Academic Entrepreneurs: The Corporate Takeover of Higher Education

By Giroux, Henry A. | Tikkun, March/April 2005 | Go to article overview

Academic Entrepreneurs: The Corporate Takeover of Higher Education


Giroux, Henry A., Tikkun


With these two pieces by Henry Giroux and Svi Shapiro, TIKKUN begins an intensive look at what it means to work in the United States today. The pieces will be more prescriptive than descriptive, outlining what a New Bottom Line for labor-and especially for the professions-would be. We start this issue with education: while Henry Giroux critiques the corporatization of academia, Svi Shapiro takes a look at how to reform elementary school education. Next issue, look for articles on unionization and outsourcing. To learn more on TIKKUN'S New Bottom Line for the Professions initiative, go to www.tikkun.org.

Under a Bush Administration that seems increasingly intent on corporatizing the public sphere and shifting wealth from the working poor and middle class to the rich, too little attention has been given to the condition of the American university and its professors. Usually considered an elite class due to their educational condition and the practice of tenure, professors and their work within universities have largely been ignored. However, given the university's key role in public life as the protector and promoter of democratic values, it is worthwhile to take a look at how public policy is changing the conduct of American higher education.

In a country in which corporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel rapaciously profit from the war in Iraq, the Food and Drug Administration appears more concerned about the financial well-being of the pharmaceutical industry than the health of the general public. While the Bush Administration extends massive tax cuts to the rich amidst increasing poverty, hunger, and job losses, the university offers no escape and little resistance. Instead, the humanistic knowledge and values of the university are being excised as higher education becomes increasingly corporatized. Such corporatization affects not only the culture of the campus, but also the very content delivered by the university, as academic labor is increasingly based on corporate needs rather than either the demands of research for the public good or education designed to improve public life. In the corporate university, academics are now expected to be "academic entrepreneurs," valuable only for the money and prestige they bring and not for the education they can offer. Sacrificed in this transformation is any notion of higher education as a crucial public sphere in which critical citizens and democratic agents are formed, capable of addressing the anti-democratic forces that now threaten democracy in the United States under the Bush Administration.

The University as a Brand-Name Corporation

Anyone who spends any time on a college campus in the United States these days cannot miss how higher education is changing. Strapped for money and increasingly defined through the language of corporate culture, many universities seem less interested in higher learning than in becoming licensed storefronts for brand-name corporations-selling off space, buildings, and endowed chairs to rich corporate donors. University bookstores are now managed by big corporate conglomerates such as Barnes & Noble, while companies such as Sodexho-Marriott (also a large investor in the U.S. private prison industry) run a large percentage of college dining halls, and McDonald's and Starbucks occupy prominent locations on the student commons. Student IDs are now adorned with MasterCard and Visa logos, providing students who may have few assets with an instant line of credit and an identity as full-time consumers.

In addition, housing, alumni relations, health care, and a vast array of other services are now being leased out to private interests to manage and run. One consequence is that spaces once marked as public and non-commodified-places for quiet study or student gatherings-now have the appearance of a shopping mall. Commercial logos, billboards, and advertisements plaster the walls of student centers, dining halls, cafeterias, and bookstores. …

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