The look of virtues : discourse and organizational change in three universities, 1960-2000
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As one of the country’s most treasured institutions, American research universities have long been the objects of national pride. They have served as homes to our most revered intellectuals, and they have been entrusted with the task of developing and protecting our most valued resource: our youth. Recently, however, a discourse of dissatisfaction has arisen alongside the accolades. A number of critics have indicated that our universities have changed in fundamental ways. In essence, they charge that the university has lost its institutional purity. This dissertation puts those claims to a rhetorical test. Turning the concept of organizational change on its proverbial head, this study begins with the proposition that we cannot presume that change has happened until and unless our language reflects it. As such, this dissertation answers the following questions: Have the virtues of the university changed since 1960? If so, how? And what, if any, new rhetorics emerged? Analyses of the administration, faculty, and student texts from three public universities suggest that they have changed. Based on virtue consonance, three rhetorical periods emerge in our universities. The texts from 1960-1964 exhibit the virtues of justice and freedom, primarily, and thus constitute an Era of Purity by which the other texts are benchmarked. From 1965-1975, justice and freedom remain dominant virtues but are deployed against the very university that embraced them in the earlier period. For this reason, this period is labeled the Era of Undoing. Finally, from 1975-2000, service assumes heightened rhetorical proportions as freedom recedes into the background. In addition, this period also witnesses the rise of entrepreneurial and managerial discourse among faculty and administrators and increased consumerist discourse from students. For this reason, this final period is labeled the Era of Entrepreneurialism. In short, the analysis reveals that the virtues of the university have changed and that a new entrepreneurial discourse (with roots in the 1970s) has emerged. That public universities have come to resemble (linguistically) corporate organizations is no small finding. As such, this study offers yet another piece of evidence that the distinction between public and private institutions may be eroding.