What's Left 2015-09-20 Volume 28

Once a university is run as a private corporation, the other processes of privatisation are easier to implement. The resulting silos compartmentalise research, teaching and knowledge transfer from the university's broader social missions. This undermines the delicate ecosystem that allows for knowledge generation. This is why the struggle to sustain and rebuild a functional university system must always include the struggle against corporate restructuring.

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University Privatization: Corporate structure means corporate methods

Once the shift from a governance structure of social collegiality to one of a corporate anti-democratic hierarchy occurs, more structural reforms can be implemented. The first of these is the reform of the procurement of services inside the university such as food services, maintenance, mail services, and residence management.

Similar to a corporation that has grown to a certain size or where the rate of profit has stopped growing, managers of the new corporate university will follow a two-step process to make services cheaper for the university.

The first of the two-step process towards the privatization of services is simply a process of corporate “rationalization” and can seem to make sense through the new corporate lens. However, contracting-out undermines the community and centralizes the oversight of those intra-university services so that the individualized costs can be measured.

Once these targeted internal services are commodified and marketized, then removed from the broader academic community, it alienates those who provide those services from the university. At that point, it is very easy to put a price on them and to privatize them completely.


In the world of the corporate university where “efficiency” rules over process, moving services to a centrally coordinated office is supposed to make things better. This process is known as contracting-out. For example, if each building has a computer server and electronic services, it might make sense to a money manager to ask what the point is of having redundant service providers in each building. Instead of that service being provided by each building or department, it is contracted by those departments from the central service provider.

Of course, those of us whose jobs rely on responding quickly to problems would see things differently and wonder how it is more “efficient” to create more bureaucratic barriers to problem solving. But, money managers exist in a world where other peoples’ lost time does not count. The corporate university can always save a lot of money laying-off those redundant workers and centralizing the work in a single office of computer management.

This process is known to every public service and is usually called the “shared services” model. It leads to lay-offs or loss of positions and the process is usually more expensive in the short term. However, that expense is argued away because of predicted future savings. The rationale is “Investment now for greater efficiency tomorrow”.

Through the contracting-out of services, managers get reduced to contract managers instead of managers of people. This part of contracting-out also alienates managers from parts of the university community such as those who carry out the services. The result is that “inefficiencies” are noted but solutions are not found. Because there is no one locally to directly resolve an issue it is an increasingly large and expensive burden to address such problems.

Since the contracted service is now fully costed and a system has been developed to charge departments directly, contract managers more easily see that inefficiencies could be better solved by a “professional service” from the private sector.

With the other corporatization-driven changes such as the downloading of financial responsibility to the departmental level, the pressures for departments become such that the only reasonable solution seems to find ever-cheaper ways of providing the minimal level of services to the academic community.


After contracting-out has occurred and a full valuation carried out, the focus of managers is on the continued reduction of costs. The next logical step is outsourcing the work to the private sector to further reduce costs for the university, even if only at the bureaucratic level. At this point, workers are either told to go with the new company or are just replaced entirely with people who will work for less.

Contrary to the false narrative of private sector efficiency, outsourced work is usually provided by monopoly companies through restrictive multi-year contracts. The introduction of profit motive to a university service means that quality suffers. While costing less to the department budgets, management of the services becomes difficult and others in the academic community pick up the slack of the low quality outsourced service. What used to be the sole work of maintenance workers such as moving heavy lab benches or replacing out-of-reach light bulbs falls to others to avoid putting strain on tight departmental budgets.

The result is diminished quality of the academic community and of the learning environment.

When a service is privatized in the academic environment, the work of the academic community is undermined to fill the gaps and to deal with the distortion of that community. There is no upside to outsourcing other than reduced strain on departmental budgets. However, as the saying goes, departmental budgets are not what universities were designed for. In the end, money managers always eat up that budget slack.

These processes of corporatization must be opposed in order to maintain the integrity of the academy and the quality of academic support services. They negatively impact the learning environment, the research environment and the quality of academic community life.

More: University of Windsor outsourcing services

More: UVic’s New Telus MBA: Creeping Corporatization, or Just Keeping Up?

Next week: Commodification of Education


Leap Manifesto tries to set agenda on the environment

Hundreds of Canadian individuals and organizations have signed onto the Leap Manifesto, a call for building a country based on fairness, respect for people and the planet. Initiator Naomi Klein has rallied celebrities, activists, unions, and other groups to sign on to a vision of Canada where austerity is defined as an archaic economic excuse for underfunding public services, transit, and encouraging the harmful development of a fossil fuel-based economy. The Manifesto is backed by a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that shows how its vision is possible, and can be afforded.

While outlining a vision to transform the economy, we should not take the reporting on the “manifesto” at face value. It is by no means the most radical program presented on climate change in Canada and would likely fit comfortably in the Green Party’s policy book.

More: Read the Leap Manifesto

Action: Sign the Leap Manifesto

What’s Left This Week editor published in Briarpatch Magazine

What’s Left This Week editor Amalia Savva and co-author Kerry Duncan look at some of the pervasive ways in which capitalism has affected a rural community near Ottawa, Ontario. Once a township that boasted jobs in the textile industry, Lanark Highlands has yet to recover from the absence of economic stability and growth. When we think about the impacts of capitalism and the blurred “truth” of constant economic growth, we can also uncover instances in which capitalism has left people behind and how those same people are trying to rebuild while using alternative visions. categories: [“What’s Left”]

More: When Capital Leaves Town


Tsipras’ Syriza wins in Greece

The new Syriza, unfortunately without most of its more radical wing, has won a minority government in Greece. The right-wing populist and anti-immigrant Independent Greeks will again be the oppositional player. The left split from Syriza won only 2.8% of the vote, narrowly missing the minimum threshold to gain parliamentary seats. The centre-right New Democracy won only 28.3% of the vote and the Communists kept their 15 seats.

Tsipras has stated that this will be the last election in four years (if the coalition holds together, of course). The government will now implement the pro-market reforms that it made with its debt holders.

There was a massive decline in turnout among young people. This has led some to point out the recurring history of social democratic parties that fight and split. What is clear is that Greece’s far left is now all but excluded from governing. The focus now is on how socialists can adapt and build support in their respective parties such as Podemos, UK Labour, and Sanders’ US Democrat primary run.

More: Left-wing Syriza wins Greek vote, will form coalition gov’t

Oil price finally affecting investment

Both a new report by Wood Mackenzie energy consultancy and separate figures from the International Energy Agency show the price of oil is too low ($50/barrel) for the $1.5tn of potential investment. This abandoned investment includes shale gas developments. This seems to show that OPEC’s strategy of flooding the oil market with cheap crude has worked to undermine expensive oil development in the US and Canada.

More: Plunging oil prices put question mark over $1.5tn of projects

Unions protecting basic rights in sports

First the Australian Women team boycotts US tour over wage issues and now the World footballers’ union is filing a complaint with the EU to eliminate fees that undermine the evenness between teams. Both actions are aimed at taking out some of the imbalances between richer and poorer clubs in getting players.

More: [[https://citizenspress.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=27d7d00e19a37005743125d7e&id=5901f87a25&e=8484a6ba75][FIFPro players union launch legal action against Fédération Internationale de Football Association]]