Spring 2005 - Volume 8 Number 2
Universities for Sale: Resisting Corporate Control over Canadian Higher Education
Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Toronto, 1999 (M. Ed. Candidate)
As the postsecondary system has continued to seek funding from corporate sources, the so-called "commercialization" of higher education has received prominence in the public press, particularly in recent months. Igniting this interest, for example, are the multi-billion dollar "investment" by General Motors of Canada in an Automotive Centre of Excellence involving McMaster University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and land deals with developers implicating York University. Conflicts-of-interest, in governance and research in particular, have been documented and debated. Of course, these issues are not new. The literature on the "corporatization" of higher education is abundant, and it is instructive to review historical precedents to understand current events and potential impacts.The following book review was written for a course on "academic capitalism" completed April 2005 at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Theory and Policy Studies Department, Higher Education. It is hereby reprinted with the permission of the author.
Neil Tudiver: "Universities for Sale: Resisting Corporate Control over Canadian Higher Education", Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Toronto, 1999.
By the time "Universities for Sale" was published at the turn of the new millennium, a number of prominent Canadian academics and independent public policy analysts had chronicled the corporate creep into academia as an outcome of government funding cutbacks finding roots in the late 1960s. Moreover, within a year of this publication, James Turk, Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and former University of Toronto professor, released another CAUT publication, "The Corporate Campus: Commercialization and the Dangers to Canada's Colleges and Universities", comprised of a series of articles by various well-known Canadian academics, including Paul Axelrod, Ursula Franklin, David Noble and Nancy Olivieri. The writers who were professors criticized this convergence of commerce with the academy, while business-based groups such as the Chamber of Commerce commended this collaboration. For example, Howard Buchbinder and Janice Newson (1988) of York University, in their widely-cited "The University Means Business", had already documented the dynamics and factors of the marketization of higher education from a Canadian perspective. That same year, Stephen Bell, University of Toronto graduate student, wrote his M.A. thesis capturing "Government Policy, Corporate Money, and University Behavior" in the early 1980s, pointing out that the issue of corporate/university linkages is "not new or unique to Canada". Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie (1997), in their internationally-read "Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University", placed the Canadian developments into a broader context with Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, reinforcing the implications of monetary constraints, conservative economic policies and the growing centrality of administration worldwide, spurred by globalization and nation-centric "wealth creation" motivations. Meanwhile, business interests generally, as expressed by major independent research organizations such as the Conference Board of Canada, viewed "partnerships" with education as "mutually beneficial" and "co-operative", where "partners share values, objectives, roles and responsibilities and human, material or financial resources in order to enhance the quality and relevance of education and training" (1995).
With this proliferation of documentation throughout the 1980s and 1990s, in the form of books and peer-reviewed journals, seemingly dealing with the same inputs and outcomes shaping universities and colleges into industry outposts, was there any need for yet another compendium on the corporatization of post-secondary education in Canada? Is there any value, today, in reading this particular discussion of business in the campus bed? Yes, to both questions.
Neil Tudiver, a Chartered Accountant turned social psychologist turned unionist nicknamed "freedom fighter" (CA Magazine, 2004), most recently has served as chief negotiations officer with the Ottawa-based CAUT representing 48,000 members from 70 institutions. When he wrote "Universities for Sale", he had been with the University of Manitoba for more than two decades and for most of that time an active participant in the Faculty Association, variously, as executive member, president and bargaining team leader. His involvement with organized labour is important to comprehend in the context of this book, as close to a third of it (three of 10 chapters, 55-plus of 248 pages with instructive appendices) is devoted to the professoriate's activism throughout the country at different universities such as Simon Fraser, Ottawa, Trent and Dalhousie, as well as Manitoba. In fact, the collectivist culture as a consequence and characteristic of confrontation with administration over budgetary control and academic censure is a strong thematic thread in the book.
When "Universities for Sale" was first published, understandably, it drew praise from the likes of CAW National President Buzz Hargrove and Dr. Olivieri. Writing for the Canadian Journal of Sociology Online, Graham Morgan, Arts and Social Sciences department chair, Dalhousie, described the book as "… historically well grounded and well informed … a serious attempt to piece together the historical and institutional strands that have gone to make up the universities as research and educational patchworks for the new century … well produced, written in a lively style with a number of useful statistical compilations … and … a very useful bibliography" (November-December 2000).
Reviewing "Universities for Sale" six years after its initial release, wearing an apolitical hat with an admittedly anti-union bias in spite of my current status as a sessional academic in the "grieving" ranks, I concur with this evaluation. The writing is crisp, the structure is tight and the tone is light, aided by the author's appropriate use of personal experiences to enliven and to legitimize observations and assertions. The book is a breeze to read, in one sitting, complete in its documentation of historical facts relevant to the outcomes discussed and compelling in their rendition, notwithstanding the inherent complexity of the subject, sub-lines and sub-plots, and irrespective of the reader's personal perceptions and presumptions.
