Proposal / Chapter 1

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Proposal / Chapter 1

So, for those that said they would help critique what I've written, I've finished an early Chapter 1 which also serves as the proposal. Questions welcome, I have to defend this so anything I can answer early is great.

Working title: A content analysis of neoliberal and liberal values in the mission statements of institutions of higher education

Chapter 1

Introduction and Background of the Problem
Statement of the Problem
Purpose of the Study
Research Questions
Significance of the Study
Definition of Terms
Overview of Methodology
Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations
Organization of the Study

Chapter 1

Introduction and Background of the Problem

Neoliberalism, in its most strict and common terms, is an economic philosophy which has roots in classical liberalism. It is usually seen as the return to more laissez-faire economic policies that rose to prominence beginning in the 1980s when leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan rose to power (Oksala, 2013; Harvey, 2007; Chomsky, 1999). It has been known by a few different terms, namely, ones that position it as an advanced form of capitalism, like “new capitalism” or “turbo capitalism” (Ayers, 2005). Indeed, neoliberalism as an economic philosophy was a new form of capitalist thought, coming as an answer to the criticisms of Keynesian economics which had fallen out of favor in the late 1970s due to the stagflation of several western nations, including the United States (Harvey, 2007).

However, neoliberalism has become a contested term, defined as everything from the aforementioned economic philosophy that represents a renewal of liberal economics to a vilified ideological system which seeks to co-opt every aspect of our lives in the service of private interests and profit (McChesney, 1999). It is the latter view that is important, as it extends the economic values of neoliberalism far past its origins into all other spheres of life. Many critics of neoliberalism have made the claim that under this view, neoliberalism has become part of a far-reaching capitalist ideology which creates individuals who become rational profit-seeking actors. At the same time, social institutions become transformed to perpetuate the same capitalist ideology, maintain dominant power structures and work to reshape many aspects of social life with economic values (Harvey, 2007; Chomsky, 1999; Giroux, 2014; Peters & Olssen, 2005). This concept of neoliberalism as an ideology moves beyond simple economics as neoliberalism reconstructs the values and patterns of the sociopolitical domain; as Giroux (2014) describes, neoliberalism has become a “morality of self-interest [and] profit-seeking” (pg. 13).

Source of the schism between classical liberal and neoliberalism can be found in the turn as neoliberalism moved beyond economic philosophy. In Keynesian economics, the government (supported by the power structure) controlled and regulated the economic system directly. As the economic policies shifted to return to a seemingly more laissez-faire system, control and power were not released, but instead shifted. Foucault explained this as a form of neoliberal governmentality. In this ideological system, neoliberalism “produces an economic subject structured by different tendencies, preferences, and motivations” (p. 66) than the liberal individual (Oksala, 2013). Whereas the economic control of the previous era existed through an obvious set of governmental policies and regulations, control in the neoliberal society was exercised by altering the subjectivity of the individual and shifting their lens of experience (Lemke, 2001). Classical liberalism saw its foundation in the discourses of individual liberty from such advocates as Adam Smith, John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes. Neoliberalism’s economic ideological control of the individual’s subjectivity represents a significant parting from neoliberalism’s namesake.

Education, particularly higher education, has been positioned in the forefront in critiques of neoliberalism, as institutions of higher education are closely tied into both political and economic systems, making them a prime battleground for critics examining a proposed invasion of neoliberal ideology (Ayers, 2005; Olssen & Peters, 2005, Giroux, 2014). Higher education also is viewed as an institution that is increasingly being co-opted by neoliberal ideology, as education plays a key role in the socialization of the individual, thus has an influence on how subjects are created and interpret their experiences. This claim has support, as critical theorists identify educational institutions as a source of ideological reproduction -- or as Althusser (1971) put it, “the reproduction of the conditions of production” (p. 127). In a capitalist system, education systems are seen as a primary ideological state apparatus (ISA) which are responsible for an individual’s internalization of the values of the “ruling” ideology, “reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order,” and “reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression” (Althusser, 1971, p. 133).

The view of the educational system as a capitalist ISA, however, is oppositional to the original philosophy of higher education institutions as developed during the reign of classical liberalism. Higher education was to be more than just a system to support the economy, in which the skills for labor and work are learned but alternatively one that provided a liberal education to create democratic, free-thinking, and critical individuals (Ayers, 2005). Ayers (2005) points out, if the shift from liberal to neoliberal ideals has occurred within higher education, it is likely as a result of the now dominant ideology of neoliberalism recontextualizing the liberal discourse that was used to establish earlier institutions of higher education.

