The Lives of Campus Custodians

Insights into Corporatization and Civic Disengagement in the Academy

April 2016
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  • Publisher
    Stylus Publishing
  • Published
    13th April 2016
  • ISBN 9781620364604
  • Language English
  • Pages 288 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"
April 2016
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  • Publisher
    Stylus Publishing
  • Published
    26th April 2016
  • ISBN 9781620364598
  • Language English
  • Pages 288 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"
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April 2016
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    Stylus Publishing
  • Published
    15th April 2016
  • ISBN 9781620364611
  • Language English
  • Pages 288 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"

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April 2016
More details
  • Publisher
    Stylus Publishing
  • Published
    15th April 2016
  • ISBN 9781620364628
  • Language English
  • Pages 288 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"

This unique study uncovers the lives and working conditions of a group of individuals who are usually rendered invisible on college campuses--the custodians who daily clean the offices, residence halls, bathrooms and public spaces. In doing so it also reveals universities’ equally invisible practices that frequently contradict their espoused values of inclusion and equity, and their profession that those on the margins are important members of the campus community.

This vivid ethnography is the fruit of the year’s fieldwork that Peter Magolda’s undertook at two universities. His purpose was to shine a light on a subculture that neither decision-makers nor campus community members know very much about, let alone understand the motivations and aspirations of those who perform this work; and to pose fundamental questions about the moral implications of the corporatization of higher education and its impact on its lowest paid and most vulnerable employees.

Working alongside and learning about the lives of over thirty janitorial staff, Peter Magolda becomes privy to acts of courage, resilience, and inspiration, as well as witness to their work ethic, and to instances of intolerance, inequity, and injustices. We learn the stories of remarkable people, and about their daily concerns, their fears and contributions.

Peter Magolda raises such questions as: Does the academy still believe wisdom is exclusive to particular professions or classes of people? Are universities really inclusive? Is addressing service workers’ concerns part of the mission of higher education? If universities profess to value education, why make it difficult for those on the margins, such as custodians, to “get educated.”

The book concludes with the research participants’ and the author’s reflections about ways that colleges can improve the lives of those whose underpaid and unremarked labor is so essential to the smooth running of their campuses.

Appendices provide information about the research methodology and methods, as well as a discussion of the influence of corporate managerialism on ethnographic research.

“Magolda combines more than a year of participant observation, ethnographic interviews, and literature review to give us a valuable glimpse into what daily life is like for custodians on two different college campuses. I especially enjoyed the many tell-it-like-it-is quotes from custodians that Magolda includes.

The book is also eye-opening about ‘community engagement,’ and offers new ways to think about it. I teach a service-learning class every spring and have helped lead the faculty advisory group for our Office for Community Engagement. Yet until reading The Lives of Campus Custodians, I had never thought about having our students engage with an important but largely invisible community: the low-wage staff working at our university.

Toward the end of the book, Magolda offers a series of concrete suggestions for how to improve matters for both custodians and the university, directed at administrators, supervisors, students, faculty, and custodians themselves.”

Reflective Teaching

"In The Lives of Campus Custodians: Insights Into Corporatization and Civic Disengagement in the Academy, Peter Magolda presents the stories of custodians on two college campuses in order to shed light on campus custodians, frequently marginalized collegiate subculture, and to present an alternative way for readers to think both about the corporatization of higher education and knowledge production.

The Lives of Campus Custodians presents an alternative way of thinking about the ways higher education has become corporatized. Traditional literature on this topic addresses corporatization from the viewpoint of faculty, campus administrators, and others outside of higher education. This is the first text to examine this topic from the viewpoint of a campus subculture that experiences marginalization as a result of this corporate managerialism.

Although not specifically mentioned, this book would be a useful resource for graduate students, particularly doctoral students who are in the process of writing their dissertation proposal or seeking approval through their institutional review board. Magolda's discussion of his methodology appears in the appendixes and provides valuable insight into such topics as gaining access to research sites, the ethics of doing qualitative research, and goodness criteria. Graduate students who have only explored these topics in more traditional research textbooks would be well-served by reading this exemplar.

The greatest contribution this book makes is that it sensitizes readers to a subculture that remains disregarded, but one that contributes to student learning. Although higher education administrators at best view campus custodians as the 'cleaning people,' or at worst, barely human, custodians view themselves as educators and valuable contributors to the communities they serve."

