I've been in University for a long time now, eight years and counting. Along the way I've attended universities and community colleges in Alberta, Texas, and now Ontario. Throughout this time, it seems that tuition was predictably raised every year. Of course the students Unions of the various institutions were always opposed to these increases, but they were nonetheless powerless to stop them.
Only recently, have I started to think about this systemic power imbalance. I am now attending the University of Toronto, and the administration has predictably raised tuition for next year, but has also dealt students a double whammy with a fixed fee program. This means that whether you take five courses or three courses, you pay full tuition.
In the last year, I have been reading a lot of radical writing and educating myself on the realities of globalization, capitalism, and the political process in Canada. This new found knowledge spurred me to attend a rally in opposition to the administration's flat fee proposal.
It was wonderful to see students rallying behind each other to oppose an undemocratic decision that was essentially a money grab. That being said, did I think that the rally would change anything? Sadly no, and my cynicism was justified, as the motion passed 11 to 3.
This got me thinking about the legitimacy of the University administration. Who are they accountable to? Certainly not students, who do not elect them. It could be argued quite convincingly that the administration is much more accountable to bank CEOs and other powerful businessmen, as those are the people who sit on the board of governors. Corporate interests are almost without exception diametrically opposite to most students interests.
In the future, if students are to have any hope in actually having a say in their education, universities need to be democratized. That means students directly elect the administration. How many tuition raises would there be then?
Corporate Universities in Canada
For the past 30 years Canada has adhered to the neoliberal model of capitalism which has entailed a drastic cutback in public spending. Along with health care and many other social programs, spending on post-secondary education has been significantly curtailed. For instance, in 1981, the Federal Government contributed 63% of total research expenditures in Canadian universities. By 2001, this figure had decreased to 45%(Chan and Fisher 10). Increasingly, corporate investment has been used to fill this gap. Driven by the imperatives of globalization, government and industry have promoted universities as engines for economic growth and vehicles for creating and disseminating new technology. Critics of this agenda, however, feel that it forces universities into pursuing only the narrow interests of business and intrudes on academic freedom. In essence, they argue, corporatization causes universities to become centers of subsidized research which allow business to "socialize the costs and risks of extraordinarily expensive high-tech research, while privatizing the benefits of innovations"(Cote, Day and de Peuter 48).
Despite this criticism, the corporate university is the dominant institution in Canada. Of course, one hears Margaret Thatcher's often repeated phrase, "there is no alternative” , used as justification for this ideological hegemony; however, this is unsettling. The university's transformation from “public institution” to “corporate-state joint economic institution” (Cote, Day and de Peuter 65) occurred because of political decisions, with the understanding that these decisions would benefit some and not others. This paper investigates why these changes occurred, what the characteristics of a corporate university are, why there is criticism, and whether there are alternatives.
Why Changes Occured
The transformation of Canadian universities was primarily driven by economic imperatives. As neoliberalism began to take hold in the early 80’s, Canada was in the midst of the worst recession in half a century, with unemployment reaching almost 13% in December 1982(Norcliffe). Business felt that it did not have the "financial resources or the creative drive to make the investments essential to sustain the recovery beyond 1984”(Maxwell 8). Lobby groups such as the Canadian Manufacturers Association and the Business Council on National Issues (now called the Canadian Council of Chief Executives) began to push for more collaboration between universities and industry. In 1984, the Corporate Higher Education Forum, whose membership included mostly presidents of universities and CEO’s of major Canadian corporations, published the document Partnership for Growth. In order to meet economic challenges, the authors stated that "Canada must pursue a more rapid rate of advancement in knowledge; it must mobilize intellectual and financial resources in order to achieve excellence in research and effective technology transfer from all sources. In short, economic forces are drawing the corporate and academic communities closer together”(Maxwell 1). Methods advanced for facilitating this new university/corporate partnership included university-based interface Institute, joint ventures, contract research, university-based research parks, and university companies. Notably, the document stated that corporate investment in education should be “motivated by self-interest", stressing that "philanthropic concerns" were a remnant of the past(Maxwell 81) . Maxwell explicitly favored a “top-down approach”, stating that universities should “centralize control over expenditures” in order to facilitate necessary changes (Maxwell 80, 83).
