The recent pattern of campus conflict shows us that we are confronting a university in which both students and faculty lack real control over the way their institutions are organized and managed. Observers have pointed out that the ambivalent outcomes of today’s student activism owe much to the fact that universities are increasingly run like corporations. But they write about the “corporate university” as though we know what that is. I’m not so sure that, collectively, we do.

Campus politics badly needs a way of talking about what’s going on inside the university right now, cast in light of the systemic concerns that affect our lives outside it. Figuring out what the corporate university is, making that understanding public, and calling for something better is a solid project for campus activism. It’s a basis on which different generations of activists—generations that are different demographically, in addition to being different in political style and idiom—can start talking to one another. A critique of the corporate university would shift the debate from whether academic work needs the protection of unions to how to make these organizations strong, democratic, and responsive enough to their members that they can function on campus as alternative poles to administrative power—and make sure universities remain the bulwarks of free expression that they claim to be.

Alix Rule, “Common Cause”