It’s Time to Challenge the Corporate University

The United States is experiencing a period in decline. The U.S.’s turn toward authoritarianism is evidenced by actions of the Trump administration and the GOP; The January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was orchestrated by the big lieTrump was the former president. There were also anti-Black right-wing attacks on voting rights and other right-wing machinations. There is a growing gap between wealthy and poor. We live in an age when the world’s 10 richest men (8 out of 10 of whom are American) have doubled their wealthDuring the COVID-19 pandemic that claimed nearly 1 million lives in the U.S., there was an increase in child poverty. hunger and food insecurity;The driver highest rate of inflation in 40 years. In the meantime, Elon Musk, who refers to himself as a “free speech absolutist,” has bought Twitter for $44 billion to promote unfettered free speech rights for all. Anthropologist and journalist Sarah Kendzior has framed the moment we are enduring as the “erosion of America.” This erosion, characterized by a restructuring of how industries operate, attacks on democratic institutions, and a widening gap between the wealthy and the destitute also extends to higher education, a sector of society which is a key pillar of democracy.

The Emergence of the Corporate University

Bill Readings, a late Université de Montréal professor noted the move towards corporatization of universities in his 1997 study, The University in Ruins. While the 1990s weren’t the golden age of higher learning, there were some aspects that were more palatable than the current moment. That time, tuition was lowerIt is also more affordable. The technological integration of technology in teaching and internet access had just begun. Google and Wikipedia weren’t available, and there were very few living arrangements for students on campus and at universities. Universities relied upon shared governanceFor decision-making, faculty participation in governance of the institution. Although the rhetoric of excellence, innovation, and efficiency in managing universities was gaining traction, it was not the driving force behind decision-making in a neoliberal marketplace.

However, recent years have seen a shift to what some call the “The” gilded age, where “the rich schools are getting richer, while the poorer ones are struggling to survive, with increasing numbers of fairly well known schools announcing they are closing or severely retrenching their operations.” In particular, since 2020 (the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic), this gilded age is far more alarming than the situation described by Readings in the 1990s. From unsafe working conditions, to 700,000 (just over 50 percent) of faculty in the U.S. classified as “adjuncts,” to corporate-controlled donors, attacks on tenure, monetization of diversity initiativesCorporatization of universities is not a theory anymore, it is a reality.

Public and private universities have been slowly shifting away from mission-driven models towards market-driven models. This allows for greater profits, branding, revenue-generating streams, and programs. With skyrocketing costs of education and tuitionThere are fancy dorms with cafeterias, gyms, and even a swimming pool. water-themed campus park, university campuses have been investing in fancy infrastructures — increasing their operational costs and pouring money into athletic programs, particularly football and men’s basketball, while lowering their instructional costs.

Joshua Hunt’s eye-opening book, University of Nike: How Corporate Cash Bought American Higher Education, narrates the relationship that the University of Oregon cultivated with Nike’s founder Phil Knight to transform “a once cash-strapped liberal arts college” into a “college football powerhouse with an increasingly competitive basketball program.” Hunt goes on to say how other universities have followed in the footsteps of the University of Oregon. “In 2016 the University of Michigan announced a $169 million contract with Nike” followed by a month later when “University of Texas at Austin inked a $250 million Nike deal.”

While corporations like Nike have been actively funding programs that university boards and presidents are welcoming, students are viewed as “tuition dollars” and as consumers. Many faculty and support personnel have been made disposable and can be easily replaced. Despite receiving millions of federal pandemic-related relief funds, universities are cutting back faculty and staff and blaming COVID. Arvind Dilawar in The Nation reported, “In May of 2020, the University of Vermont’s president, Suresh Garimella, issued an update on the school’s finances. Citing the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Garimella put forth a bleak prognosis of lower enrollment, higher costs, and stagnant tuition rates necessitating reductions in salaries, benefits, and staff.” Unfortunately, what has happened at University of Vermont is a national story, as universities are using the false justification of COVID to push through long-sought budget cuts like cutting retirement benefits, freezing salaries, and cutting support staff and programs.

