My current book project, For the Public Good: Advocating for Higher Education’s Public Promise in an Age of Austerity, focuses on the controversy surrounding the U.S. Department of Education’s attempt to implement higher education reform. Examining the white papers from the Spellings Commission, its final report “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of Higher Education,” and hundreds of critical responses to the Commission’s work, I map the rhetorical strategies used in this contentious debate.
My project traces the discursive features of what I define as a “managerial style” that dominates contemporary global education policy, including the use of market metaphors and business analogies, objective stance-taking, and the exploitation of time and future-orientated discourse.
Through analysis of the Spellings’ Commission’s public discourse, I show how the managerial style has shifted the grounds for public argumentation, shaping the types of arguments can be voiced and heard in education policy cases. My analysis of responses from those in higher education finds two key rhetorical strategies used to rival the managerial style: (1) a reframing of market-talk using a “civic frame,” which draws attention to the importance of a civic-oriented education; and (2) a dissociative strategy to break apart a false sense of agreement on highly-politicized issues like “accountability.”