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The Corporate University

The university is a microcosm of the larger society. The domination of corporate interests in the larger society and global economy is expressed in today’s corporate university. While there has always been an interrelationship between corporations and the university, under current conditions there is a weakening of the idea that the university is a space independent of the economy and that university actors (faculty, administrators, boards of trustees, etc.) are autonomous. Some of the main features of today’s corporate university are the merger of corporate interests with intellectual production in the university—making intellectual production property that corporations can appropriate and use to make profits. We see this in corporate funding of laboratory research, especially in the sciences, e.g., the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. In the social sciences and humanities they are considering claiming ownership and copyright of all written materials produced. Government officials and corporate representatives often sit on boards of trustees to consolidate this relationship. Fewer and fewer progressive foundations today even fund liberal scholarship.

The American Association of University Professors reports that the percent of full-time tenured faculty has fallen from about 37 percent in 1975 to 24 percent in 2003. Overall, tenure-track faculty have dropped substantially, from 57 percent in 1975 to 35 percent in 2003. In contrast, the percent of full-time, non-tenure-track faculty has increased from 13 percent in 1975, to 19 percent in 2003, while the percent of part-time faculty has gone from 30 percent in 1975, to 46 percent in 2003.

This makes for a total percent of contingent faculty at 43 percent in 1975 and at 65 percent in 2003.

Clearly, more than half of all faculty today are in the contingent category.

The corporate university, like its business counterpart, embodies a business model of rigid hierarchy and centralization, so-called cost-effective programming, and paying for services. This erodes the jobs, wages, and working conditions of university workers—from faculty to janitors. For faculty, this means fewer full-time tenure track positions and extensive use of graduate assistants and contingent faculty (adjuncts, part-time instructors, year-to-year appointments). These contingent faculty have no job security, few if any benefits, and lower wages. All faculty face larger classes with less support.2

Research universities look to faculty grants that need to be bigger with larger overheads to fund the university. Faculty who fail to do these things often do not get tenure to begin with; and if they have tenure, they are subject to post-tenure review with criticism and static salaries. This is academic speedup with no support—we are expected to do more and more work with less and less support. Support staff, from administrative staff to electricians and janitors, also face speed-up–doing more with less. Unions on campuses are fighting for their survival and fewer university workers in any job are unionized.
In some universities, there are preferential purchasing agreements between the university and the state prison system to buy equipment and supplies made by prison workers, predominantly men of color. The prison industrial complex meets the university.3

The corporate university increasingly denies access to students by multiple means possible. Soaring tuition costs and higher and higher admission criteria are the most obvious means. Once students are there, they find that the quality of the educational experience is deteriorating, especially for students of color and poor and working-class students. Whether students graduate or not, they are shouldering huge debt with high interest and a short time to pay it off.

Educating for Equity | Vol. 14 No. 2 | Fall 2007 | Credits