Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education

Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education

Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education

Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education


Is everything in a university for sale if the price is right? In this book, one of America's leading educators cautions that the answer is all too often "yes." Taking the first comprehensive look at the growing commercialization of our academic institutions, Derek Bok probes the efforts on campus to profit financially not only from athletics but increasingly, from education and research as well. He shows how such ventures are undermining core academic values and what universities can do to limit the damage.

Commercialization has many causes, but it could never have grown to its present state had it not been for the recent, rapid growth of money-making opportunities in a more technologically complex, knowledge-based economy. A brave new world has now emerged in which university presidents, enterprising professors, and even administrative staff can all find seductive opportunities to turn specialized knowledge into profit.

Bok argues that universities, faced with these temptations, are jeopardizing their fundamental mission in their eagerness to make money by agreeing to more and more compromises with basic academic values. He discu


During the past twenty-five years, universities have become much more active in selling what they know and do to individuals and corporations. Commercialization of this kind is not new; it came into being many decades ago through the growth of intercollegiate athletics. As early as 1915, Yale earned more than $1 million from its football team (in current dollars). Since 1975, however, universities have been much more aggressive than they previously were in trying to make money from their research and educational activities. Many institutions have launched vigorous patent licensing programs, for-profit ventures in Internet education, and a wide variety of other commercial initiatives. in the following pages, I discuss why this trend has developed, what dangers it poses for universities, and how academic leaders can act to limit the risk to their institutions.

This is not the first time that I have discussed this topic publicly. On the fourth of June, 1988, in a commencement address before thousands of Harvard students, alumni, and friends, I raised the issue in a quite unconventional manner. Instead of describing the commercial opportunities presented to Harvard and the ways in which the institution was responding, I decided to seize the attention of the audience by broaching the subject through a wholly fictitious set of dreams that I claimed to have had only a few weeks before.

That spring, the newspapers had been full of stories about junk bonds, leveraged buy-outs, hostile takeovers, and other bizarre financial schemes. Tales of infamous figures such as Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken had dominated the financial pages. Inspired by these accounts, I in-

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