Editor's Introduction

Is the Managed Campus a Graveyard?
By Rachel Ida Buff

The managed campus and the governed campus represent opposing visions of higher education. In practice and by definition, the managed campus is antithetical to both academic freedom and faculty governance. In its extreme manifestation, the managed campus is a graveyard for academic freedom. And it may well lead to the early graves of faculty, staff, and students forced to return to campus without adequate protections.

During the spring and summer of 2020, while I was working on this year’s volume of the Journal of Academic Freedom, colleges and universities across the United States struggled over questions about campus reopening for fall. In the midst of the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic, the prospect of a physical return to campus involved myriad issues, including mode of instruction; availability of testing for the virus, socially distanced classroom space, and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE); mask requirements; and occupancy of dorms and offices. The grave implications of such a return elicited alarm from many faculty, staff, students, and parents.

Debates around returning to campus took place in the context of a protracted fiscal crisis resulting from decades of public disinvestment in higher education, administratively imposed regimes of austerity affecting public and private institutions alike, and the economic distress accompanying the pandemic. Such fiscal realities compelled administrators to consider opening to the fullest extent possible, because their institutions rely on tuition dollars as their primary source of support. Many administrators feared that students and parents would hesitate to pay full tuition for another semester of online instruction. Further, the noninstructional side of higher education requires the physical presence of students and staff to generate sorely needed revenue from student service fees, dining halls, dorm rooms, and parking spaces.

The articles in this volume were in final edits in March, when the pandemic resulted in worldwide shutdown. Some contributors valiantly revised, rapidly turning their scholarly attention to reflect on how our current circumstances might impact their analysis. Because the introduction is my final editorial task each year, I had the good fortune of time to focus my introductory remarks on questions of how academic freedom on the managed campus may be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, a widespread uprising against police violence took place around the world. Protesters responded to the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and thousands of others, as well as the long-term assault on Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities through a white supremacist system that includes a school-to-prison pipeline facilitated in part by public austerity policies impacting K–12 and higher education. The ongoing revolution led by the Movement for Black Lives has an impact on struggles over academic freedom and democratic governance.

The combined effects of the pandemic and austerity pose a mortal threat to academic freedom. But this summer’s historic protests also intimate new ways of conceptualizing and using this freedom. Attending the claims of this global uprising on campus requires both the defense of academic freedom and democratic governance and the creative, collective reinvention of what these terms can mean to the dismantling of white supremacy.

At this moment, higher education is impelled by friction between the managed and the governed campus, between democratic practices of academic freedom and governance and the managerial imposition of practices that make campuses less accessible and less responsive to the needs of their constituencies. On the one hand, the managed campus may yet be the death of meaningful academic freedom, to say nothing of its faculty, staff, and student practitioners. On the other, yet to be fully realized practices of democratic governance and academic freedom offer paths to challenge white supremacy and other forms of oppression.

At this crossroads, the 2020 volume of the Journal of Academic Freedom invites our collective intervention. My introduction begins by defining the term managed campus and limning its significance to the multiple crises unfolding at the present time. Subsequently, it introduces the nine articles and PowerPoint afterword selected for this volume, connecting their distinct and important contributions to the central questions it poses.

The much publicized tale of controversy over the reopening of Purdue University frames the stark contrast between the managed and governed campus. Incorrectly asserting that COVID-19 posed “zero risk” to college students, Purdue University president and former Republican governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels proclaimed in May that not opening would be “an unacceptable breach of duty.” Subsequently, Daniels began to crowdsource PPE through an alumni fundraising campaign.

Writing in the Washington Post, Daniels articulated what remains a popular Republican party line: he disavowed the gravity of the pandemic and forecast its imminent end. In a CNN interview the same week that his op-ed appeared, Daniels dismissed concerns about the reopening expressed by Purdue AAUP President Alice Pawley as those of a “tiny minority.” He went on to characterize Pawley, a professor in the engineering school, as “frankly, not from the most scientifically credible corner of our very STEM-based campus.”

Daniels’s certainty that Pawley’s words could not possibly be legitimate or based in science constitutes rank sexism. It also indicates a disparity between the world view of a university administrator and that of a faculty leader. The Purdue imbroglio highlights burgeoning conflicts between what we might call the managed or actuarial campus, on the one hand, and the governed campus, on the other.

On the managed campus, administrators and their henchpersons, often in the form of external consulting agencies with six-figure contracts—a heavy and recurrent expenditure of public funds in a time of austerity—operate with little input from or serious accountability to their faculty, staff, and student constituents. As an administrator on what he presumed was the managed campus of Purdue, Daniels heard Pawley’s words as little more than an annoyance, certainly nothing that would affect important policy decisions around the reopening.

