Have you ever been told to be more “corporate” or “professional” at work? What was that really code for?

Don’t be a nonprofit worker? Don’t care more about people’s well-being than the bottom line?

Have you been attacked for your fashion?


Dr. Teresa Sullivan has.
Who is she?
Just the first female president of the University of Virginia.

Earlier this year, in June 2012, you may have heard that the provost, a corporatist named Helen Dragas, decided on her own that the president should leave and quietly coordinated votes from several key donors and the board of the college so that they wouldn’t even have to meet to decide to ask for her resignation. Dragas went to Sullivan and simply said that they had “sufficient votes” to get her out, and then after a day, Sullivan did resign.

Helen Dragas and other board members did this in the name of “Strategic Dynamism.”

“Strategic Dynamism,” a weasely little phrase that would sell itself to anyone in a tight corner.

Of course, I’ve written before about being attacked for your fashion.

I’ve written before about the pervasiveness of gender bias in higher education as well, in the gender discrimination of female teachers at Harvard Business School, and the seven teachers who left around the same time in 2010.

Because of gender bias, we are told that we are not dressed up enough. Or we’re somehow “rumpled” but they can never tell us what day it was. Or we’re too fat. Or we’re doing our jobs impeccably but that’s not good enough because we don’t… look like we just stepped out of a fashion show? It’s like if they can find nothing else to criticize, they will criticize your fashion. The world is full of little bullies like Helen Dragas and some of the people at University of Virginia’s board.

To combat this bias, and partially because a staff member killed himself because of bullying from his colleagues, Teresa Sullivan also founded a “Respect at UVA” organization to help protect staff and students from bullying.

Helen Dragas = Umbridge, Teresa Sullivan = Dumbledore?

Chris Hedges writes,  “College and university administrators defund libraries, close foreign language and classics departments and invest staggering sums in gargantuan sports arenas and athletic programs.”

This is exactly what they wanted to do at Universtiy of Virginia.

Jamelle Bouie at the Prospect observes: “Reporters in Charlottesville and at the Washington Post have …found that—far from incompetence or mismanagement—Sullivan’s sin was that she acted as a university administrator and not as a business person. As reported by the Post, one of the complaints was that she refused to cut “obscure” and low-revenue programs like Classics and German, and rejected a plan to bring online education to the university. In general, her opponents felt that she was too incremental, too ensconced in academic culture, and too unwilling to bring top-down, corporate-style governance to the university.

I’m incensed. Seriously. Not just because I was a poetry major. Not just because I think the classics are important. Teaching philosophy, rhetoric & the classics help people learn how to question, to think. Cutting these programs while putting in “university of phoenix” style online education to UVA is morally bankrupt. It proves that corporatism is a disease.

Jamelle Bouie continues, “(Social and nonprofit) programs should be judged by whether they accomplish the goals of our society—a safety net for the poor, help for the young, assistance for the old—and not whether they meet the metrics of a business. If they need reform to meet their goals, then we should move in that direction. But handing to them to the private sector, or running them like a business, won’t automatically solve their problems or make them better.

Okay, Jamelle Bouie? THANK YOU! THANK YOU! YES! YES! We of course can reform our nonprofits. But assuming that business leaders will make our nonprofits “better” just because they are business leaders? I don’t think so! Capitalism failed. No, it really did.

For the last thirty years, however, we’ve deferred to capitalists and businesspeople in nearly all decisions. A handful of rich people think they know how to run the economy? Great, we’ll let them take care of it. A few billionaires think they know what’s wrong with our education system? Well, we should listen to them! As U.Va professor Siva Vaidhyanathan put it in a piece for Slate:

At some point in recent American history, we started assuming that if people are rich enough, they must be experts in all things. That’s why we trust Mark Zuckerberg to save Newark schools and Bill Gates to rid the world of malaria.

This little farce of kicking out a college president just for being… what? Too academic? Not corporate enough?

THIS is our nonprofit world in a nutshell.

You don’t have any money? But you’ve worked at a nonprofit your whole life and know how to help people? Why should we listen to you?

You don’t have any money! No money = no respect from us! These millionaires over here have never even gone to your program site, but they KNOW, they KNOW what you should be doing. You should be listening to them. They can think “outside the box” and if you don’t do what they say, you’ll have to be replaced by someone who will listen to them.

