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Palgrave Macmillan

The Toxic University

Zombie Leadership, Academic Rock Stars and Neoliberal Ideology

  • Book
  • © 2017


  • Encourages outrage at what politicians have been allowed to do to universities, in terms of distorting and destroying their primary missions by converting them into cost-centres and annexes of the economy
  • Asks why academics have been so docile and compliant in allowing the wholesale dismantling of universities, and why there has been so little resistance
  • Systematically marshals the huge body of evidence bearing testimony to the relentless assault on universities, and asks: how might we stem this juggernaut trajectory?
  • Includes supplementary material:

Part of the book series: Palgrave Critical University Studies (PCU)

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About this book

This book considers the detrimental changes that have occurred to the institution of the university, as a result of the withdrawal of state funding and the imposition of neoliberal market reforms on higher education. It argues that universities have lost their way, and are currently drowning in an impenetrable mush of economic babble, spurious spin-offs of zombie economics, management-speak and militaristic-corporate jargon. John Smyth provides a trenchant and excoriating analysis of how universities have enveloped themselves in synthetic and meaningless marketing hype, and explains what this has done to academic work and the culture of universities – specifically, how it has degraded higher education and exacerbated social inequalities among both staff and students. Finally, the book explores how we might commence a reclamation. It should be essential reading for students and researchers in the fields of education and sociology, and anyone interested in the current state of universitymanagement. 

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Table of contents (9 chapters)


“It is a must read for all of us in the academy, both old and new, and should be required reading within university leadership development programming as he invites us to think outside of the prevailing tide of neoliberalism and encourages us to become positive social reconstructionist in our thinking and activities.” (Shelleyann Scott, Journal of Educational Administration and History, May, 2018)

“Vividly illustrates how academia is being ruined by the pernicious stupidity of neoliberalism, and why it is so important we resist this incursion, corruption and degradation!” (Robin Simmons, Professor of Education, University of Huddersfield, UK)

“Calls out one of the most dangerous ideologies infecting universities today, neoliberalism. It provides a penetrating critique of what’s happening to academic labour and what might be done about it. A gem of a book written with passion, sociological curiosity and commitment to the truly educative purposes of universities.” (Barry Down, Professor of Education, Murdoch University, Australia)

Authors and Affiliations

  • School of Education and Professional Development, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK

    John Smyth

About the author

John Smyth is Visiting Professor of Education and Social Justice at the University of Huddersfield, UK. He is also Emeritus Research Professor of Education at Federation University, Australia, and Emeritus Professor of Education at Flinders University, Australia. He is author of 35 books, a former Senior Fulbright Research Scholar, recipient of several awards from the American Educational Research Association, and an elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. 

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