Fighting Academic Repression and Neoliberal Education

Resistance, Reclaiming, Organizing, and Black Lives Matter in Education

by Anthony J. Nocella II (Volume editor) Erik Juergensmeyer (Volume editor)
©2017 Textbook XXIV, 272 Pages


Fighting Academic Repression and Neoliberal Education is a cutting-edge investigation of the alarming state of education today. This practical how-to handbook gives readers tactics and strategies to organize and challenge forces that threaten liberatory critical education. Drawn from scholars and activists from across the world, the fifteen chapters guide readers through a strategic method of understanding the academic industrial complex and corporate education in the twenty-first century. Education is being hijacked by banks and corporations that are tearing apart the foundational fabric of academic freedom, resulting in mass standardized education and debt for all students and furthering racial inequity. This is a must-read for anyone interested in democracy, education, social justice, critical pedagogy, and Black Lives Matter.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for Fighting Academic Repression and Neoliberal Education
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword: Remembering the Future? (Ward Churchill)
  • Preface (Emma Pérez)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction—A Tactical Toolbox for Smashing Academic Repression (Anthony J. Nocella II / Erik Juergensmeyer)
  • Part I. Neoliberal Education
  • 1. Striking Out! Challenging Academic Repression in the Neoliberal University through Alternative Forms of Resistance: Some Lessons from the United Kingdom (Nick Clare / Gregory White / Richard J. White)
  • 2. Academic Resistance: Landscape of Hope and Despair (Mary Heath / Peter Burdon)
  • 3. Parasites, Sycophants, and Rebels: Resisting Threats to Faculty Governance (Mark Seis)
  • Part II. Resisting
  • 4. On Identity Politics, Ressentiment, and the Evacuation of Human Emancipation (Camila Bassi)
  • 5. Cutting Class: On Schoolwork, Entropy, and Everyday Resistance in Higher Education (Conor Cash / Geoff Boyce)
  • 6. Owning Curriculum: Megafoundations, the State, and Writing Programs (Erik Juergensmeyer / Sue Doe)
  • Part III. Reclaiming
  • 7. Bureaucratic Stifling of Students and Faculty: Reclaiming College and University Campuses (Laura L. Finley)
  • 8. Reclaiming Campus as an Event Site: A Comparative Discussion of Student Resistance Tactics (Ryan Thomson)
  • 9. Interrupt, Inspire, and Expose: Anarchist Pedagogy against Academic Repression (John Lupinacci)
  • Part IV. Organizing
  • 10. One of the Best Contracts in the Nation? How Part-time Faculty Organized for a Collective Bargaining Agreement (Diana Vallera)
  • 11. Organizing Adjuncts and Citizenship within the Academy (Sean Donaghue-Johnston / Tanya Loughead)
  • 12. On Strike in the Ivory Tower: Academic Repression of Labor Organizing (Emil Marmol / Mary Jean Hande / Raluca Bejan)
  • Part V. Black Lives Matter In Education
  • 13. Racial Harassment in the “Postracial” Era: A Case of Discipline and Resistance in the Black Female Body (Shannon Gibney)
  • 14. On Academic Repression, Blackness, and Storytelling as Resistance (Kelly Limes-Taylor Henderson)
  • 15. Black Student Unions and Identity: Navigating Oppression in Higher Education (Z. B. Hurst)
  • Afterword: Southwest Colorado Sociology Collective
  • Contributors’ Biographies
  • Index
  • Series index

← x | xi →


Remembering the Future?



In 1963, acclaimed liberal administrator Clark Kerr, then-president of the University of California (U/Cal) system, published a revealing little book titled The Uses of the University. Therein, he likened such institutions to “knowledge factories” designed to function in a manner serving specific social and political purposes. In essence, Kerr explained, they were facilities owned by the State together with its corporate partners, run by executive hirelings like himself who, with the assistance of a managerial staff, coordinated a nonunionized workforce consisting of a faculty guild and supporting personnel whose collective task was, at defined intervals, to have completed the processing of raw material into particular types, numbers, and qualities of products desired by the owners. The latter were adjusted from time to time in correspondence to the owners’ perception of their needs, and workforce composition altered accordingly, but, while subject to quantitative variables, the nature of the raw material remained constant.