The Review of Higher Education

"In this insightful volume, Magolda enters into the worlds of work of custodians who keep the spaces of learning and living clean, safe and welcoming for students, faculty and staff. Magolda’s work is the first full-scale study of custodial work from the ground work that I am aware of. His bottom up documentation of custodians’ realities and day-to-day experiences fills a very significance gap in the literature on higher education work. The organization of the book into three major themes -- fear, fatalism and family -- make much of what he learns applicable across other fields of work. Scholars and students of labor will find themselves in these pages, particularly in Magolda’s insightful work on the “family” of the workplace. His concluding section allows for a re-interpretation of the consequences of corporate managerialism on civility and community in higher education. Finally, Magolda is generous in sharing his methodological decisions and approaches in appendixes that deepen the utility of the book for courses on labor, sociology, occupations, and higher education."

Karla A. Erickson, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean of the College - Grinnell College

"Magolda’s goal was to create an 'interesting, accessible, credible, provocative, moderately disorienting, and educational' story. His ethnographic study of custodians at two higher education institutions has achieved that and more. In living their culture he came to appreciate the impact of the changing university on the 'least' of its members. Magolda uses this study of a university subculture to critique the trend toward corporatization in higher education. A critical read for everyone in the academy."

Gretchen Metzelaars, PhD, Senior Associate Vice President, Office of Student Life - The Ohio State University

"Magolda’s work promises to be one of the most important studies of our time for higher education scholars have virtually ignored the lived experiences and contributions of members from the campus invisible custodial caste. Through the use of casual conversation, storytelling and case studies Magolda’s writing is compelling, honest and personal. His research stands as witness that the academy espouses inclusivity but does not enact it. This book is a must read, a moral imperative, rooted in social justice."

Patty Perillo, PhD, Vice President for Student Affairs and Assistant Professor of Higher Education - , Virginia Tech

Foreword by Jeffrey F. Milem
Preface: “I See You”

Part One: The Research Study, Research Sites, and Researcher

1) You Must Have Done Something Wrong
The Right Kind Of Wrong
What’s Wrong?
Writing Wrongs

2) Research Site Insights
Cleaning Insights
Research Sites
Historical and Political Insights
Insights Unseen

3) Coming Clean: Ethnographic Origins and Milieus
The Subjective “I” And “Eye”
Lessons Learned

Part Two: The Custodial Life: Family and Fear

4) Pathways To A Cleaner [’s] Life
Career Immobility
Upward Mobility
Downward Mobility
The Allure Of Custodial Work on College Campuses
Left Behind and Losing Ground

5) The Custodian Life
Mr. Clean
An All-Purpose Cleaner
The Grim Sweeper
Grime Scenes

6) The Supervising Life
The Clean Team
The Buffer
Worker-Manager Strife

7) Fear the Worst
Primal Fear
Fear Factors
Caste-Away Fears

8) Family Matters
Family Feuds
The CU Family
The HU Family
Family Therapy

Part Three: Corporate Managerialism and Civic Disengagement

9) The Corporate Creep
Business As [Un]Usual
How’s Business? Not So Good
Getting Down to Business
A Corporate Managerialism Business Model
Going out of Business

10) Soiled Educational Aspirations and Civic Disengagement
Doing More Harm Than Good
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Too Bad

Part Four: Education and Possibilities

11) The Courage to Be [In Trouble]
Urine Trouble
Trouble In Paradise

12) A Dog’s Life
Having a Dog’s Chance
Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks


Compton University Staff Updates
Harrison University Staff Updates
Miami University Staff Updates

Appendix A: Research Methodologies and Methods
Philosophical Foundations
Influences on Fieldwork Methods
Goodness Criteria

Appendix B: Unsanitized Tales From the Field
Omissions Accomplished
Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread



Peter M. Magolda

Peter M. Magolda was Professor Emeritus in the Department of Educational Leadership at Miami University. He focused his scholarship on ethnographic studies of college students, critical issues in qualitative research, and program evaluation. He is author of The Lives of Campus Custodians and co-author of Contested Issues in Student Affairs, Contested Issues in Troubled Times, and It’s All About Jesus!: Faith as an Oppositional Collegiate Subculture, and has served on the editorial boards of Research in Higher Education and the Journal of Educational Research. He was an ACPA Senior Scholar inductee, and in 2013 received the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) Mentoring Award. He also received Miami University’s Richard Delp Outstanding Faculty Member award, as well Alumni Award from The Ohio State University and Indiana University.

We deeply mourn the loss of author, teacher, and friend Peter M. Magolda.

blue color workers; working conditions; ethnography; corporate managerialism