The previously described neoliberal university represents a vast departure from the original view of the liberal university. Olssen and Peters (2005) examined differences between ideal-types of neoliberal and liberal university governance, identifying shifts that occur in operation, control, goals, teaching, and research between these two conceptual typologies. In this model, the ideal-types represent dialectical extremes that are exclusive of each other. In reality, it is unlikely that many universities exist at the extremes represented by the ideal types, yet the qualities of the constructs lend themselves to be a useful benchmark for assessing the strength of the ideological alignment of a university.

Statement of the Problem

Theoretical investigations have focused on critiquing the neoliberal influence on higher education but most come to the conclusion that universities are now neoliberal institutions. Analytical studies have also used this assumption and focused on using critical methodologies like discourse analysis to further contribute to the corpus of identified values associated with the neoliberal alignment of institutions of higher education. This study seeks to avoid this assumption and instead attempts to examine both the liberal and neoliberal values of institutions.

Past studies have used a variety of methodologies and examined different sources of data associated with a university’s values, but mission statements are a medium which provides direct insight into a university's values and by extension, its dominant ideology. The intention of a mission statement is to communicate the values an institution believe are important (Kreber & Mhina, 2005; Stemler, Bebell, & Sonnabend, 2011; Estanek, James, & Norton, 2013). Mission statements are more than just isolated organizational rhetoric; they represent a genre of language in which an organization's attitudes and behaviors are developed, communicated, and shaped (Yates & Orlikowski, 1992; Swales and Rogers, 1995). As a genre, mission statements are meant to carry the "culture, ethos, and ideology" (p. 226) of an organization and communicate an organization's values; they share many characteristics of other types of ideological texts, similar to those found in religion and politics (Swales and Rogers, 1995). In addition, these values become part of the organization’s “self that is prized, chosen and acted upon” (p. 62), making them more than an outward facing document of rhetoric and instead, a key component of the organization's identity, governance, and structure (Young as cited in Kreber & Mhina, 2007).

Purpose of the Study

Though the ideals which represent neoliberal and liberal values in higher education have been deciphered in previous studies, an in-depth inquiry of how colleges and universities in the United States fall along the continuum between neoliberal or liberal ideology by examining mission statements has not been conducted. For that reason, the purpose of this study is to 1) determine the presence and prevalence of neoliberal ideology through the identification of neoliberal values within mission statements and 2) determine the frequency in which the higher education institutions display neoliberal and liberal values in their mission statements. This study also seeks to 3) compare those frequencies between various groupings of universities (level, type, region, and religious affiliation) to find if there is any evidence of significantly higher or lower frequencies of either set of ideological values between groups examined.

Research Questions

There were two sets of research questions for this project.

Is neoliberal ideology more prevalent than liberal ideology in current mission statements of colleges and universities in the United States?
Which grouping of colleges and universities has a higher frequency of neoliberal ideology represented in their mission statements?
When examining colleges and universities by level (classified by Carnegie Classification), which classification of universities have a higher frequency of neoliberal ideology represented in their mission statements? (R1, R2, D/PU, M1, M2, M3, Baccalaureate Colleges, Baccalaureate/Associate's Colleges, and Associate's Colleges)
When examining colleges and universities by type (classified by type of governance/control), which classification of universities have a higher frequency of neoliberal ideology represented in their mission statements? (public, private non-profit, private for-profit)
When examining colleges and universities by region (classified by Census Bureau-designated regions?), which classification of universities have a higher frequency of neoliberal ideology represented in their mission statements? (West, Midwest, Northeast, and South).
When examining colleges and universities by religious affiliation, which classification of universities have a higher frequency of neoliberal ideology represented in their mission statements? (religious affiliation or no religious affiliation)

Significance of the Study

While some may claim that neoliberalism’s influence and transformation of higher education has adversely affected the institution (Harvey, 2007; Chomsky, 1999; Giroux, 2014; Peters & Olssen, 2005), there have not been significant studies that attempt to identify the neoliberal and liberal values which universities present as part of their organizational identities. The harm of allowing neoliberalism to continue to transform universities is subjective to one's position within the university and to one’s alignment to the current power structures of society. Some academics believe that allowing neoliberal ideology to recontextualize higher education’s liberal ideology will result in loss of academic autonomy, an increasing focus on output rather than admissions, and a decrease the overall educational quality of the institutions. Still, a refocusing on professional and technical skills, technocratic thinking, and directed research could provide benefits to the overall economy and increase alignment between education and the job economy. To that end, this study is not intended to take a stance for or against the neoliberal transformation of higher education but an exploration of the extent of that transformation.