The “raw material” in Kerr’s remarkably candid rendering was of course students, figuratively arriving at the factory in the form of the crude ores from which over a four-year period, allowing for a certain amount of “wastage” along the way, the workforce would smelt, mold, and otherwise shape into the quota of graduates certifiably imbued with “threshold” levels of proficiency in the fields State/corporate planners deemed necessary to meet the demand for a “qualified” base of entry-level employees in their various development scenarios. Much the same applied to the much smaller numbers selected from each production run to undergo further processing in professional and grad schools, both to meet the owners’ need for ← xi | xii → personnel with somewhat more rarified competencies and to replenish the factories’ own workforce.

Plainly, what Kerr described was an institutional reality sharing nothing in common with that in which the “life of the mind” would be cultivated along with “pursuit of knowledge for its own sake” and all the other lofty ideals supposedly defining the mission of universities in the United States since the first raft of them were being established during the last third of the 19th century, purportedly following the example of the esteemed “German model.” That, of course, was never true, not least because, as Thorstein Veblen pointed out rather emphatically in his 1904 book, The Higher Learning in America, universities in Germany were by definition entirely distinct from such “vo-tech” enterprises as business and engineering schools. Nor could German universities be owned—they occupied a unique legal status precluding even the State from asserting proprietary interest—and faculty were institutional freeholders, not employees.

Most tellingly, perhaps, while philosophical endeavors formed the very core of the German university, philosophy was never so much as mentioned in The Uses of the University. This is not to say that in the Kerrian formulation student processing didn’t require a substantial dose of ideological indoctrination. It did, mainly for purposes of inculcating an unquestioning sociopolitical homogeneity in those slated to fill the lower echelons of the burgeoning U.S. technocracy, the more so in those selected for advanced processing in doctoral programs devoted to the manufacture of the products destined to become designated members of the country’s intelligentsia and policymaking élites. To observe that such conditioning had nothing in common with the modes of critical engagement defining the Germanic or any other philosophical tradition would be to radically understate the case.

If all of this is sounding more like a report on the current state of American universities than a distillation of what was said in a little-read and less remembered book released more than a half-century ago, it should.* Other than that they’ve become ever more refined, sophisticated, and entrenched over the past fifty years, Kerr’s horrifyingly lucid description of the mechanics and objectives of what he preferred to characterize as “multiversities” at the dawn of the 1960s is no less illuminating of the institutional/systemic realities of American “higher education” in 2016. That being so, it seems worthwhile to cast a backward glance at the response to his exposition, couched as it was in a tone offering no hint of criticism, but rather a degree of self-congratulatory enthusiasm that seems entirely consonant with sentiments routinely expressed by owners and their administrative minions, together with a rather craven stratum of faculty sycophants, in the present moment. ← xii | xiii →

As it happened, Kerr’s eagerness to please his bosses led him to overplay his hand by seeking to impose their desired ideological boundaries not only in the classroom but more broadly. In mid-September 1964, he ordered a campuswide ban at U/Cal Berkeley on student activities “advocating political causes” other than those espoused by the administratively sanctioned Democratic and Republican clubs. This resulted in a major confrontation on October 1 when a former student was arrested for distributing civil rights literature outside the university’s main gate. A week later, veteran Berkeley radical Hal Draper released The Mind of Clark Kerr, a widely circulated pamphlet summarizing the views expressed in The Uses of the University.

