The corporatization of universities has been going on for decades. The operation of universities is increasingly shaped in line with business interests. The critics of this process are many and growing louder as the years go by. In this article, I would like to focus on the problem of the intellectual cost the higher education system has to pay for mixing business with higher learning.
The corporate system is undeniable. More and more sponsors are appearing at universities to fund scientific studies. Joel Westheimer, in his article points out that 52% of medical research is now funded by private companies. Also, the university system is continuously transformed by a top-down approach where the business-educated administrators on top are increasingly controlling the direction of universities. The educators; the professors, research and teaching assistants; on the bottom are beginning to be treated just a little more than hired help to fulfill the vision of these administrators. Yes, the corporate system is eroding the traditional reliance on highly educated professors who serve the public interest. The corporate system is now at work at universities.
Besides the many financial, social and democratic problems this corporatized system may have, which the critics have already pointed out, there is also a price to pay in terms of intellectual cost. The most obvious cost is the transfer of power from the highly educated professors to the business-oriented administrators. Surely, business administrators are well-educated, too. However, their education is centered around the successful running of businesses and not around the assurance of the students’ well-rounded education to properly participate in the public domain. The professors understand the students’ needs that go way beyond getting a job after university. They are proficient at discovering the student’s strengths and aptitudes to steer him or her in the right direction for a lifelong career the student can love, cherish and contribute to. They have the ability to empower a student to be a valuable, ethical and responsible person and citizen. To remove power from the professors to serve the business needs of the university means to rob students from getting a well-rounded education in favour of gaining a job.
The students are paying the highest price in this process. They are not only robed of a well-rounded education, but also lose out on the higher skills that universities are normally associated with. While the colleges were always job oriented, university educated people had the ability to think critically, solve problems, see the bigger picture in life and point to potential solutions on a large scale, anything from small business operations to great political changes in a country. To teach these higher level skills always involved traditional subjects, such philosophy, history, languages, psychology, social and political sciences, just to name a few. For example, a philosophy class is not geared toward getting a job, but it certainly teaches the student to see all sides of the question to understand a complex situation. To devalue and to remove these subjects in favour of those that are directly related to gaining employment means to leave students without those higher skills that allow them to be leaders of humanity, as opposed to become followers of a business model and simply hired help for successful businesses.
The overall intellectual cost can be very high in society. People who are unable to think critically are easily fooled by corrupt politicians and wicked business leaders. People who are taught to solve localized business issues cannot offer a new and ethical future direction of a business. People who cannot see the big picture in life feel helpless in solving their own life issues and the issues their society face at large. Without a proper higher education, a society can erode and be driven into the ground. If people are directionless and helpless, unethical and corrupt practices can easily take place in a country and, society can easily be destroyed by egotistic and selfish people who do not care about the greater good of the country and the citizens in it.
In addition, the business model can also destroy the university system altogether. Since the business model supports the idea of education at the lowest costs and the fastest speed with the greatest possible profit, the entire education system is geared toward mass producing graduates at a super speed. The university system is now not just competing with colleges but also with certificate programs that the hiring businesses accept. As Michael Staton argues, the higher degree is doomed because hiring businesses are looking at other factors, such as certifications, work samples, manager reviews and on-line portfolios. This means that, if the university system is to keep up with the business demand, the system has to adopt to this highly success oriented business model that emphasizes competition in the work force, as opposed to education of students. To walk down on this path means to end the university system altogether. Sacrificing all intellectual pursuits, the university system in this scenario will remain in name only.
I have to add a last word about the gratitude I have to Western University. I am enrolled in the graduate program at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism. I feel that this program is almost a sanctuary for those who would really like to learn in a traditional manner a university was meant to teach. It is probably one of the few places where people can go to get such a graduate education. I wonder, though, how long the administrative system will continue to support such a program, since it does not directly lead to a well-defined job.
In summary, the cost of mixing business with higher learning is very high and damaging. The intellectual cost is too high to continue on this path. A change is necessary. I hope that the politicians are listening and have the willpower to return universities to their traditional roles as higher educators of citizens.