On the managed campus, public relations offices highlight “diversity” by disseminating sparkling brochures festooned with images of multiracial groups of students cavorting on campus. In contrast, the efforts of faculty and students towards equity and justice often go unattended.

Combined with the ongoing fiscal crisis of higher education, the pandemic panic has occasioned radical austerity measures on campuses across the country. Naomi Klein describes the advent of “coronavirus capitalism,” a form of “disaster capitalism,” in which elites use the emergency to implement long desired austerity policies that increase economic inequality and amass power to the managerial few. On some campuses, administrators have announced the complete shuttering of their institutions. Fear of such an outcome overshadows many if not most others. Emergency austerity measures on public and private campuses alike included furloughs, layoffs, and program closures. The threat of such measures hangs over all conversations in higher education, from curricular matters to hiring to the recruitment and retention of students, faculty, and staff. [1]

During the spring of 2020, administrators at Johns Hopkins University imposed “exceptional measures” in response to what they described as “COVID losses” of revenue. These included a hiring freeze, the cancellation of scheduled raises, the specter of future furloughs and layoffs, and the suspension of university contributions to employee retirement accounts. Historian François Furstenberg describes the operation of the managed campus at Hopkins: “With little appreciation for transparency or inclusiveness, and little understanding of the academy’s mission, these managers increasingly make decisions behind closed doors and execute them from above.”

In contrast to the operation of the managed campus, administrators on a legitimately governed campus would be compelled to respond to and engage with the perspectives and priorities of their constituencies. As stipulated in the AAUP’s 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, faculty exercise “primary responsibility” for decision-making on academic matters, including “curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.” In some areas, administrators have the final say, but only after joint deliberations through the processes of governance. Further, this statement advises that “the strength, freshness of view, and idealism of the student body” have a voice in institutional deliberations.

Many of the areas of “faculty responsibility” explicitly mentioned in the 1966 statement are precisely the ones swirling at the center of the reopening dilemma. On the governed campus, faculty, staff, and student governance bodies would be full partners in parsing the difficult questions of whether and how to reopen campuses during the pandemic. The “idealism” of students could become a grassroots guide to campus diversity efforts.

For example, at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a collective of faculty, staff, and students, Feminists Concerned about COVID on Campus (FemCOC), emphasized the need for decisions made around the pandemic to be collective, transparent, and democratic. In a statement issued in early June, FemCOC located the pandemic in light of ongoing crises around “labor and economics, physical and mental health, and systemic racism” on campus. The statement contained principles to elevate democratic governance and guide campus planning, including the following:

Build connections and humanity. Prioritize meeting the needs of all faculty, staff, and students—not addressing past budgetary problems. Don’t assume that everyone is healthy but recognize that many will get sick or have to care for sick loved ones. Don’t force the vulnerable to shoulder institutional burdens. Work actively to dismantle institutional racism and structural inequality.

Recognizing the collective vulnerabilities of faculty, staff, and students—and even administrators—the FemCOC statement asserts the necessity of more, rather than less, democracy on campus. In face of the crises posed by COVID-19 and its amplification of existing inequalities on campus, it affirms that we need more democratic forms of governance, more active practices of academic freedom to respond to the pandemic and combat white supremacy.

Similarly, in late June, the newly formed Coalition of Midwest AAUP Chapters issued “Protecting Lives, Promoting Education: Principles for Reopening Campuses Statement.” In it, the coalition outlined reopening priorities quite distinct from the ways many administrations operated as they moved towards campus reopening:

  • Defend shared faculty governance of academic affairs, including the right to teach classes online in order to protect student, faculty, and community health
  • Engage all employees in campus decision-making
  • Ensure employees’ economic security
  • Prevent an increase in workload
  • Reject the logic of budget cuts
  • Protect the interests of the lowest-paid workers

Both these statements emphasized the function of governance as workplace democracy; both connected the challenges of reopening to broader inequities operative on campus. And both inveighed against the pandemic crisis as an occasion for the implementation of further inequality likely to be perpetrated through austerity measures.

But, as the Purdue incident indicates, such concerns for community wellness and collective survival are often inaudible on the managed campus. Instead, administrators generate seemingly incessant prose about “acceptable risk” and “best practices.” Often amplified by emergency task forces concatenating administrators with “governance leaders” selected by administration, the broadcast of managerial priorities drowns out voices of dissent and thwarts the process of democratic faculty governance.[2]

Given the ascendance of the managed campus in the past two or three decades, it is sometimes hard to imagine the governed campus. Issues of governance are central to and entwined with practices of academic freedom, because, aspirationally, the governed campus is a space of workplace democracy. The governance process endows the voices of faculty, staff, and students with power. Without governance, dissenting perspectives like those articulated by Pawley become just noise, regardless of their level of expertise.