Student reaction was swift, delivered in a spiraling series of protests, and expressed most eloquently by an undergrad named Mario Savio in an impassioned speech delivered during a mass demonstration outside the campus administration building on December 2:

We’re human beings […] [not a] bunch of raw materials [and we] don’t mean to be made into any product [or] bought by some clients of the university, be they the government, be they industry, be they anyone! There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your body upon the gears […] upon the wheels […] upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

The Berkeley students never managed to bring the machine to a halt, but they were sufficiently disruptive force rescission of Kerr’s ham-handed ban in January 1965. By then, Chancellor Edward Strong had been compelled to resign, and Kerr himself was fired in early 1967, never to hold another academic position. Having meanwhile gained increasing moment, the “student power” movement as it came to be called—not just at Berkeley, but nationally—had expanded its horizons, shifting from simply demanding free speech on campus to pushing over the next decade for structural changes with a force that left the universities little alternative to making noticeable concessions, for the first time admitting Students of Color in significant numbers, hiring Faculty of Color, and allowing establishment of programs—in some places whole departments—focusing on non(Eurocentric)/antipatriarchal subject matters and critical theory.

To be sure, the effort ended far too soon, its goals were too limited, and other errors abounded. The institutional strategy, after all, was one combining near-term containment with cooptation over the longer run. That the approach taken by Those In Charge had been successful might have been apparent to anyone who cared to look by the early 1990s and is glaringly obvious in the institutional realities we confront today: students neutralized by the ruinous debt incurred for the ← xiii | xiv → “privilege” of attending “public” schools; the programs and departments launched with such promise largely neutered, many now serving as mere rubber stamps to orthodoxy; “radical” faculty members largely absorbed in the self-serving stupidities of “professionalism” while a mushrooming segment of the “professoriate” has been reduced to little more than day labor.

That the situation is intolerable should be self-evident. So, too, the facts that there is inspiration to be drawn from the events at Berkeley during the mid-1960s and profound lessons to be gleaned from the movement that followed. Should both be heeded, the old adage of the past serving as prologue may yet be vindicated. Vindication, however, will be contingent upon the twin realizations that this time there can be no resort to the half-measures of shallow compromise in the institutional setting and that success therein is entirely dependent upon an equally uncompromising transformation of the broader sociopolitical/economic status quo. The “owners,” in effect, must be dispossessed. Can it happen? Of course. Will it happen? We’ll see.

* Those interested in pursuing what is said herein are cautioned to consult the first edition of The Uses of the University. Kerr published new editions in 1972, 1982, 1995, and 2001, essentially rewriting the book each time, and never repeating what he’d originally said.

← xiv | xv →




We are in a crisis. This explicit crisis has always been at the root of US history molded by settler colonialism, slavery, worker exploitation, gender inequities, ableism, and LGBTQI negation—all to privilege white, colonialist, Christian, heteronormative values in the twenty-first century. The crisis disrupts every aspect of our lives—health care, economic parity, the environment, and education while advancing the prison industrial complex and anti-immigrant detention centers. In the aftermath of cultural uprisings of the 1960s and 1970s, we have seen the pendulum swing so far to the right that the middle is now what the right used to be. Extremists, who despise all that is different from their purported mainstream of whiteness, have set a neoliberal, capitalist agenda while cheering “make America great again,” longing for their own brand of the 1950s unquestioned authority. But here’s the thing: history has revealed that strike activity of the 1920s, union organizing of the 1930s and 1940s, civil rights protests of the 1950s, and the student, gay, Black, Chicana/o, Native, and women’s movements of the 1960s have pushed against privileged authoritarians who enforce profiteering at the core of all they value. In fact, if we follow the money, we see quite clearly a history of white colonialist choreography that justifies racism, misogyny, and economic injustice.