Three main goals coalesced out of this document. Firstly, corporations must have greater access to graduate students in engineering and the sciences in order to facilitate recruitment of the brightest talent. Secondly, research must be prioritized towards generating new technology for use in Canadian industry, allowing Canada to remain competitive worldwide. Thirdly, corporate professionals must have access to universities for professional training in order for them to keep in tune with changing times.
In hindsight, Partnership for Growth was a prescient vision of what would actually occur over the next 30 years. In fact, with the federal government adopting this vision wholeheartedly and almost all Canadian universities following suit (whether by choice or by necessity), very little of what the authors outlined has not actually occurred. In most instances, integration has gone well beyond what was initially called for. In 1989, the federal government created the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program. Its mission was to “mobilize Canada's research talent in the academic, private and public sectors, and apply it to the task of developing the economy and improving the quality of life of Canadians”(Networks of Centers of Excellence). In 2006-07, the NCE program leveraged partnership cash and in-kind investments of $59 million, including $22 million in private-sector contributions. According to its website, during a seven-year cycle the networks train on average more than 16, 100 students in research and innovation, launch 70 spin-off companies, file 320 patents, and negotiate 540 licenses. The NCE exemplifies the corporate approach to universities.
Characteristics of Corporate Universities
Maxwell’s vision has been so hegemonic, that virtually all Canadian universities have been transformed in some way. Three institutions exemplify the values outlined above: the University of Alberta (U of A), the University of Toronto (U of T), and the University of Waterloo (UW). The U of A and the U of T both participate in numerous NCEs (18 and 17 respectively) with only the UBC participating in more (Chan and Fisher). While UW is not at the top of this list, it has special significance because it was founded by a group of businessmen with the goal of creating a "center of learning in science, mathematics and engineering”(Maxwell 70). Each institution offers insights into how corporate universities function.
Given that a high priority is placed on technological development, one can expect that funding priorities will reflect these values. Examining the operating expenditures within various faculties at the U of A reveals that funding priorities do indeed surface. In 2007-08, the total operating budget for the Faculty of Engineering was over $35 million, more than seven times the Faculty of Law’s budget of $4.7 million(University of Alberta). We can also expect universities to accept funding from corporate donors in vast amounts, and this is particularly true in the case of the U of T, Canada's largest university. In 1997, the Joseph Rotman Foundation donated more than $15 million to the Faculty of Management Studies, thereby creating the Rotman School of Management. In the same year, CEO Peter Munk of Barrick Gold and Horsham corporations donated 6.4 million towards the Centre for International Studies (now the Munk Centre) and Nortel invested $8 million in the Nortel Institute for Telecommunications(Turk). In October of 1999, Bell Emergis, a division of Bell Canada, donated $13.5 million towards the Bell Emergis University Labs (Graham 29).
Although UW trails behind U of T in endowments, it has made arrangements that “blur the distinction between university and business”(Tudiver 157). It favors specialized programs that consist of a nucleus of engineering and related subjects. Obviously, UW has taken the prioritization of science and engineering to its logical conclusion. This allows the curriculum to be more adaptable to market competition. It supports entrepreneurship among professors, and actively encourages faculty to set up their own private companies to generate income from products or processes that they develop (Tudiver 157). Waterloo is home to the world’s largest post-secondary cooperative education program(University of Waterloo). An observer states that UW is "one of the most successful universities in the country in terms of technological innovation and technology transfer"(Shore).
Whether or not corporate/university integration has benefited the economy as a whole is an ongoing debate. What is clear, however, is that these institutions are pumping out graduates at ever increasing rates. In 1980, approximately 114,000 students received degrees, diplomas, or certificates from a post-secondary institution(Tudiver 200). By 2007, this number had increased to over 241,000(Stats Canada). In this respect, the adoption of Maxwell’s model has been extremely successful.
