemen brokers, for sending states, and for individual Western expatriates, who do not surprisingly benefit the most from the day-to-day impacts of ethno-racial discriminatory structures” (35).

Vora’s ethnographic methodology centers on the idea of encounter, “an analytical framework [that] can challenge traditional anthropological impulses” and “leaves openings to think about the possibility of decolonized knowledge production and of the branch campus as a site of agency” (20). This framework creates a truly relational analysis that illuminates the workings of US home campuses which, this pandemic has shown us, might be every bit as capricious in their employment contracts as any of the Gulf campuses Vora discusses. Her discussion of Qatari students navigating the rhetorics and pedagogies of “multicultural tolerance” in the context of the branch campus further invites the reader to reflect on how programs to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion reify difference, reward students who perform “cosmopolitanism” in ways that make instructors and administrators comfortable, and place the burden of representation on minoritized students. This dynamic might remind readers familiar with US campuses of Natasha Warikoo’s discussion of the “diversity bargain,” whereby white students tolerate diversity because they believe the presence of difference “enriches” their college experiences, but also resent minoritized students who seek each other out, effectively shortchanging white students from consuming their difference.8 Vora is less explicit in articulating her relation to CUS than Kamola, but she does place much current conversation about international branch campuses and the reflexive critique of the Gulf campus in a tradition of white liberal nostalgia that elides the imperial and racial exclusions (and inclusions) that cohere the object of the US academy.

La paperson’s A Third University also understands the university as an articulating node of empire, and s-he foregrounds land in hir analysis, and A Third University examines the university as a technology of colonialism and as a transformation of land, the object of colonialism. For example, the second chapter, “Land. And the University Is Settler Colonial” analyzes the 1862 Morrill [End Page 189] Land Grant College Act, the wartime law that allotted parcels of recently appropriated Indigenous land to states who would sell these parcels and use the income to create the land-grant universities that have become the historical backbone of US higher education. In a reading that resonates with High Country News’s recent report “Land-Grab Universities,” la paperson argues that “universities are land-grabbing, land-transmogrifying, land-capitalizing machines. Universities are giant machines attached to other machines: war machines, media machines, governmental and nongovernmental policy machines” (32).9 Hir project is not to create sympathy for the university. La paperson positions hirself as “a colonialist-by-product of empire, with decolonizing desires,” and invites others to desire against the assemblage that produced hir. The central metaphor of the text is the three universities: the first university, the conventional proper object of CUS, the R1 public university that traffics in DARPA grants to maintain the academic-industrial complex; the second university, the independent / liberal arts college committed to a “personalized pedagogy of self-actualization” rather than “decolonial transformation” (42); the third university, which, analogous to the third cinema movement, is “a strategic reassemblage of first world parts, it is not a decolonized university, but a decolonizing one” (53).

A Third University is informed by wide-ranging historical examples (including, for instance, British colonial education in Kenya, Indian boarding schools in North America, and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, an Indigenous university in present-day Aotearoa) and a wide range of theory from Black studies (including, prominently, the work of Kara Keeling, Frantz Fanon, and Frank Wilderson) and Native and Indigenous studies (including the work of Jack D. Forbes, Eve Tuck, and Scott Lyons). Although not a close reading of any of these texts, the book will serve as an excellent entry point for anyone new to the fields or looking for a way to turn students on to critical theory that speaks to the historical and ongoing crisis of the university.

Throughout this short, manifesto-like text, la paperson calls on us to disin-vest some of the psychic and political labor we have invested in the university. For the author, this assemblage is not the horizon of anyone’s liberation, and the “neoliberal positioning of education as a panacea for all social ills” (40) leads only to the expansion of the machine, not to the proliferation of decolonial or abolitionist ways of being and relating.

Like la paperson, Meyerhoff does not take the university as the horizon of revolutionary action. In fact, he recognizes the “romance of education” as a key in maintaining the epistemological hegemony of the education mode of [End Page 190] study, and the modernist, colonial, capitalist, statist, white-supremacist, heteropatriarchal world-making it buttresses. While all four texts call into question certain aspects of how CUS has characterized the history and present of US-based knowledge production, Meyerhoff’s most definitively breaks from what Abigail Boggs and Nick Mitchell have termed the “crisis consensus” of critical university studies. Beyond Education argues that CUS’s crisis framing mischaracterizes higher education’s problems as “analytical and moral questions that could be resolved through rational debate and persuasion” (5), a stance that then positions the CUS scholar as the expert who can perform the necessary labor of critique. He offers the “impasse” as an alternative framing to understand higher education’s intractable crises. This impasse is “rooted in political questions about conflicts between alternative modes of world-making” (5). For Meyerhoff, this impasse is the fulfillment of the university’s founding promise, rather than a betrayal of its ideals, and it will require political labor from consciously political actors.

Meyerhoff’s critical genealogy of the term education takes us into a deep historical investigation grounded in histories of Western Europe and England and key philosophical tracts from the Enlightenment; reports from funding agencies; and autoethnography. This last material comes in a chapter co-written with Erin Dyke, reflecting on their experience helping organize an Experimental College, a “social-justice oriented infrastructure supporting free classes that anyone can take or teach” (164–65) that eschewed grades, credentials, and fees to focus on co-producing knowledge and skills for job or life improvement; or on relationships, creativity, and self-confidence; or on fostering a collective. Meyerhoff and Dyke share reflections on the “messy mixing up of organizing with studying and relationship building” (181), inviting readers to learn from their experience, particularly through cautions about how persistent the romance of education can be, even among progressive or radical educators. Even critical theorists of education, Meyerhoff points out earlier in the book, “tend to present some definition of ‘education’ or ‘learning’ or ‘study’ as an ideal mode of study without attending to the political conditions from which that ideal emerged and in which it would be applied” (57). Beyond Education calls us to completely divest from the education romance and recognize that the university, like the state, is a set of relations. Rather than invest in reforming it, we can work to make the institution itself redundant. [End Page 191]

Build Back Better for Whom?

Last month, a week after their move-in dates, students at an institution with which I was once affiliated received this exhortation from the dean of students one week after their move-in dates: “Do not be selfish . . . Do not be the person who causes us to shut down this semester. Do not be the reason that valued [university] employees are furloughed or lose their jobs. Do not test the resolve of this university to take swift actions to prioritize the health and well-being of our campus and the [local] community.” Having invited students to campus with promises of a “traditional college experience,” the administration was quick to preemptively label students selfish, uncooperative, and culpable for future financial and epidemiological devastation the university prophesized was about to be visited on its labor pool. Students were hurt and outraged, feeling the administration was breaking trust with them. The critical genealogies held in these texts shift our ability to diagnose how the pandemic has affected the academy. It is not a betrayal of fundamental promises of social mobility and community uplift but the fulfillment of the university’s role in the political and libidinal economies of racial capitalism.

At a time when university administrations are pitting students against each other, against staff and faculty, and against neighboring communities,10 these books remind us that we do not have to concede the terms of our relationships to the university’s HR or PR departments. They invite us to create new vocabularies for our “campus communities” that do not obfuscate the university’s decision-making power as employer and landlord, or its embrace of marketplace logics. Even if our teaching contracts are not renewed, the university real estate office will still be open for business and still driving “neighborhood development.” If these texts hold invitations to build back otherwise, they are invitations to do so without the “romance of education,” and indeed without the romance of the crusading scholar-activists who stultify the community they call into being. If we participate in building back during and after this pandemic, it must be on terms of our own making.

Vineeta Singh

Vineeta Singh (she/her) is assistant clinical professor in the Honors Program at the University of Maryland, College Park.


1. The Boston Review, for instance, published a forum, “Higher Education in the Age of Coronavirus,” in April 2020. The central piece, by Jeffrey Aaron Snyder, reviewed recent education studies literature to show how schools, still dealing with the fallout from budget cuts instigated by the Great Recession in 2008, would feel the compounded effects of another political economic apocalypse. See Snyder, “Higher Education in the Age of Coronavirus,” Boston Review, April 30, 2020, In the same forum, R. H. Lossin and Andy Battle point out how the emergency move to distance learning intensifies the “decades-long trend of greater administrative oversight of university teaching” among other trends that “further entrench systemic inequities” while “fulfill[ing] managerial desire” (Lossin and Battle, “Higher Education in the Age of Coronavirus,” Boston Review, April 30, 2020,

2. A prescient special issue of Teaching in Higher Education on the datafication of teaching in higher ed published in April 2020 noted how neoliberal logics and desires to quantify and compare practices of teaching and learning have entrenched higher education’s complicity in data surveillance capitalism; created the disaggregation or “unbundling” of university functions into “discrete services and tasks, often outsourced or fulfilled by third-party providers”; and fostered pedagogic reductionism “as only that learning that can be datafied is considered valuable” (Ben Williamson, Sian Bayne, and Suellen Shay, “The Datafication of Teaching in Higher Education: Critical Issues and Perspectives,” Teaching in Higher Education 25.4 [2020]: 351–65).

3. Even the observation that the crisis is old news is old news. Ten years ago, the librarian and literary scholar Wayne Bivens-Tatum linked this “sense of crisis” to a “lack of historical memory” (“The ‘Crisis’ in the Humanities,” Academic Librarian, November 5, 2010, In 2018 Abigail Boggs and Nick Mitchell observed that writing about the university had come to a “crisis consensus,” i.e., “the commonsense reflex of liberal investments in the university . . . that settles in advance the constitutive problems and paradoxes,” as it calls on academics to protect the university as it has existed in the white liberal imagination from encroaching crises (“Critical University Studies and the Crisis Consensus,” Feminist Studies 44.2 [2018]: 432–63).

4. For a discussion of how casualization and entrepreneurialism have reshaped the academic labor force since the 1980s, see Heather Steffen, “Imagining Academic Labor in the U.S. University,” New Literary History 51 (2020): 115–43.

5. See “The Academy in Hard Times,” MLA, 2011,

6. See President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, “Universities Studying Slavery,” 2013,

7. For readers interested in on-the-ground narratives of recent student/academic organizing, Pluto Press’s 2020 anthology The University and Social Justice: Struggles across the Globe, edited by Aziz Choudry and Salim Vally, provides introductions and contexts for student organizing in a range of countries across the global South as well as the US and Canada.

8. Natasha Warikoo, The Diversity Bargain: And Other Dilemmas of Race, Admissions, and Meritocracy at Elite Universities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

9. See Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone, “Land-Grab Universities,” March 30, 2020,

10. See, for instance, Katherine Manga, “The Student-Blaming Has Begun,” Chronicle of Higher Education, August 21, 2020,; and Madeline St. Amour, “Will Shame Make Students Stop Socializing?,” Inside Higher Ed, August 21, 2020,

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