In the first part of this essay, I sketch some of the material conditions that comprise the contemporary corporate university: a job market dominated by contingent labor (non-tenure-track positions) and increasingly by part-time labor; the cooptation of links between scholarship and activism (particularly noticeable in ethnic studies and Native American studies programs) by the traditional scholarly agenda of “disinterested” individualized research; and the force of this agenda coupled with the changing labor market to stymie collaborative progressive action within the university. I then suggest the way these conditions have operated in two cases with which I have been centrally involved: faculty governance at Cornell University, and the firing of Ward Churchill by the University of Colorado at Boulder. In the second part of the essay, in addition to the Churchill case, I survey the cases of some scholars who have found themselves under attack by their own universities either for their activism, their scholarship, or a combination of both. By looking closely at the cases of Churchill, Norman Finkelstein, and Nadia Abu El Haj, I conclude that what these cases have in common is that all these scholars have mounted critiques of Israeli and American exceptionalism. I define exceptionalism as a mode of producing history outside of history, as a way of reading history ahistorically in order to create a coherent narrative—one that appears to be without contradiction—that we call the Nation. In particular, the exceptionalist mode functions to deny the violent displacement of indigenous peoples by settler colonialism.
Eric Cheyfitz; The Corporate University, Academic Freedom, and American Exceptionalism. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 October 2009; 108 (4): 701–722. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2009-015
Download citation file: