Seeking Refuge: Neoliberalism, Institutional Rhetoric, and the Sanctuary Campus Movement

Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication and Rhetorical Studies


Kendall R. Phillips


Critical university studies, Institutional rhetoric, neoliberalism

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This project is a study of institutional rhetoric of universities and higher education discourses that have been re-shaped by neoliberalism in the past four decades. Specifically, this project examines the rhetoric of universities in response to the advent of the sanctuary campus movement, which emerged in 2016 following the election of Donald Trump. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s notions of governmentality, power, and contradiction in discourse, the author analyzes how institutional speech acts in response to calls for sanctuary can illuminate the governing logics of the contemporary neoliberal university as well as spaces for contestation and possibilities for resistance. The project offers a genealogical history of the notion of sanctuary in three historical emergences in the United States, and then analyzes three case studies from the sanctuary campus movement. The case studies reveal three important rhetorical themes in universities’ institutional rhetoric: rhetoric of lawfulness, rhetoric of neoliberal supplication, and rhetoric of bureaucratic ambivalence. The project concludes with a reflection on these rhetorical themes, their utility for future study, the affordances and constraints of working within institutions, and the need for the field of rhetorical studies to give greater attention to the rhetorics and discourses of universities.


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