The Disneyfication of a University

BY DANE KENNEDY

The George Washington University faculty and staff ain’t got no culture. Or worse, we’ve got a negative culture. This was the verdict of the Disney Institute, which the president of our university commissioned last year to assess the culture on our campus. Fortunately, the institute, which is the “professional development and external training arm of The Walt Disney Company,” has a remediation plan. It has designed workshops to teach us the cultural “values” and “service priorities” we evidently require.

The culture that Disney has crafted for us is not, it should be said, the high culture of the arts that the poet Matthew Arnold described as “sweetness and light.” Nor is it the anthropological notion of culture—a system of meaning that shapes social behavior. Rather, it is corporate culture, a creature that has become all the rage in the business world—and now, it seems, is burrowing its way into universities. Its professed aim is to instill a sense of shared purpose among employees, but its real objective is far more coercive and insidious.