Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Ellen Barton


Applying a public sphere approach to Wayne State, I argue that the university has defined itself as a public subject within public debates about race, educational access, and economic development in the city of Detroit, even when such commitments to its local urban public sphere have existed uneasily alongside its ambition to function as a research university with a primary research mission within a wider public sphere of peer research universities. I focus on Wayne State University’s urban mission and open for consideration the ways the university has both expanded and contracted its relationships to its local and academic public spheres in the past century and a half. This argument is developed by tracing the past, present, and possible future of the University’s urban mission through readings of what I identify as institutional texts—texts created by, within, or on behalf of the University which make legible the ways in which Wayne State’s role within its constituent publics has been continuously articulated and rearticulated since its founding nearly 150 years ago. The work in this dissertation contributes to scholarship in publics theory and public rhetoric, first, by arguing that tensions between publics are legibly inscribed in institutional texts; and second, by demonstrating a critical methodology for understanding institutions as public subjects.