Corporate Influence Guides Higher Education

Article excerpt

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Shelley Pineo-Jensen

Oregon higher education leadership, like the mythological hydra, has many heads, each presenting conflicting claims to different audiences. But the heads are all connected, and share a single intent: the alignment of higher education with corporate interests. Consider what the hydra's various heads have had to say about student tuition.

The head that spoke for University of Oregon negotiators told United Academics that it was a shame that tuition couldn't be raised more to provide larger raises for a deserving faculty.

A different head spoke for the Oregon University System bargaining team when staff representatives resisted having their step raises cut in half, contending that it would be the classified workers' fault if tuition had to be raised to pay contract demands.

A year ago, UO students staged protests against tuition increases of 40 percent between students' freshman and senior years.

UO Provost Jim Bean, the hydra head of that moment, said of such increases: "It's really threatening the American dream of the ability to go to public higher education."

Oregon's higher education leadership also shows conflicting faces in offering radically different levels of compensation to various worker groups. Some earn millions and enjoy luxurious perks; others live at a poverty level.

Top UO administrators make more than $200,000 a year. UO President Michael Gottfredson earns $540,000 plus benefits, free rent on a big house and staff to run the household and grounds. The football coach earns $1.8 million.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty see a different head of the hydra, earning neither the fabulous wages of the administrative elite nor suffering the lower wages, lack of benefits and job insecurity of contingent faculty and graduate teaching fellows.

Some of the classified staff see still another head, with 25 percent to 30 percent of OUS workers earning less than $2,498 per month - an amount that qualifies a family of four for food stamps. OUS explained that raising the lowest wages was a concern because it might "result in loss of other valuable assistance, such as food stamp eligibility, or housing and child care subsidies." Talk about living down to the dismal Walmart standard.

How did the leadership of public higher education drift from its mission of affordable education and research in service of the public good, and become a many-headed monster that spews whatever contradictory claim is convenient to justify the inequitable distribution of privilege and the cost-saving measure of the moment? In a word: corporatization.

The corporatization of higher education was empowered by the University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act of 1980, which allows the sale of patents to corporations even if the patents are based on university research funded by the taxpayers, and by President Reagan's Recovery Tax Act of 1981, which enlarges tax deductions for corporate donations to universities. …