Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Social Movements, Labor, Organizations, Higher Education, Corporatization

Major Advisor

Mary Bernstein

Associate Advisor

Daisy Verduzco Reyes

Associate Advisor

Ruth Braunstein

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Scholars, educators, and the public have raised the alarm about the corporatization of higher education in the United States. Graduate employee unions (GEUs) have been at the forefront of this critique of corporatization. However, there is little consensus on exactly what corporatization is or how to measure it. Further still, there is debate about the impact of GEUs themselves on corporatization. This dissertation intervenes in these debates by drawing on the concept of “institutional schemas” (Polletta & Gardner 2015) to create a framework for understanding corporatization and the impact of GEUs on higher education. I draw on qualitative data from Green State University (GSU), a large public Research 1 university in the Northeastern US, to understand the institutional schemas present at GSU, the development of the market schema, and the impact of a GEU on the university. The data include 44 in-depth qualitative interviews with faculty, graduate employees, administrators, and staff, as well as analysis of university texts, financial and budget data, and minutes of the Graduate Faculty Assembly.

I find that there are two competing institutional schemas at play at GSU: the vocational schema and the market schema. I argue that “corporatization” can be understood as the dominance of the market schema over the vocational schema. The market schema has become the dominant schema at GSU largely through privatization of GSU’s funding sources. The sharp reduction in state funding for GSU has driven a discourse of scarcity and practices of seeking funding from private sources like tuition dollars, entrepreneurial endeavors, and grants. This leads administration and faculty to an intense focus on revenue generation, to the exclusion of aspects of academic work that facilitate universities’ production of public goods. I argue that the best way to analyze the impact of graduate employee unionization on corporatization is to assess its impact on the vocational and market schemas. At GSU, graduate employee unionization has had mixed effects on corporatization – at times increasing the salience of the vocational schema (by increasing the cost of the lowest-paid labor, etc.) and at other times promoting practices based on the market schema (intensive auditing, etc.).

Available for download on Friday, July 18, 2025