Barbara Madeloni is a facilitator Public Higher Education WorkersThe network that supports organizing university workers attributes the persistence in cuts to a long-term project to transform higher education into an industrialized industry. contingent faculty(insecure faculty posts like adjuncts, teaching assistants, lecturers with no job security) and student loan, rather than a public service funded by taxes. The terms of right-sizing and student-centered, restructuring, and reimagining are used to create committees that recommend eliminating disciplines, programs, and majors that do not serve the market-driven corporate universities built on revenue-generating enterprises. Portland State University most recently announced their own “Reimagine PSU” initiative “to provide spaces to create transformational possibilities at a larger scale.” One of the transformational possibilities will require “program reviews and reduction” and multiple programs are slated to be reviewed and possibly reduced or eliminated.

In the meantime, “administrative bloat” and administrative costs, as witnessed by large salaries paid to university presidentsNumerous provosts and deans, as well as coaches, have been increasing in number. Even when university presidents have been found to be most unsuitable for their duties due to various wrongdoings and malpractices (and where firing them would be the best action), they are given golden parachutes by highly corporate boards of trustees. Such expensive severance packages are often categorized under “mutual agreements” between the boards and the presidents asked to resign.

For example, the University of Northern Illinois (NIU), declared a $35 million funding gap in 2017. Douglas Baker, the former president of NIU, was also present. declared by state investigatorsto have mismanaged public institution by ignoring competitive bidding rules to hire consultants for more than $1million. The Hechinger Reporter noted, “Within two weeks of that report’s release, Baker resigned — and, in a closed-door meeting of the university’s board of trustees, was given $587,500 in severance pay, plus up to $30,000 to cover his legal fees. He’s also due a previously unreported $83,287 for unused vacation time, the university acknowledged. That’s a total of $700,787.”

Rahmat Shoureshi served as the president of Portland State University for only 21 months after he came under fire for “his treatment of employees and several ethically dubious deals following a 2019 investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive.” In 2019, The Oregonian’s headline read, “Shoureshi exits Portland State with $855,985 golden parachute; two years of health insurance, even his legal fees.” And then there is Jerry Falwell Jr.After years of scandal, he was awarded a $10.5 million gold parachute by Liberty University.

Of course, the term “golden parachute” did not originate in the higher education sector but in corporations, as a response to hostile takeovers, mergers and acquisitions in the late 1970s. As higher ed has become increasingly corporatized, the concept of the golden parachute has been coopted by university boards that are comprised of wealthy donors, CEO’s and transplants from corporations. These board members are often unaware of university internal workings and shared governance. These golden parachutes, especially in these times of #MeToo, are not given due any hostile takeovers but to cover up financial wrongdoings by university leaders. The board of trustees at the California State University was notified by Chancellor Joseph I. Castro on February 17, 2022 that he had resigned as chancellor for his handling of sexual harassment complaints. According to the, he will also receive a salary of $401,364 for one year and then return as a teacher. settlement agreement.

Under the corporate university the wage gap between those that belong to the top 1 percent and their compensation packages (even after they are no longer affiliated with a university) and those who are seen as “the employees” have grown wider and wider. According to the American Association of University Professors, there has been a rapid erosion of tenure. shared governanceFor university professors, the number of adjunct teachers living below the poverty line is at an all time high.

The ongoing attack against labor in higher education is just one of the many realities of the corporate university. Academic tenure, according to the AAUP, is an indefinite appointment which safeguards academic freedom for scholars in higher education and “allows faculty to pursue research and innovation and draw evidence-based conclusions free from corporate or political pressure.” This feature of academia is one of the targets of the U.S.’s right wing and is consequently being eroded. Tenure is a costly system for the corporate university. And with right-wing forces declaring that “professors are the enemy,”J.D. Vance, a Republican candidate in Ohio for the U.S. Senate, stated that tenure is under serious threat. According to the AAUP a recent attack on tenure in South Carolina via the introduction of the South Carolina’s House Bill 4522, the “Canceling Professor Tenure Act,” seeks to “end tenure in the state’s public colleges and universities by prohibiting the awarding of tenure to employees hired in 2023 or later. If passed, this would be the first law of its kind in the nation.”

