Losing control of the university: Corporatization (Part 2) | What's Left

The role of a university is unique among public institutions. Instead of providing a single service to public users, they exist to establish a space, culture, and work that supports processes of discovery, advancement and challenging existing knowledge for the betterment of society.

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/This is the second part of a What’s Left This Week’s series on the different ways in which the education sector in Canada is being privatized, with a focus on universities. Last week’s article was on/ The Pervasiveness of University Privatization.

Contrary to the neoliberal ideal, universities are not necessarily just for teaching, but also for the creation of space in which students and professors can learn and engage with the ecosystem of knowledge expansion.

The development of research skills comes from an engagement in this ecosystem in which students may both develop themselves and advance knowledge for all. This ecosystem has structure, of course. The work in a university must be managed and money must be spent to promote the priorities of knowledge development.

Historically, the broader university community has worked together as a whole to set these priorities and establish how to move forward, where priorities are and what areas should be restructured. This history shows us that the university as an institution is best managed by this culture of sharing and openness.

Unfortunately, those who do not value or prioritize knowledge sharing or social, political, or scientific progress tend to undervalue the the academic system. They often look at a functioning university as an expensive and inefficient project and score the university based on its ability to produce job-ready workers (past students). To do this is to see learning as separate from research and the academy’s broader social function.

These “neoliberal” reformers seek to change the university by undermining the structures and freedoms essential to knowledge generation. The reformed structure of the academy they promote is the only one they understand: the corporation. This process of transformation of the management of the university is the process of corporatization.

Corporatization usually starts through the adoption of private-sector management structures and increasing powers assigned to the management group – usually known as the Board of Governors (BoG). As management powers grow, so does the alienation of this BoG from the real functions of the university. Academics, workers and students elected from the academic community are replaced with compliant, like-minded “professional” administrators, often manager friends in the corporate sector.

The negative impacts these reforms are having on the university’s research mission are masked by new measures of administrative success. The new caste of administrators adopt private sector compartmentalization of roles and build silos which undermine the free-flowing of information. They increase top administrators pay above those who actually do the academic work of the university. This increased inequality leaves a harmful impact for faculty and drives an increase in precarious labour and university support staff lose wages, benefits, and job security.

The result is the adoption of methods and processes that would have once been rejected by the broader academic community. Privatization of academic support services such as food services, maintenance, mail services, construction, and residence management are promoted for efficiency without regard for the impact on the community. The compartmentalization of research, teaching, and knowledge transfer cut students off from cutting edge research and the traditional governance structure of social collegiality moves towards one of corporate business.

It is for these reasons that if the goal of the activists in the academic system are to rebuild a functional university system, they must include the struggle against corporate restructuring.

Next week: Contracting out and Outsourcing