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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The American University and the Establishment of Neoliberal Hegemony: The Persistence of Institutional Habits


An intervention on neoliberal-centric narratives of university privatization, this study explores the historical forces that instilled a propensity for market hegemony in universities by the start of the 1970s. This paper identifies institutional habits as the conservative agent that determines change in the university, specifically its habit—and responsibility—of promoting civic duty and the later-developed habit of performing applied scientific research. By tracing redefinitions of civic duty from the Progressive Era through the Cold War, the process of academic privatization is revealed to be dependent on the emerging association of democratic behavior with the promotion of national defense—an effort that became highly market oriented through competition with the Soviet Union. Moreover, defense research grants during the wars fashioned the model for applied research that private industries would adopt following a decrease in federal funding to universities in 1968. Finally, this paper will redefine the 1970s, as a period not of “neoliberal revolution” on campuses, but rather one of convergence—where the social, academic, and business interests consented to the market hegemony that currently prevails on American campuses.

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