The conflicting perspectives and critiques reflect the current identity crisis occurring in higher education. The neoliberal educational institution aims to prepare students for future careers, to conform to the demands of the labor market, and train students to fill high demand jobs; however, the liberal university seeks to increase awareness, promote critical thinking, and produce democratic citizens (Ayers, 2005). Universities seeking to embrace both sets of seemingly dialectically opposed values may find that their resources are not properly allocated to achieve either result; a university that blindly attempts to fulfill both a neoliberal and liberal mission may fail at both. The results of this study are significant, as they will better assist in the determination of the ideological consistency of the values within the university's mission and allow policymakers to make informed decisions so they can develop more efficient and effective neoliberal institution or revise policies to return to the university’s liberal roots.

Definition of Terms

Ideology -- In this study, ideology is defined as the collective beliefs, values, and ideals which support social power structures, shape individual subjectivity, and produce a particular reality; ideology is the lens from which the meaning of an individual’s experiences can be understood.

Neoliberalism -- Much of this study examines the various meanings assigned to the term ‘neoliberalism’ by economists, critics, and other theorists. As mentioned previously, it is a contested term; however, for the purpose of this study’s analysis and discussion, neoliberalism is an ideology in which individuals are rational, self-interested economic actors who actively seek to participate as consumers and entrepreneurs in a free, laissez-faire market. This characterization of the individual is not limited to purely economic participation but as part of their everyday experience, as they are “responsible navigating the social realm using rational choice and cost-benefit calculation to the express exclusion of … other values and interests” (Hamann, 2009, p. 38). As an ideology, neoliberalism encourages the economic rationalization of the political and social spheres of experience and “puts the production and exchange of material goods at the heart of the human experience” (Steger & Roy, 2010, p. 12).

Governmentality -- Governmentality is a type of power exercised over a population through the internalization of political-economical ideology (Foucault, 2009). It is the means in which the power structures of a society are rationalized to the public and individuals are controlled through disciplinary power, which involves the creation of self-disciplining individuals who internalize the dominant ideology and consequently removing the need for power to be exerted on individuals directly (through repression and violence). Through governmentality “institutional superstructures manipulate the social order and are able to configure, if not predict, the ways in which individuals and the collective public can and will act” (Bylsma, 2015, p. 2).

Power -- This study adopts a Weberian approach to power in that it is “the ability of an individual or group to achieve their own goals or aims” and can be both coercive and authoritative. This study focuses on authoritative power, as authoritative power is legitimized through discourse, rationalized by the individual, and accepted as truth by those who are subject to it.

Power structure -- The system of hierarchical, unequal relationships in which certain individuals or groups are privileged while others are exploited, repressed, or marginalized. Power structures are created by discourse and use discourse in turn to maintain the patterns of social actions and beliefs which enable their continued existence.

Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) -- Social institutions which use ideology for “the reproduction of the relations of production” (p. 1) and include institutions such as religion, education, and family (Althusser, 1971). ISAs primarily operate in the private domain and maintain power structures through the reproduction of the current dominant ideology through internalization and socialization rather than through public repression and displays of force (which are the tools of the Repressive State Apparatus).

Mission statements -- Mission statements may have specific definitions in other literature and disciplines, but for the purposes of the analysis in this study, “mission statement,” “mission,” and “purpose,” are considered to be terms that apply to the same genre of text and will be included in the analysis.

Overview of Methodology

The methodology presented here represents the current version of the study at this stage of the dissertation and this section will be updated to reflect final methodological decisions. As such, it is the proposed methodology. As with many qualitative methods of analysis, decisions regarding coding and meaning units may need to be revisited and revised depending on the nature of the data after initial analysis has begun. Details of the chosen methodology, the rationale for methodological choices, and a detailed coding agenda will be included in the methodology chapter.

This study intends to use content analysis to examine mission statements in order to identify values aligning to two sets of ideology. Counts of the instances of values will be recorded and frequencies will be calculated in order to compare the results of the analysis across variable groups of institutions in order to address the study’s research questions. Content analysis is an appropriate methodological choice for this study, as mission statements are a source of empirical text data and have a positive record of being successfully analyzed using content analysis involving thematic identification and statistical analysis of those thematic characteristics across and between sample groups (Stemler, Bebell, & Sonnabend, 2010).

