University Of Tasmania

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We are the University: The toxic university - zombie leadership, academic rock stars and neoliberal ideology

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 01:31 authored by Michael Corbett
This is an angry book. It is also a book that made me angry when I read it, in no small part because I have worked more or less dutifully within the system John Smyth describes as the toxic university. While the analysis is global in scope, he focuses particularly on the Australian context where he claims academics are the most regulated in the world. It is not new to argue that university academics are side-lined, disempowered, redefined, measured and assessed by an ascendant and aggressive class of quantitatively fixated administrators. Smyth provides a synthesis of a wide range of work relating to the neoliberal reframing of universities and those who work within them, largely from what I take to be a Marxist perspective. The university machinery Smyth describes is a late capitalist economic adjunct, thoroughly shaped by neoliberal processes producing knowledge and labour to benefit established interests. Like other late capitalist institutions, modern universities have been ‘deregulated’ in the sense that they have been cut loose from their original mission, which was to sit outside the hurly-burly of ordinary life, and particularly commerce, to act as spaces for critical reflection, deep, careful scholarship, and academic fellowship. What Smyth calls the ‘indigenous’ practices of the academy are founded on complex and careful judgment made in the context of collegiality, dialogue and reciprocity, rather than on the basis of contracts and marketised exchange relations. In Smyth’s analysis, academic traditions and historic practices have been torn to pieces, and the university has become a functionalist training ground for the late ‘cancer’ stages of capitalism (McMurtry 1999).


Publication title

Pedagogy, Culture and Society








Faculty of Education



Place of publication

United Kingdom

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  • Restricted

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