The University, Inc.

An interesting article in the Saturday September 6, 2003 New York Times called The Academic Industrial Complex. It covers old territory about how the “commercial” and “business” world is creeping into the “academic” world; or, perhaps a bit more accurately, it discusses how the academic world is becoming more like a business. The interesting and useful thing about this essay to me is that it cites a bunch of recent books that discuss the issue from both sides of the coin. And at the beginning of the semester, it’s always a good discussion to have.

I don’t have a problem with the idea of acknowledging the commercial/business values and purposes of what we do in academia. The fact of the matter is our students are coming to universities for both philosophical and ethical versions and for capitalistic ones. This seems okay to me because it seems in line with the reasons for all but independently wealthy faculty for working at universities: it’s a noble and ethical profession, and it pays the bills.

What does bother me though is when university administrators try to focus their efforts on how to make money, when they try to put the emphasis on “profit centers” in the university. Maybe the book store or the fast food places in the student union can work like that, and maybe there are some departments (in business or the sciences, for example) able to attract grant money in a way that makes them profitable, but obviously most academic departments (like English) can’t make money in this sense and still continue to do what we do.

I have nothing against making money; I don’t even have anything against a responsible and enlightened version of capitalism. But not everything of value is going to make a buck.

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