The study will use the 2018 list of all degree-conferring institutions available from Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education (CCIHE) as the study’s population. Institutions identified as special focus institutions, service school, and tribal institutions will be excluded from selection as well as institutions with their primary campuses outside of the United States (labeled as “outlying areas” by the CCIHE). This leaves the total population at 2,876 institutions and consists of institutions with Carnegie classifications of R1, R2, D/PU, M1, M2, M3, Baccalaureate Colleges, Baccalaureate/Associate's Colleges, and Associate's Colleges. The study’s sample will be n=93 institutions, randomly sampled with replacement from a numbered sampling frame using a random number generator from all institutions in the population. The sample size was calculated from N=2,876 using a 95% confidence level and a confidence interval of ±10 (Neuendorf, 2017). Mission statements for the selected institutions will be retrieved from their institutional web pages. Variables for institutional groups will also be recorded from the CCIHE listings (classification, region, control, religious affiliation).

The study intends to use a deductive coding scheme with a coding agenda developed from previous studies, literature, and theory concerning neoliberal and liberal ideology in higher education. This coding scheme consists of sets of codes which are categorized by values that are aligned to either neoliberal and liberal ideology that has previously been identified. As initial coding begins, the coding agenda will be revisited as many times as necessary to create a stable hierarchy of codes and values. Mayring (2000) outlines the deductive coding process used in content analysis in a diagram. Afterward, final reliability testing will be conducted to ensure the reliability of the coding agenda.

Initially, syntactical units (full sentences) will be used as a unit of analysis. Sentences within the mission statements will be assigned to one or more codes (with codes categorized by values which are too liberal or neoliberal ideology). An “other” coding is also possible (as aligned to a value of an ideology other than liberal or neoliberal ideology, which is outside of the scope of this project) but not included in final counts or frequencies.

Final counts and frequencies will be totaled across codes for each value category and presented by values and aligned ideology. For group (categorized by classification, region, control, religious affiliation) tests, a chi-square test will be used to see if there is any significant difference between frequencies in variable groups. Because variables will be ordinal (frequencies) and variable groups will contain uneven numbers with unknown variance, a non-parametric test, such as chi-square, is the best choice to make comparisons across groups.

Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations

Assumption -- Neoliberalism exists and functions as an ideology in accordance with its definition for this study.

Assumption -- Ideology is ever present but is not monolithic. Multiple ideologies are active at any one time, though the dominant ideology functions as the primary source of meaning-making for an individual.

Assumption -- All discourses are laden with ideology. When creating text, language choices are made from the discourses available to its creators, but the discourse of the dominant ideology subverts other discourse. Consequently, “dominant discourses ... determine the meanings assigned to social and material processes” (Ayers, 2005, p. 534).

Limitations -- Mission statements serve as a display of the values which an institution wishes to present as important; however, as Kreber and Mhina (2005) state,“mission statements cannot serve as proof of institutions actually enacting the goals and ideals by which they choose to portray themselves to the public” (p. 51-52). This study can conclude which value sets are dominant in an institution's mission statement but cannot conclude that an institution acts in accordance with the ideology that is present in its mission statement.

Limitations -- College and university mission statements are required by the organizations which accredit institutions of higher education. These accrediting organizations dedicate how the mission statements should be communicated or displayed, as well as requirements the mission statement must address. Some mission statements may contain values which are prescribed by their accreditors rather than the actual values of the institution (Patrick & Caplow, 2018). Though this is an assumption, this study’s limitation is that it is unable to differentiate between possible origins of the values within a mission statement.

Limitation -- This study focuses on neoliberalism as it has spread through the rational, western world and how it developed in the United States. Additionally, the study analyzes college and university mission statements in the United States. Therefore, the applicability of findings may not be valid for colleges and universities outside of the United States.

Limitation -- This study examines the ideological content of mission statements at the time in which they are retrieved. This study does include an examination of creation or revision dates. Longitudinal data will not be gathered, thus no conclusions can be formed about when neoliberal values were introduced to the mission statements or how those values may have presented themselves in the past. As well, the study cannot make any conclusions about the growth or reduction of any ideological value sets.

Limitations -- Unlike other studies which examine ideologies in higher education, this study does not use a methodology that explores a institution as it is perceived through the subjectivity of students, faculty, and staff. This study reveals the value sets that are present in institutional mission statements and the results cannot be extended to generalize the views that individuals have of an institution.

Delimitation -- Though values of other ideologies are certainly present within the text analyzed, only liberal or neoliberal ideological values will be included in this study’s analysis. Because identifying all the ideologies expressed in mission statements is a task worthy of its own project, it is outside of the analysis scope within this study. Nonetheless, interesting findings related to values coded as “other” may be discussed in the study's conclusion or presented as areas for further studies.

Delimitation -- This study only includes institutions classified as R1, R2, D/PU, M1, M2, M3, Baccalaureate Colleges, Baccalaureate/Associate's Colleges, and Associate's Colleges by the CCIHE. Special focus and tribal institutions are specialized in scope and purpose and may skew the results of the analysis and for that reason are excluded from the study.