Where the governed campus depends upon and supports academic freedom, the managed campus disregards it. On the managed campus, administrators respond to issues of academic freedom with feckless affirmation of the tenets of “Campus Free Speech” policies propelled by the right-wing Goldwater Institute and affirmed by presidential executive order in March 2019. These policies open campuses to marauding proponents of hate speech and mandate punishment for vigorous acts of dissent and defiance. These policies affect students as well as faculty and staff. They have a disproportionate impact on BIPOC, LGBTQ, and first-generation students, broadcasting the message that “free speech” protects the voices of hatred and hamper the kind of organizing that led to the founding of ethnic studies program around the United States.[3]

This volume of the Journal of Academic Freedom takes up this disparity. Our call for papers posed a contrast between a managed and a governed campus, asserting that “the increasing reliance on these multiple managerial technologies is unregulated by and often beyond the reach of democratic governance by, or even input from, faculty, staff, and students.” Responses by colleagues in a wide range of fields—and even, in one noteworthy case, from a stuffed bear endowed with startling powers of insight—comprise the present volume.

The first three articles in this volume frame broad issues on the managed campus. In “Trickle-Down Managerialism: Accountable Faculty in the Financialized University of Managers,” Paul Narkunas analyzes how the politics of austerity not only hobble the budgets of institutions of higher education but also impose managerial practices imported from the corporate sector to deleterious effect. Drawing from his larger project, Edu-Futures: How Finance and Big Data Speculate and Transform Higher Education, Narkunas argues that even managerial practices that sound laudable, like “student success,” tend to result in the overvaluing of vertically imposed accountability, to the detriment of academic freedom and pedagogical innovation. The dramatic increase in precarious academic labor and the corresponding decrease in tenure-track labor is another such trend.

In her prescient piece, “On Borders and Academic Freedom: Noncitizen Students and the Limits of Rights,” Abigail Boggs looks at another site of academic vulnerability: the international student population. Emerging from Boggs’s book project, American Futures: International Students and the US University, Boggs situates international students at the crossroads of the vagaries of the managed campus and federal immigration law. Though celebrated in journalistic and university public relations prose as knowledge-seekers attracted to the freedom of US institutions of higher education, international students, particularly those who are viewed in a US context as nonwhite, operate within the closely surveilled parameters set by xenophobic public policies and their campus enforcers in offices of international students.

Where Boggs situates managerial practices in the context of the global circulation of students, Beth F. Baker’s intervention, “Gentrifying the University and Disempowering the Professoriate: Professionalizing Academic Administration for Neoliberal Governance,” examines the ways that managerial practices limit access to the California State University system by students from underresourced communities. As public funding for the state university system has declined, the increasing ranks of well compensated administrators are motivated to produce positive outcomes in the crucial “student success” metrics delineated by Narkunas, such as graduation rates and GPAs.  Baker traces the implementation of “impaction”—a managerial process by which admissions standards are raised to favor students from well-resourced high schools—and the resistance to this process organized by faculty, staff, and students. Her piece provides a useful tale of local and democratic opposition to the managed campus.

Following these three broad interventions, five specific case studies address the implications of the managed campus. Michael Bérubé, a previous guest editor for this journal,  draws on his own experiences to demonstrate connections between questions of shared governance and academic freedom.  His article “What I Learned in the Faculty Senate” recounts struggles over everything from the imposition of “wellness” metrics to academic program change. Significantly, Bérubé defines shared governance as “faculty involvement in every aspect of university management, from human resources and risk management to facilities usage and legal affairs.” For Bérubé, questions of information flow define the university; faculty participation in informed decision-making is a component of academic freedom.

In his contribution, “The Rollins College Inquiry of 1933 and the AAUP’s Struggle for Shared Governance at Small Colleges,” Jack Lane provides historical context for the ongoing struggle between shared governance and more hierarchical, allegedly “efficient” managerial practices. More than thirty years before the AAUP’s statement on governance, Rollins College president Hamilton Holt caused controversy by importing a dictatorial style of management from his prior career as a newspaper editor in spite of his professed commitment to progressive educational reforms and academic freedom. Faculty organizing to press for democratic governance were dismissed, precipitating an investigation by the national AAUP.

