Ivy and Industry: Business and the Making of the American University, 1880-1980/academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education/Buying in or Selling out? the Commercialization of the American Research University

By Bowen, Roger W. | Academe, May/June 2005 | Go to article overview

Ivy and Industry: Business and the Making of the American University, 1880-1980/academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education/Buying in or Selling out? the Commercialization of the American Research University


Bowen, Roger W., Academe


Ivy and Industry: Business and the Making of the American University, 1880-1980

Christopher Newfield. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003

Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education

Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004

Buying In or Selling Out? The Commercialization of the American Research University

Donald G. Stein, ed. New Brunswick, NJ.: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

The corporatization of the academy is old news, according to Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades in Academic Capitalism and the New Economy; a Faustian bargain a hundred years in the making, according to Christopher Newfield in Ivy and Industry; and a calamity, according to an essay by Derek Bok in Donald Stein's Buying In or Selling Out? That the academy has been commercialized they all agree, but these three volumes make the case differently, using, respectively, rigorous social scientific analysis, literary humanism, and an array of conference papers disguised as a book. Slaughter and Rhoades offer the most coherent account of how the academy is mired in commercialism. All three books are overly descriptive, yet for the most part they make clear that commercialization of the academy is not a positive development. Nevertheless, all three forgo prescribing a solution, perhaps because a solution does not exist.

Whether through Stein's overly casual, "Maybe I'm old fashioned, but 1 don't like to think of the university as just another service or commodity business" approach; Newfield's often confusing but at times enormously appealing account of the academy's gradual, hundred-year-long absorption into the "post-Fordist economy"; or Slaughter and Rhoades's dialectical analysis of the academy's incomplete change from "a public good knowledge/learning regime" into "an academic capitalist knowledge/learning regime," readers of any or all of these three books will conclude that laws, corporations, and members of the academy itself-including the faculty-have wittingly or unwittingly joined forces to remake the ivory tower into an entrepreneurial knowledge machine. In this machine, ideas are products to be sold, students are customers to be served, professors are commodities to be traded, and administrators are managers to be feared.

If this "news" depresses or angers you, then we must ask, what is to be done? And what conditions must be overcome in order to "fix" the system? Or, alternatively, what can be done to preserve what is best about the academy? Regrettably, answers to these questions will not be found in any of the three publications.

Inertia is a powerful force. The weight of historical momentum has moved the American academy into a state where its health depends mightily on the health of the national and state economies and the ideologically driven priorities of those who decide how to allocate public wealth or redistribute private lucre. Politicians have funding priorities that all too often are aligned with those of corporate America's, and donors to private institutions tend to be among the leaders of corporate America. Politicians have calculated that voting to decrease public support of education is not harmful to their careers because education is no longer seen as a public good, and private donors have championed higher education as a private interest. Starve the beast, or attach restrictive covenants to gifts, dollar-dispensers reason, and it will become stronger and more self-reliant and eventually even more amenable to political control and "accountability."

Over time, higher education has reconciled itself to the need to become more entrepreneurial, more enterprising, and more inventive in finding resources, a reconciliation that Slaughter and Rhoades characterize as not-for-profits looking for ways to make profits. As they necessarily operate within an economic system that rewards initiative and penalizes sloth, faculty-reward systems soon became geared toward generating saleable ideas, dismissing or downsizing those with the least marketable ideas, and creating a large reservoir of content providers who enjoy few benefits and no job security. …

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