There has been a serious backlash against the neoliberal agenda outlined by Maxwell. Much of the criticism of these policies has been directed at the fact that important political questions are being masked as bureaucratic decisions and the harsh fiscal environment presented as an inescapable reality(Cote, Day and de Peuter 69). In this respect, critics point out that Canadian universities silently acquiesced to cutbacks and faithfully embraced corporate takeover as if it were a natural process. To analyze this, we return to the early 80’s and the economic pressures that dominated at the time
Faced with government funding cutbacks, Canadian universities attempted to become more “efficient”. Critics point out that while “efficiency” looks fine on paper, the human consequences can be disastrous. In order to expedite difficult decisions, universities heeded Maxwell’s call to “centralize control over expenditures”. This resulted in the increased power and size of administrations (Newson and Buchbinder 16) and the simultaneous disempowerment of democratic structures such as Faculty Senates. Corporate culture slowly crept into universities; Deans became part of “management”, presidents became known as “chief executive officers”, resulting in faculty becoming marginalized.(Newson and Buchbinder 16,29).
As administrations took on the role of upper-level management, they increasingly took their cues from corporate practices. One common cost-cutting method was to divide complex jobs into simple tasks that could be done by low-level employees who garner low wages. Thus, it should come as no surprise that universities began to "decrease permanent hiring in favor of reliance on pools of teaching assistants, sessional instructors, and junior faculty" (Cote, Day and de Peuter 50). This form of Taylorism led Mysyk to propose that sessional faculty essentially function in the same manner as migrant farm laborers (Chan and Fisher 116). They form a flexible labor pool with little or no job security that serves to keep wage expenditures at a minimum. An Ontario study showed that during 1989-90, part-timers comprised more than 32% of all faculty in the province, performed 20% of teaching, but received only 7.6% of salaries.(Tudiver 163). Hierarchical pay scales, also a corporate practice, seeped into Canadian universities. Faculty of Arts salaries began to lag as much as 30 to 40% below amounts paid by business faculties (Tudiver 189). Although these changes were initially seen as temporary responses to a financial squeeze, they have persisted to the present day and are now regarded as a permanent fixture of our post-secondary system.
Performance Indicators: Thousands of Tiny Ropes
In order to monitor “efficiency” and to make sure that Canadian universities were responsive to industry, the Canadian government created metrics known as performance indicators (PIs) that would measure the” success” of universities in various categories. For instance, PI’s now measure "how many patents a department has registered, how many matching grants it has found, how many employable students it has graduated, whether these students are working in the exact fields for which they were trained, and... how many dollars per student were expended to produce all those results”(Bruneau 163). Although these may appear harmless on the surface, Newson argues that performance indicators "help to institutionalize a complex system of control” whereby only commercialized research is rewarded. Paradoxically, this implies that the more “useful” a university becomes, the fewer options it has (Newson and Buchbinder 74).
Academic Freedom in Jeopardy
Critics fear that corporate donations to universities place limits on academic freedom. Neil Tudiver, author of Universities for Sale, contrasts two similar offers of corporate donations and two distinct results:
Not long after I joined the University of Manitoba's School of Social Work in 1977, Seagrams Corporation offered to support research on employee assistance programs. Such research was not only consistent with the school's mandate, it also fit nicely with the company's desire to be seen as doing something about the adverse effects of excess drinking. But the school turned down the offer, arguing that taking research money from a sponsor with an interest in the subject matter might appear to compromise its programs. Two decades later, by contrast, the University of Toronto's Faculty of Social Work came under fire for actively pursuing corporate contributions. Alan Irving, Associate Professor of Social Work, documented some $6 million obtained from four corporations...[who] were well known supporters of neoconservative agendas aimed at destroying social programs and privatizing higher education.(Tudiver 172)
As noted previously, the University of Toronto also accepted $15 million from the Rotman Foundation. What critics found disturbing, however, was that the agreement called for the "unqualified support for and commitment to the principles and values underlying the [donors’] vision by members of the faculty of management"(Graham 23). Similarly, the agreement with Peter Munk promised that his project would "rank with the university’s highest priorities for the allocation of its other funding, including its own internal resources"(Toronto Star). Both agreements flew in the face of academic freedom. U of T is by no means alone in this respect. For instance, in 1995 Rogers donated $1 million to endow a chair of information studies at the University of Western Ontario. Peter Desbarats, Dean of Journalism, described how “when journalists subsequently asked [him] to comment on the Rogers takeover of Maclean Hunter, all [he] could do was draw their attention to the donation. They understood right away that [he] had been, to express it crudely, bought”(Desbarats). This is what Tudiver calls the “chilling effect of self-censorship”.
