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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Humans Behind Intellectuals: Narratives, Identities, and Emotions of the Academic Profession in the Neoliberal Era

  • Author(s): Morales Vázquez, Evelyn
  • Advisor(s): Levin, John S.
  • et al.

Neoliberal ideology, as a structure of thought and as an economic project, has promoted the establishment of a new economic configuration through the creation of national conditions for free market and global competition. Within this economic rationale and work ideology, faculty members, considered as entrepreneurs, are evaluated and managed by their human capital, productivity, and their capacities to both deal with precarious work conditions and adjust to unstable and blurred job security levels.

The purpose of this qualitative investigation was to explore and explain the ways in which the presence of neoliberal ideology in public research universities (PRUs) influenced the academic profession, particularly the narratives, identities, and emotions of faculty members. This investigation explored the human-centered experiences and emotions of faculty members. This humanity was conceptualized and explored through the psychosocial, symbolic, and emotional aspects that influenced the professional development of faculty members. This professional development occurred across diverse and complementary stages of the academic professional life cycle. Guided by identity theory (Burke & Stets, 2009) this investigation explored the lived experiences of thirty-two faculty members across ranks (assistant, associate, full, and distinguished professors) and academic disciplines (the Humanities, Social Sciences, and STEM fields).

Findings suggest that neoliberal ideology has led to three critical outcomes that shaped the narratives of faculty members at PRUs. The first outcome focused on precarious work conditions, characterized by job insecurity and financial instability. The second critical outcome was the increase in service role expectations. The final outcome of neoliberal ideology was reflected in the use and promotion of reward systems that highlighted competition and performativity based on the quantifiable measurement of productivity and performance. These reward systems have altered the values, norms, and practices of academic work and have reinforced psychological and emotional detrimental outcomes for faculty members, particularly for early career and mid-career faculty members.

The present research contributes to the higher education literature by providing the conceptualization of academic professional identities (APIs) and a description of the professional development of faculty members. In addition, this investigation explains the ways in which the presence of neoliberal values (of competition, performativity, and productivity) altered the symbolic world of faculty members—specifically APIs and emotions— at PRUs.

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