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We are the University: The toxic university - zombie leadership, academic rock stars and neoliberal ideology


Corbett, M, We are the University: The toxic university - zombie leadership, academic rock stars and neoliberal ideology, Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 26, (2) pp. 315-319. ISSN 1468-1366 (2017) [Review Single Work]

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DOI: doi:10.1080/14681366.2017.1421514


This is an angry book. It is also a book that made me angry when I read it, in no small part because I have worked more or less dutifully within the system John Smyth describes as the toxic university. While the analysis is global in scope, he focuses particularly on the Australian context where he claims academics are the most regulated in the world. It is not new to argue that university academics are side-lined, disempowered, redefined, measured and assessed by an ascendant and aggressive class of quantitatively fixated administrators. Smyth provides a synthesis of a wide range of work relating to the neoliberal reframing of universities and those who work within them, largely from what I take to be a Marxist perspective. The university machinery Smyth describes is a late capitalist economic adjunct, thoroughly shaped by neoliberal processes producing knowledge and labour to benefit established interests. Like other late capitalist institutions, modern universities have been ‘deregulated’ in the sense that they have been cut loose from their original mission, which was to sit outside the hurly-burly of ordinary life, and particularly commerce, to act as spaces for critical reflection, deep, careful scholarship, and academic fellowship. What Smyth calls the ‘indigenous’ practices of the academy are founded on complex and careful judgment made in the context of collegiality, dialogue and reciprocity, rather than on the basis of contracts and marketised exchange relations. In Smyth’s analysis, academic traditions and historic practices have been torn to pieces, and the university has become a functionalist training ground for the late ‘cancer’ stages of capitalism (McMurtry 1999).

Item Details

Item Type:Review Single Work
Keywords:higher education, neoliberalism
Research Division:Education
Research Group:Education systems
Research Field:Higher education
Objective Division:Education and Training
Objective Group:Schools and learning environments
Objective Field:Policies and development
UTAS Author:Corbett, M (Professor Michael Corbett)
ID Code:125803
Year Published:2017
Web of Science® Times Cited:1
Deposited By:Education
Deposited On:2018-05-07
Last Modified:2022-10-04

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