Profits over People
Perhaps the most persuasive argument against corporatization of Canadian universities has to do with negative societal implications that have arisen. As noted by Maxwell, corporate investment in universities is motivated by “self-interest”. Since corporations are legally obligated to pursue a profit, Tudiver concludes that Canadian universities must be a profitable investment. For example, a newsletter for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council advertised how, for a $15,000 before tax donation, a corporate donor could gain access to $225,000 worth of research (J. A. Newson 184). After research is complete, changes in intellectual property laws allow corporate donors to exercise ownership rights over patentable products. This has led critics to conclude that business is essentially socializing its research costs and privatizing the profits. Intellectual property rights also have enormous implications for the free flow of important information. For instance, the University of Manitoba’s Industrial Liaison Office now provides a table of best and worst practices for handling inventions. The traditional sequence, which the table labels “Worst”, is: invent, publish or talk, file invention disclosure, file patent protection. The "Best" sequence is: invent, file invention disclosure, file patent protection, publish or talk(Strang). Newson concludes that this process leads to knowledge becoming privatized.
Who Benefitted and Who Did Not
Critics argue that the only winner in this situation has been industry. The university system has become geared to serving the special interests of business. The clear losers have been students. Although corporate investment in universities has steadily increased since the early 80’s, it has not kept up with the steady decline in government funding. Instead, the deficit has been met by increasing the tuition burden paid by students. In 1979-80, student fees represented 13% of the total operating funds for Canadian universities; by 1997-98, this figure had risen to 31% (Tudiver 159). Higher tuition has led to a disproportionately high enrollment of middle/upper class students, while lower class students are consistently underrepresented (Chan and Fisher 197). Although universities may have become more “efficient” at transferring technology to industry, the economic implications of excluding a sizable portion of the population from higher learning are worrisome.
What Are the Alternatives?
There are alternatives to “corporate-state joint economic institutions”, but one has to look far from the mainstream. Across Canada, activist groups have organized “alternative” universities that reject the principles of the modern neoliberal university. Three endeavors are worthy of note: Anarchist U in Toronto, Critical U in Vancouver, and the People's Free University of Saskatchewan (PFU). Unlike Maxwell’s narrow vision of post-secondary education, these activist institutions insist on serving broader public interests, with the ultimate goal of educating towards positive social change.
Launched in 1998, Toronto based Anarchist U is a volunteer-run, autonomous collective offering free courses, workshops, and lectures that cover a wide range of topics (Antliff 255). All administrative decisions are made at General Meetings which are open to anyone, and solutions are arrived at by consensus. There are no “professors” or even “students”; rather, there are facilitators and participants. Facilitators guide learning, and expect that learners will be active participants in the class. The school’s purpose is to “bring together those who want to share their passion and interest in something and those who want to learn about it”. The ultimate goal is to “build free education that works against the traditional power hierarchies of institutions and teacher/student relationships” (Anarchist U).
Vancouver based Critical U is similar to Anarchist U in stressing the cooperative nature of learning. Classes are free and no previous post-secondary education is required (Cote, Day and de Peuter 342). Unlike mainstream universities, there are no “performance indicators”; in fact, there are no grading schemes at all. Science and engineering are not given priority; instead, most courses engage in critical discussions of society in the tradition of a liberal arts education.
Stressing inclusivity, the motto of the People’s Free University of Saskatchewan is “Everyone Can Learn - Everyone Can Teach” (Collins). Writing in Saskatchewan Notes, Michael Collins describes how the PFU came about:
I'm from Stettler, Alberta, but now I am living in Toronto. Along the way I've studied many thing... more
I'm from Stettler, Alberta, but now I am living in Toronto. Along the way I've studied many things, including music, physics and engineering. Right now my goal is to stop corporate shenanigans so we can all live in a better world.
I'm interested in learning as much as I can about the way the world actually works. That means lo... more
I'm interested in learning as much as I can about the way the world actually works. That means looking into the realities of corporate globalization, environmental impacts of capitalism, and more fun stuff. less