Selling Out: Academic Freedom and the Corporate Academy

By Samek, Toni | The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, June 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Selling Out: Academic Freedom and the Corporate Academy


Samek, Toni, The Canadian Journal of Higher Education


Woodhouse, Howard (2009). Selling Out: Academic Freedom and the Corporate Academy. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press. Pages: 360. Price: 35.95 CAD (cloth).

Dr. Howard Woodhouse (College of Education, University of Saskatchewan) begins the book by disclosing his own firing from the University of Western Ontario close to thirty years ago. This extreme disciplinary action took root when "without the protection of tenure or academic freedom", he authored a letter that was published in the university newspaper in which he criticized a peer's position on South Africa apartheid and it culminated when he penned a report about "the future plans of the educational development office"(p.3). Woodhouse sued for wrongful dismissal and ultimately the Ontario Human Rights Commission found on his side of the dispute. This author has both direct personal and professional experience with an academic freedom case and has published in this area for several decades. This considerable vantage point might be, in part, what prompted him to frame his cumulative argument in a series of case studies of people "who have opposed the influence of the market on teaching and research at Canadian universities" (p.3) that serve to examine both personal and institutional levels. He also takes care to situate the concrete narratives alongside abstract theory with key attention paid to "the concept of 'generalization' operant in the wok of Alfred North Whitehead" (p.5). The essence of the ongoing argument is that the traditional goal of the university, to provoke and to share knowledge, is antithetical to, or in "necessary conflict" with (p.21), the corporatist academy of the 21 century which privileges market demands over independent thought, research, teaching and learning. Woodhouse warns that the current "innovation, commercialization and federal government funding" driven Canadian higher education engineers "ready-made products and standardized ideas for the corporate market" (p.38) while simultaneously "academic skills" are "decoupled from any disciplinary base" (p.26).

The structure of the monograph is comprised of an introduction, seven chapters supported by approximately 70 pages of notes, and a short back of the book index. The heart of the work is the engaging set of case studies which vary from the iconic Nancy Olivieri affair (Chapter 3: Taking on Big Pharma) to the lesser known set of circumstances of other scholars who spoke out against market forces in Canadian higher education. These stories of resistance are complemented by broader narratives, including "The Market Model of Education and the Threat to Academic Freedom" and "The Value Program in Theory in Practice". Through the two closing chapters, which counter the ubiquitous model of student evaluation as customer satisfaction and examine The People's Free University of Saskatchewan, the book ultimately pushes questions that many of us in academe grapple with today. To what extent is resistance in the form of a "civil commons" (p.261) a possibility? How much daring will it take and at what personal and professional cost, for example "to be shunned, persecuted and possibly dismissed" (p.11)?

Selling Out is highly relevant to contemporary Canadian higher education, including its current academic dramas, such as the "August 2011 agreement between York University and RIM co-founder Jim Balsillie's private think tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)" in which "the University agrees that it will allow CIGI not only a voice in who should be hired in the program at York, but veto power over whom the University can consider for hiring. …

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