The message that commerce is dangerous for academia is cemented at the outset in the first passage of the introduction through an authoritative quote from Harold Innis, internationally respected Canadian political economist, historian and communications theorist writing in 1946: "To buy universities is to destroy them and with them the civilization for which they stand" ( p. 1). This is a hard-hitting, no-holds barred lead-in that leaves no room for misinterpretation as to where Tudiver is going to take the reader with this tome. The mildly-provocative title, of course, is the first indication. Innis is again resurrected two-thirds through the book, with another arrow that strikes to the heart of the "corporate university": "The descent of the university into the market place reflects the lie in the soul of modern society" (p. 155).
Indeed, the book is a reviewer's delight, as every chapter is peppered with quotable quotes that propel the reader, in a linear and logical way, to the next level of argumentation against academia in the service of business as an exploitable commodity. Cases in point: "Privatization does not increase the value produced by universities; it merely changes who gets the surplus by transferring valuable elements to investors who can capture and turn a profit. The public continues to pay for the parts that business does not want" (p. 11). "The traditional university produces knowledge through research, and distributes it freely in the public domain through teaching, publication, and community service. To the corporate university, knowledge is intellectual property, a commodity to be bought and sold. Intellectual property changes the incentive system" (p. 155). "Corporations draw faculty into a search for sales rather than truth" (p. 168). "Academic systems are premised on information being made freely available in the public domain … The route to academic success is the antithesis of corporate secrecy designed to prevent competitors from stealing ideas, replicating work, or copying products" (p. 180). "While the drift to the market may be understandable in the era of privatization and fiscal restraint … it is neither reasonable nor desirable … Business has less need for service or support than other parts of the community" (p. 189).
However, even with such pointed views running counter to the "marriage of convenience" as Tudiver calls business/university partnerships, the content is framed within a balanced approach to the topic. The first third of the book explains how it came to be that universities are increasingly engaged in the "trafficking" of intellectual property, as the campus becomes a "battlefield between administrators vying to gain ground and professors holding on to their turf" (p. 10). This analysis lays the groundwork for the second third of the book, which details the growing strength of the bargaining table in a market-oriented academic setting and of government as both salient and silent partner in its influence on and push for business-based research to serve national economic and international trade interests within a gradually more globalized world order. The last third of the book provides a forward-looking assessment of the implications for universities that run like businesses, turning away from their "modest roots" (p. 10) and traditional professional collegial participatory model and mirroring "corporate friendly" practices that focus on elaborate marketing plans, performance indicators, complex accounting systems, return on investment and funding, thus, constraining academic freedom in research (now called "investment") and accountability to the communities they serve (now called "customers). The decision-making system has become centralized, autocratic and bureaucratic.
For anyone not well versed in the events leading to this transformation, Tudiver's book is a good place to get started with its quick overview of the main factors, presented clearly and dispassionately. As Innis's comments indicate, commercialization of higher education is not a latter 20th century phenomenon; its seeds were sown a century earlier. Tudiver traces the business imperative in Canada back to the late 1800s with foundations such as Carnegie and Rockefeller and earnings from endowments as necessary supplements to tuition and "modest government funding" (p. 14). He notes that McGill, in particular, was supported heavily by prosperous Montreal industrialists such as William Molson, Peter Redpath and Sir William Macdonald who, at one point in 1920, raised more than $6 million for the university (a huge sum closer to over $100 million in current dollars). Tudiver does not, however, reveal the philanthropic motivation of this largesse and how, if at all, these substantial monies influenced research within the institutions. He simply documents the sums advanced and their respective causes, notably, medical, public health, scientific and industrial policy research, all of which were high priorities for the wealthy businessmen in North America. Tudiver mentions "government interference with university autonomy" (p. 17) as a growing threat with which universities have not been overly concerned and have been endorsing through closer relationships with federal funding agencies, which act as "matchmakers" for business and higher education, promoting marriages for "seamless research enterprises" (p. 159). This did not happen overnight. Tudiver explains how "World War II was a watershed" (p. 140) in this regard. Through its investment in munitions manufacturing, Ottawa dictated unprecedented applied university-based research in explosives, food technology and medical applications. This trend continued after the War, as the National Research Council specifically expanded applied military and domestic industrial research directives encouraging government/industry/academic cooperation in science and engineering. Tudiver methodically traces the trend into the 1990s, with the proliferation of funding agencies encouraging business/academic ties with a carrot/stick approach. Among his many examples is the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence program instituted in 1988, weighing applications according to demonstrated linkages between the private and public sectors. (It should be noted that Tudiver is one of the few writers documenting the history of the Canadian university in the post-WW II era to give strong - and proper -- emphasis to Ottawa's influence on the post-secondary sector. He describes in painstaking detail the varied nature and extent of federal government involvement, noting that Ottawa overrode provincial authority in this domain and intruded on academic autonomy, particularly with operating grants for the 37,000 military veterans who descended on the universities in 1947-48 [p. 20]. This money was insufficient but kept the universities on a leash. For the "meagre" sums received they were told to provide counseling and accommodation, with classroom size and semester length both prescribed. Despite this excessive government control, the universities "readily accepted" these inappropriate conditions.) By laying out the scope and scale of government involvement and its benign acceptance, Tudiver manages to poke holes at the academy, showing up its myopia, ignorance and greed (the need for financial assistance in the face of public sector funding cutbacks notwithstanding). This is fascinating reading that seems more like a fable than non-fiction. Too often in academic literature, the accumulation and authentification of facts overwhelm the human-interest requirements of storytelling to make a point. Tudiver does not fall into this trap.
