Academic Containment: Laura Pulido’s “Faculty Governance at the University of Southern California.”

Pulido, Laura. (2014). “Faculty Governance at the University of Southern California.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 145-168). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Laura Pulido’s chapter “Faculty Governance at the University of Southern California” utilizes personal experience and observations to better understand the dynamics of neoliberalism and its link to the hierarchical power structures that exists within the imperial university (p.146-150). The theorist’s reflexive approach enables readers to identify the mechanisms and consequences of academic containment, one of the conceptual frameworks presented by Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira, which functions to support the economic, racial and ideological logics that maintain U.S. imperialism from within the boundaries of the academy (p.13-25). By investigating one of the many possible forms of academic containment, the tenure process, Pulido identifies how faculty governance is stifled and controlled within an increasingly privatized university culture (p.150-154). Pulido’s inquiry of the University of Southern California’s tenure process, which reveals issues concerning transparency and suspected racial and gender discrimination, is an opportunity to understand the multifaceted nature of academic containment and how the complicity or restriction of faculty governance maintains the ongoing commodification of universities and their relationship to U.S. imperial power (p.157-160). The graduate students of ANTH 630 were encouraged to critically evaluate the status of faculty governance within the context of the imperial university and, as Pulido appeals, how faculty governance, or the lack of it, influences the academy as a whole along with the production and dissemination of knowledge (p.146).

Pulido contextualizes her investigation of the University of Southern California’s tenure process by identifying the growing trend towards the privatization of U.S. academic institutions (p.145-146). According to the theorist, private universities are recognized for establishing an academic standard, which public institutions aspire to emulate by replicating “the policies, practices and philosophies of private elite schools” (p.146). Pulido argues that the University of Southern California, in an effort to become more academically competitive with private universities, established “an extremely hierarchical institution with very limited faculty governance” (p.148). In this hierarchical structure, faculty only have the opportunity to make recommendations to the board of trustees and senior administration, the governing bodies that manage the academic and administrative operations of the university (p.148-149). According to Pulido, the composition of the upper echelons of this hierarchical governing institution “illuminates a larger culture characterized by backroom deals, a lack of transparency, no real faculty governance, a commitment to avoiding a paper trail, and a merciless drive to become a top-ranked institution” (p.150). The lack of faculty governance and the secretive quality of the university’s hierarchical governing institution, has directly affected the academy’s tenure process (p. 150).

Pulido explains to readers that in order to increase the academic standing of the university, tenure standards were reformed, an alteration the theorist supported. Pulido’s anxiety, however, concerns the tenure process, which she believes should be characterized by transparent decision making and consistent standards (p.150-153). Through a variety of case studies from the University of Southern California, the theorist demonstrates that transparency, consistency and overall professionalism were not respected during the tenure process, as demonstrated by the delay tactics utilized by the university’s governing body (p.151-153). By further investigating the discrepancies of the university’s tenure process and even contesting tenure denials made by the university’s administration, Pulido identifies that the incongruities of the tenure process supports evidence of gender and racial discrimination (p.154-160). By avoiding transparency and limiting faculty governance, Pulido argues that the administration of the University of Southern California was able to successfully engage in “racial management and social control” (p.156).

When Pulido’s findings are examined through the lens of Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira’s concept of academic containment, which can be understood as the various ways in which scholars and the types of knowledge produced within the academy are policed by hegemonic powers within the U.S., it is possible to understand Pulido’s conclusions and how privatization, limited faculty governance and the tenure process of academic institutions maintain U.S. imperialism (p.21-22). When academic containment is contextualized within what critics identify as culture or class wars, the privatization of universities is a method for U.S. dominant powers to restrict “the new, increasingly racially integrated middle class” from accessing higher education and producing knowledge that could potentially dismantle the logics that support U.S. imperialism (p.25). As discussed amongst the seminar participants, in order to secure the profitable and imperial qualities of privatized academic institutions, various methods of academic containment develop. Pulido’s work specifically demonstrates that limited faculty governance and a secretive hierarchical administrative organization, facilitates the ability for imperial powers to maintain their status by regulating scholars and their scholarly work. In addition, the tenure process ensures that junior faculty remains cooperative with the multiple forms of academic containment promoted by the university administration, potentially manipulating junior faculty to adopt a lifelong habit of silence and complicity (p.154-157).

Pulido’s observations and experiences from the University of Southern California demonstrates to readers that academic containment is multi-layered and combines economics, class, and race with academically sanctioned forms of knowledge. Sadly, Pulido concludes that her evidence demonstrates that universities within the U.S. strive to adopt a privatized structure, and cannot conceptualize of their institutions being academically competitive and characterized by racial and gender diversity simultaneously (p.162). As seminar participants reflected on their own academic experiences and locale, along with Pulido’s statement that diversity is only acceptable in academic institutions if “its politics can be contained”, it was found that academic containment requires a degree of tenured faculty compliance to function (p. 162). Pulido comes to the same conclusion and despite her criticism of administration, the theorist finds fault with tenured faculty for “not regularly challenging the administration in any substantive or collective fashion” (p.154). As Victor Bascara demonstrates in his chapter on colonial universities, established scholars have access to the language and ideologies of the imperial power and can utilize them to successfully engage in scholarly dissent (p.57). In a similar tone, Pulido encourages scholars to consider the condition of faculty governance and their role within academic containment and the imperial university (p.146).

Pulido’s observations and experiences from the University of Southern California was an opportunity for seminar participants to understand the diversity of structural mechanism and actors involved in academic containment. The theorist’s chapter required seminar participants to reflect on the structural and academic composition of their previous and current universities and consider how cohorts of the administration, faculty and student population benefited or were disadvantaged by academic containment. Pulido reveals a disconcerting reality and as scholars this is an issue that we must acknowledge and individually and collectively decide how to respond.


Bascara, Victor. (2014). “New Empire, Same Old University? Education in the American Tropics after 1898.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 53-77). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Chatterjee, Piya, and, Maira, Sunaina. (2014). “The Imperial University: Race, War and the Nation-State.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 1-50). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.


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