Organization of the Study

The study is organized into six chapters.

Chapter 1 introduces the concept of neoliberalism, explains its relationship with liberalism and the institution of higher education, and how these concepts relate to the problem addressed by this study. Chapter 1 also includes an overview of the methodology used by this study, as well as definitions of the terms and lists of assumptions, limitations, and delimitations of the study.

Chapter 2 explores the concepts of neoliberalism, higher education, and mission statements as they relate to the purpose and scope of the study. Each concept is presented within its own socio-historical context, explained through a synergy of theory and research, and supported with a review of notable and relevant research. Interrelated theory will be followed throughout the discussion of the key concepts. Chapter 2 also includes a theoretical exploration of mission statements as a genre of language, which is a necessary framework to develop in order to understand the mission statement as an ideological genre suitable for this study’s analysis.

Chapter 3 provides an overview of content analysis and its methodological attributes. A large portion of this chapter is dedicated to the formulation of the liberal and neoliberal values being investigated, development of their operational definitions, and the construction of a coding agenda. As content analysis is a fairly broad methodology, the rationale for decisions made concerning methods of coding, the unit of analysis, and other characteristics will be discussed. Other related details such as sampling methods employed, characteristics of the samples, and development of variable groupings for the comparative analysis are also addressed.

Chapter 4 reports the results of the content analysis.

Chapter 5 is a discussion of the study’s results as they relate to the proposed research questions.

Chapter 6 contains an overall summary of the completed study, additional considerations, observations, and possibilities for future research.


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Ayers, D. F. (2005). Neoliberal ideology in community college mission statements: A critical discourse analysis. The Review of Higher Education, 28(4), 527–549.
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Talanall's picture

I will have comments on this. It'll be a bit, though; I need to read and digest it, and I still have holiday stuff going on.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold


Awesome, I look forward to it. If it helps, I'll share a google doc so you can highlight and comment. You can, of course, post general comments here for everyone to read, but that'll help do anything inline.

deadDMwalking's picture

I just completed a read through it. First off, it appears comprehensive - you said what you were going to say and you said it. There are no glaring omissions in my mind.

In my mind, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 are pretty important. If I accept that Mission Statements do reveal a commitment to either liberal or neo-liberal values, the study makes sense. But if I am skeptical there is nothing in chapter 1 that offers a convincing validation that it could.

For reference, this is Yale's Mission Statement:

"Yale Mission Statement" wrote:
Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice. Yale educates aspiring leaders worldwide who serve all sectors of society. We carry out this mission through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

In this case, 'improving' is not defined. The 'serve all sectors' could be neoliberal, but the collectivism in the last sentence might be liberal. I don't know that Chapter 1 is a good place to convince readers that the analysis will yield results - but I felt like that's something I would have liked to see.

Regarding language, structure, and definition, I really think it was extremely clear. Although this is not an area that I'm an expert in, I felt like what your intentions are were stated well.


I think what you hit on is my attempt to try to remain value neutral through the introduction, but I do see what you are saying. It is a major assumption of the whole project that these values are present and can be made visible through the analysis. Previous studies have done so in different ways, so the assumption I make is limited though; it'll be made more clear in chapter 2 when I discuss the hows and whys values are visible in mission statements and in chapter 3 when there's a discussion of previous research that has identified values that I'll be using as a priori themes.

As for the Yale statement, external focuses such as "improving the world" could be seen as a neoliberal value -- "improving the individual" would be more of a liberal orientation. But the second sentence, "free exchange of ideas" and "community" are both key phrases and words that would align to liberal values. The exact analysis would depend on the operational definition of the values, which has yet to be written.

deadDMwalking's picture

I fully understand that Chapter 2 will make it clear that you can deduce values from the Mission Statement - at least, based on the chapter above. That said, I'm not sure that you SHOULD wait until Chapter 2. If you tell me that waiting is appropriate, I'll believe you - as I said, I'm not an expert in our field. You had indicated that you would be using full sentences for your analysis - if the Yale statement is +2 Neoliberal and +1 Liberal, I am curious as to how that would be compared against a statement that was +1 Neoliberal and +0 Liberal. Again, I'm sure that it will be clear in later chapters.

Since the Dissertation is going to be judged by experts in your field who are familiar with the literature and the efficacy of value-judging statements through a programmed analysis it may not matter - you know your audience better than I do. If additional explanation is unnecessary in Chapter 1, I totally understand - I wanted to highlight it as a potential concern not as a DEFINITE concern. If this were intended for a non-specialist audience, I would certainly encourage you to provide some type of brief example.