When I landed in the Ethnic Studies Department at University of Colorado (CU), Boulder in 2003, I was fully aware of historical legacies that revered frontier pioneers who massacred Native Americans at Sand Creek in the nineteenth century and posted sun down signs, “No Mexicans After Night,” in the early twentieth century. It is a state built upon the blood of indigenous tribes and Mexican ← xv | xvi → laborers. I was, however, unaware that in 2001, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education paid the neoconservative National Association of Scholars (NAS) to prepare a report that argued against racial diversity at CU Boulder while reasoning that Western European classics had to remain the core curriculum. The report became so entrenched that the more liberal administrators and professors at CU continue to endorse a Eurocentric curriculum either through reticence or sheer unquestioned elitism. By 2005, the NAS and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA, founded in 1995 by Lynne Cheney, spouse of George W. Bush’s Vice-President Cheney) gained so much support that Colorado became a test case for abolishing tenure. The New York Times has defined ACTA as “a conservative nonprofit group devoted to curbing liberal tendencies in academia” in the name of academic freedom. When University President Elizabeth Hoffman (2000–2005) refused to fire tenured, full professor and Native American scholar, Ward Churchill while tackling the Colorado legislature for their McCarthyism, she was promptly asked to resign by the state Governor Bill Owens (born and educated in Texas, early supporter of George W. Bush and alleged member of ACTA). In her place ACTA member Hank Brown (2005–2008) was appointed President of CU to oversee Churchill’s unmerited firing.

But let’s back up historically. According to Colorado journalist Ed Quillen the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) made inroads in Colorado’s government at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1924, Governor Clarence Morley was a Klansman who took direction from Dr. John Galen Locke, the Grand Dragon of the Colorado Realm. At that same time, Mayor Benjamin Stapleton of Denver consulted the Klan when making appointments and a Klan majority thrived in Colorado’s House of Representatives (Colorado Springs Independent, May 22, 2003). In a state and country with KKK antecedents, I would venture to point out that NAS and ACTA promote white colonialist Western European standards inherent in KKK white supremacy.

The Common Core for K-12 is just another method for spreading Western European colonialist knowledge in the name of standards. Senate Bill 08–212, passed in 2008, adopted the new Colorado Academic Standards, which incorporate the Common Core State Standards in mathematics, reading and writing. Common Core is a neoliberal, profiteering, capitalist enterprise that has done considerable damage to children’s education forcing them to memorize facts and figures while holding them hostage to hours of test preparation to take tests that gauge memorization, while devaluing critical thinking. When these same students enter college, they have not been trained to think critically and are perplexed because professors do not coach them with the answers to tests. Even my nine-year-old daughter, who is in the fourth grade, understands that she is not being prepared for college through Common Core curriculum but instead being told what to memorize. Once again, we must follow the money and ask, who benefits ← xvi | xvii → from Pearson, the testing conglomerate that earns $9 billion annually administering faulty tests with so many glitches that results remain questionable. Fortunately, a grassroots movement by parents has begun to question the purpose of testing that began to be enforced with Bush’s No Child Left Behind, yet another neoliberal program designed to make private business’s money at the expense of children’s creativity. Moreover, the neoliberal trend is that of reallocating money from public schools that need it to charter schools (pseudoprivate) with few unionized employees, less oversight, and a higher teacher turnover rate compared to public schools.

I point out K-12, not only because I observe my daughter’s experience in public school, but also because I have experienced firsthand how incoming college students are not primed to think critically as they navigate college. Many, however, are rising to the challenge and rebelling against corporate America, modern day colonial boarding schools, police brutality against Blacks in America, and fascist immigration policies against Latinas/os.


XXIV, 272
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XXIV, 272 pp.

Biographical notes

Anthony J. Nocella II (Volume editor) Erik Juergensmeyer (Volume editor)

Anthony J. Nocella II, Ph.D., an activist-scholar, is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Criminology, Peace and Conflict Studies, Environmental Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies at Fort Lewis College. He has published over twenty-five books, including Academic Repression: Reflections from the Academic Industrial Complex (2010). Erik Juergensmeyer, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Composition and Rhetoric and Coordinator of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Fort Lewis College. He is Editor of the Green Theory and Praxis Journal and Managing Editor of the Peace Studies Journal.


Title: Fighting Academic Repression and Neoliberal Education
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