These attacks on tenure are part a larger pattern of actions in states that have Republican-led legislatures. For example, see the University of Florida is trying to forbid its faculty from testifying in court casesAgainst the state government. It is also blocking faculty attempts to include racial equity content in curricula under the guise of combating “critical race theory,” the latest bogeyman concocted by the right to chip away at academic freedom and push a conservative agenda in K-12 educational systems nationwide.

The Corporate University: Dangerous

What are the negative consequences of transforming colleges and universities into corporations with top-down management? One problem is the growing adjunctification of academia, which can be defined as part-time and temporary workers with little to no benefits or job security. In “There Is No Excuse for How Universities Treat Adjuncts,” Caroline Fredrickson noted, “thirty-one percent of part-time faculty are living near or below the federal poverty line.” Increased adjunctification, coupled with attacks on tenure and academic freedom, have only one major goal — accumulating more power and financial capital for the 1 percent of administrators, while depleting the resources, working conditions (as poor working conditionsDuring the pandemic have been highlighted) and the livelihood of the 99 per cent.

One downside to the rise of corporate university models in higher learning is the emphasis on STEM majors and less on encouraging majors of the humanities and the social sciences. In a corporate-influenced educational environment, there is more emphasis on technological advances, engineers, and mathematicians. However, the humanities (fields such art history, Africana Studies, English, foreign languages, religion studies, history, and sociology) are often overlooked. This is due to cost-cutting measures that tend to sacrifice humanities-related minors. Humanities and social sciences teach students empathy and humility, analytical techniques, critical thinking skills, and other humanistic qualities that are often lacking in American society. Some college students will go on to become leaders at the national, state, and international levels. While the STEM fields are important, the humanities are also vital. They help people become better citizens, and can promote human flourishing.

Other issues with corporate universities include increased managerial costs and outsourcing of governance. This includes the use of outsourcing to manage enrollments and not faculty staff, as well as the use of outside companies to create strategic plans instead of being created and driven faculty.

The Corporate University: Challenges and Opportunities

The challenge to the corporate university will require several actions. Tenured and tenured faculty must join hands with the exploited employees at these institutions (adjuncts and administrative and custodial personnel, undergraduate and graduate workers). The following are examples of solidarity:

  • Participation in one’s union,
  • Encourage university workers and students to join organizations like United Campus WorkersThis organization organizes faculty and staff across the South.
  • Resist some of these changes through a withdrawal of one’s labor. One example: The University of Chicago faculty was able to create a department of Race, Diaspora and IndigeneityPartly because of the threat to take part in committee work.

Both inside and outside academia need to raise awareness about the changes occurring in higher education and continue asking questions that can help us find viable solutions for the restructured corporate college. These questions include: What is the reality, how do they show up, what are the symptoms, and what are the failures of corporatized universities and colleges? Who and how are they affected? What should the role of higher learning in building a democratic society look like? How can we make higher education more equal and liberatory?

These and other related ideas are discussed in greater detail in the new Truthout series “Challenging the Corporate University.” We seek timely and well-written essays, op-eds, articles and interviews to expose and explore the various precarious labor and working conditions that the corporate university has produced. We are also interested to read pieces that discuss creative ways to challenge corporatized higher educational institutions. The essays should be written for a broad audience. They should also minimize the use jargonized terminology. Essays should not exceed 2,000 words. Instead of including a page with works cited, please embed hyperlinks to source sources seamlessly in the article text. To submit a piece, please send an email with the subject line “Re: The Corporate University” simultaneously to [email protected] [email protected].