Similarly, anyone who wants to understand the origins of unions within academia in Canada in the 1970s would do well to check out this book. While inspired by his own observations and extensive experiences, Tudiver employs the first-person technique judiciously, taking no liberties with historical records and elevating them to a reality that gives context to the internal dynamics and forces at play today. In a nutshell, the point is made that professors realized they were employees, were treated as such, and successfully sought protection in the face of threats to job security and academic freedom. How they organized and gained recognition through "rule of law" in the face of "arbitrary law" (p. 104) is meticulously documented. The reader would expect a dry accounting but, again, this is the stuff of a novel. Tudiver is a skilled researcher and a shrewd thinker. Many a less perspicacious writer would have imbued the text with bias and detracted from the legitimacy of the facts, which tell the tale of a human struggle for equity and fairness.
Finally, Tudiver leaves the future to the end, serving up a post-mortem of the corporate condition of academia. The picture is neither pretty nor bright in his view, especially in his conclusion that, "If current trends continue, public education will become a branch of private industry" (p. 194). The last few chapters engender an unsettled feeling that resistance to commercialization is futile, even though the author endorses attempts to try.
If I have any criticism of this book, it is with the weak ending. Tudiver correctly states that, "The greatest irony of budget reductions is that they do not really save money: they simply shift the burden of paying for services from the taxpayer to the consumer", but almost in the same breath, he blithely opines that "governments are mere caretakers who distribute resources from taxpayers to recipients without any vested interest in the funds they receive. They can afford to spend whatever they decide to raise" (p. 193). These statements are strangely naïve and inaccurate, not taking into account socio-political influences and tradeoffs, and the reality that governments in the "free world" (my definition of "democratic systems") generally strive for a just and good society and that they must be solvent to survive as independent nations free of foreign handouts and attendant handcuffs, even if their means and orientations (left, middle, right) differ. Tudiver's credibility as a broad-based political economist is further jeopardized when he states that, "Appeals to balance the budget are popular because they hint at the spectre of personal debt and bankruptcy, even though there is no logical basis for drawing an analogy between personal and government finance" (p. 193). This statement is absurd, irrelevant to and disconnected from the facts he has outlined earlier in the book, which point precisely to governments' need to shift priorities in difficult economic situations (be it depression or recession, for example) where rising unemployment, inflation and trading imbalances threaten a nation's economic security and social fabric. Moreover, Tudiver's statement that, "Canadian public policy is following the global path to a more privatized world" (p. 194) is neither illuminating nor provocative. His "radical" call to governments to abandon "commercialization policies … in favour of grant programs that consider quality above all" (p. 195) is ambiguous. His ultimate comment that, "Professors find themselves in the front line of this struggle" (p. 196) is simplistic and incomplete, ignoring students -- key stakeholders in the higher education system who also have a vested interest in academic freedom as it touches teaching and learning. It also contradicts the reality that a large number of the professoriate is drawn toward commercial ventures to secure and to protect tenure, to achieve fame and to make money, whether or not they are comfortable with this choice.
My bottom line is that, despite the exceptionally flawed finale, which is unfortunate and surprising given the many strengths of the rest of the book, "Universities for Sale" is worthwhile reading for all graduate students of higher education in Canada. It is a valuable addition to a literary collection on academic capitalism, as its basic premises are valid to this day. The ultimate recommendation is action. I "walk my talk" and bought the book, which is still in print.
Rating on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 highest score): 7+.References Bell, S. (1988). Government Policy, Corporate Money, and University Behaviour: An Analysis of the Board of Industrial Leadership and Development Matching Research Grant Program 1981-1983. Toronto: University of Toronto.
Bloom, M.R. (1995). Ethical Guidelines for Business-Education Partnerships. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada.
Slaughter, S., & Leslie, L.L. (1997). Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Turk, J. L. (Ed.) (2000). The Corporate Campus: Commercialization and the Dangers to Canada's Colleges and Universities. Toronto: CAUT/James Lorimer & Co. Ltd.
Professor, Associate, Centre for Financial Services, Seneca College
• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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