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.
Our president is rumored to have forked over three to four million dollars to the Disney Institute to improve our culture (he refuses to reveal the cost). A select group of faculty and staff, those identified as opinion leaders, are being offered all-expenses paid trips to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando “to gain first-hand insight into Disney’s approach to culture.” For everyone else, the university is conducting culture training workshops that run up to two hours. All staff and managers are required to attend. Faculty are strongly “encouraged” to participate, and some contract faculty, who have little job security, evidently have been compelled to do so.
I attended one of these workshops. It was a surreal experience. About a hundred mostly sullen university employees—maintenance workers, administrative staff, faculty members, and more—filled a ballroom. Two workshop leaders strained to gin up the crowd’s enthusiasm with various exhortations and exercises, supplemented by several slickly produced videos. The result was a cross between a pep rally and an indoctrination camp.