I’ve written before about how you will be passed over for someone with an MBA, and no nonprofit experience, not because you don’t have enough nonprofit experience, but because you have too much. You see, academic or nonprofit experience now means that you’re not an “outsider” enough to “take decisive action” and “lead with dynamism” – aka fire a whole bunch of people and turn a quick profit. Naturally, this is my response:

This blind belief and false assumption lies at the root of the corporatization of our universities and colleges.

But big corporations don’t know how to grow sustainably. Co-operatives do.

Did you know that more people are employed by cooperatives worldwide than are employed by multinational corporations?

Co-operatives provide more than 100 million jobs worldwide, 20% more than multinational enterprises.

Did you know that the solution to corporatism and globalization is localism?

But how did we get here? How did corporatism take hold?

Chris Hedges writes on Truthdig:

There is probably no more inhospitable place to be an intellectual, or a person of color or a member of the LGBT community, than on the campuses of the Big Ten Conference colleges, although the poison of this bizarre American obsession has infected innumerable schools. These environments are distinctly corporate. To get ahead one must get along.

The student is implicitly told his or her self-worth and fulfilment are found in crowds, in mass emotions, rather than individual transcendence. Those who do not pay deference to the celebration of force, wealth and power become freaks.

Hedges continues, “There are few university presidents or faculty members willing to fight back. Most presidents are overcompensated fundraisers licking the boots of every millionaire who arrives on campus. They are like court eunuchs. They cater to the demands of the hedge fund managers and financial speculators on their trustee boards, half of whom should be in jail, and most of whom revel in this collective self-worship.

Was there a hedge fund manager involved in the firing of Teresa Sullivan? (by all accounts a blameless president who even raised $15 million from a wealthy donor for a contemplative studies facility) As a matter of fact, there WAS a hedge fund manager on Helen Dragas’ side.

How did profits over people become so prevalent? Who ARE these shadowy figures that are trying to take over and crush classics programs?

Hedges continues: “Hazing, comradeship and complicity in sexual abuse, including rape, make up the glue that holds campus sports teams and fraternity houses together. The National Study of Student Hazing reports that 73 percent of U.S. fraternities and sororities haze. Since 1970, at least one student has died each year from hazing. Eighty-two percent of these deaths have resulted from alcohol poisoning. Hazing weeds out those with enough self-esteem and independence to stand up to the hierarchy. It ensures conformity and obedience. These groups are, in essence, self-selected. Those who have the fortitude and courage to oppose their own public humiliation and the public humiliation perpetuated with each new cycle of recruits or pledges leave. Those who remain conform.

The corporate world sees football players, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters as prime recruits. They have been conditioned to join the team, to surrender moral autonomy, to accept and carry out acts of personal humiliation, to treat with contempt those who oppose them or who are different, to define their life by an infantile narcissism centered on greed

and self-promotion and to remain silent about crimes they witness or take part in. It is the very ethic of corporations.”

One of my brothers was in a fraternity. And this is reminding me so much of him that it’s scary. Subsuming his personality to the mass euphoria of sporting events? Check. Never wondering if what he’s doing is morally right? Check. Life centered on infantile narcissism and greed? Oh…. DOUBLE CHECK. Remaining silent about the crimes he witnesses or just “forgetting” crimes he has committed? Check. He was hazed and he said they “almost” revolted. But then they didn’t. Because their spirits were broken and they decided it was better to “go along to get along” than to question.

The corporate mentality can often mean that people have given up their moral autonomy in favor of group identity. Seriously. Reminds me of a few corporate nonprofit bosses I had, who were later found to be stealing and worse, from the very communities they were charged to protect.

Hedges sums up by saying, “Corporate culture, which now dominates higher education, shares the predatory culture of the military. These cultures are about subsuming the self into the herd. They are about the acquiring of technical, vocational skills to serve the system. And with the increasing budget cuts, and more craven obsequiousness to corporate donors, it will only get worse. These forces of conformity are hostile to the humanities that teach students to question assumptions and structures, that prod them to seek a life of meaning and an ethical code that challenges the blind, utilitarian obedience to power and profit that corporations and the military instill.”

Is any of this going on in your nonprofit?

Have you ever been told to be more “corporate” or “professional” at work? What was that really code for?

Don’t be a nonprofit? Don’t care more about people’s wellbeing than the bottom line?

Is there disrespect of nonprofit staff because they work for $10 per hour?

What can you do about it?

Address it. Name it. Claim it. Here are 18 ways to demand dignity at work.

If you are helping people question blind beliefs, I salute you.

What would you suggest as the solution for the disease of corporatism?