Higher education research regularly encounters a paradox: never in human history has higher education been so widespread in its reach and global significance. At the same time, however, even as the centrality and importance of academic research, teaching and knowledge exchange has grown, the relative status of the academic profession has a suffered precipitous decline. This paradox of the simultaneous growth and decline of the academic profession’s status can lead to a lack of reflection if we fail to observe that universities are not just passive ‘victims’ of transformations in the global knowledge economy. We are, in fact, perhaps more than any other institution, the producer of those changes critics tend to call ‘neoliberalism’, ‘post-Fordism’, ‘late capitalism’ and so on. What universities experience as the gale of creative destruction emanates from the current figuration of the university system, which I argue is the contradictory synthesis of two types of university: elite and mass. What this paradoxical university system produces is a contradictory type of graduate – an individualised, status-seeking professional who increasingly mistakes technique for knowledge, and who is expert in deconstructing established truths and authority, including the very authority on which their social status rests.