Conflict between administration and faculty over shared governance endures. Through their carefully constructed survey research, Kim H. Song and Patricia Boyer document in “Leadership during a Budget Crisis and Its Impact on Academic Programs, Teaching, and Research” the erosion of faculty confidence in shared governance at a Midwestern university. In the context of the dual forces of austerity and increased managerialism on campus, faculty expressed their doubts regarding administrative cooperation with shared governance in areas such as academic program change, which are the clear purview of the faculty. Song and Boyer note the potential negative effects of declining governance, particularly in terms of the relationship of the campus to surrounding communities. They assert the importance of democratic governance in restoring collective faith in the direction of higher education.

In “Leadership Threats to Shared Governance in Higher Education,” Robert Scott notes that austerity measures drive a trend in which higher education trustees and administrators increasingly lack an academic background. In a parallel to Narkunas’s argument about the drift of corporate culture into academia, Scott traces the ways that limited public financial support has driven presidents and chancellors to devote increasing portions of their time to fundraising. They then become especially sensitive to constituencies outside of their institutions, often to the dereliction of the concerns of faculty, staff, and students. Importantly, Scott also takes on the implications of the composition of governing boards, which are typically drawn from nonacademic, business-world cohorts in the aspiration that they may provide philanthropic support. Because there is no licensing process to become a trustee or a regent, this often means that people occupying these important positions know little about academia in general and shared governance in particular.

In his contribution, “How Ego, Greed, and Hubris (Almost) Destroyed a University: Implications for Academic Freedom,” Howard Karger adds dimension to the managerial conundrum outlined by Scott. Delineating the fate of Hawai‘i Pacific University (HPU), a private, non-profit institution confronting severe budget challenges, Karger traces the ways that administrative strategies to respond to austerity negatively impacted both shared governance and academic freedom. Administrators often arrive on campus with little familiarity with the community; in HPU’s case, this resulted in a disastrous campus expansion that resulted in the termination of faculty and staff laboring on short-term contracts. Though they organized as an AAUP chapter, faculty were thwarted in their attempt to unionize by administration and a National Labor Relations Board decision that leaned on the 1980 Supreme Court Yeshiva decision to categorize faculty at HPU as “management.” Karger’s expansive definition of academic freedom includes “the freedom to work in a non-exploitive workplace.”

Two contributions on the broad implications of the managed campus for education as well as surrounding communities complete this volume. Investigating a scandal at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh foundation, Nan Enstad tracks the combined forces of disinvestment in public higher education and the ensuing pressure for individual campuses to generate their own funds. In “Why Revenue Generation Can’t Solve the Crisis in Higher Education, Or, What’s That Smell?” Enstad outlines the Foundation’s response to these pressures during the administration of Governor Scott Walker, notorious for his proclamation that “Wisconsin is Open for Business” and simultaneous attacks on the UW System. Presented as part of UW–Oshkosh’s “green campus” initiative, the Oshkosh Foundation’s investment in the development of a manure digester to be used in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) ultimately led to financial scandal as well as opposition from local environmental groups. Enstad points out that emphasis on “public-private partnerships” that led to this disaster is part of the undermining of the democratic Wisconsin idea.

Enstad’s outline of the grave implications of the managed campus for higher education and the ongoing health of multiple life forms provides an appropriate bridge for our extraordinary and exclusive PowerPoint afterword. In “Can the Managerial Technique Speak?,” Wavy the Bear, senior stuffed brand ambassador of Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York, animates key questions about life on the contemporary, managed campus. Pictured in his regular circulation through the life of the campus, this adorable interlocuter poses important questions about his own existence and about academic freedom on the managed campus more broadly.

The contributions described above illuminate the grave implications of the managed campus for academic freedom and democratic governance as well as campus and civic health. While it may yet be a graveyard for all these things, and many of us as well, there is still considerable room for interventions against the managed campus. Focusing on the collective wellbeing of faculty, staff, and students against the austerity-drive exigencies of forced reopening and managerial prerogatives is a good place to begin.



[1] Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador Press, 2007); also Maria Solis, “Coronavirus is the Perfect Disaster for ‘Disaster Capitalism,” Vice, March 20, 2020, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/5dmqyk/naomi-klein-interview-on-coronavirus-and-disaster-capitalism-shock-doctrine.

[2] The AAUP’s “Principles and Standards for the COVID-19 Crisis” specifically warns of the operation of such task forces as inimical to the legitimate role of the faculty. When such task forces are deployed, the document emphasizes the importance of including faculty members selected by faculty rather than by the administration. https://www.aaup.org/aaup-principles-and-standards-covid-19-crisis.

[3] Shelby Emmett, “Statement on Campus Free Speech Executive Order,” American Legislative Exchange Commission webpage, https://www.alec.org/article/statement-on-campus-free-speech-executive-order/; “Restoring Free Speech on Campus,” Goldwater Institute, https://goldwaterinstitute.org/campus-free-speech/.