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Title page for ETD etd-06162015-183413

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Johnson, Jeffery Ryan
URN etd-06162015-183413
Title New American Idols? The Impact of Neoliberalism on Commencement Speaker Selection
Degree Master of Arts
Department Sociology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Dr. David J. Hess Committee Chair
Dr. Joshua Murray Committee Member
  • occupational prestige
  • Neoliberalism
  • higher education
Date of Defense 2014-09-01
Availability unrestricted
Neoliberal economic thought has come to play an integral role in altering both the structure and function of the modern university. Past research, however, has neglected the considerable ramifications of this transformation for institutional culture as well, and an empirical link has yet to be made between neoliberal transformations in higher education and the traditional, culture-laden aspects of the academy previously viewed as insulated from external forces. This study attempts to correct this empirical gap by studying commencement speaker selection as a proxy for such internal and historically-traditional decision-making processes. Drawing from a sample of 2,315 commencement speakers at 52 American institutions of higher learning over 49 years (1955-2003), the study utilizes statistical procedures to isolate trends within the data and attempts to uncover whether any temporal patterns exist with regard to selection preferences among commencement speakers. Results demonstrate shifting selection preferences which correspond to an overarching “neoliberal logic”, with greater representation selected from among groups who serve a more rational-economic function for the university.
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