The GESO Report on the Corporate University
Congrats to the our brothers and sisters at GESO, the Yale graduate student union, who have put together an eye-opening new report on the corporatization of their university. It pinpoints a number of places where the logic and economic demands of a corporate structure has invaded the university setting. It is essential reading for anyone who is sympathetic to academic labor, but also anyone who has basic concerns about the nature and culture of high-level education.
One issue GESO highlights, is the massive growth in administrative costs, at universities. Universities often cite the growth in the cost of educating a student as evidence for why tuition needs to rise, and cuts need to be made to programs. But as GESO argues, and as independent reports confirm, a massive share of the rising costs of universities comes from rising administrative costs. Students are paying more, and entering into lifetimes of debt peonage, not because they are actually receiving better educations, but because a parasitic class of university administrators are skimming off larger and larger portions of the university “pie.”
Although they don’t spell it out in so many words, implicit in the critique is the fact that this change in a university, with less and less academics, and more and more administrators, heralds a profound re-composition in the very culture and mission of that university. Many administrators, especially top ones, come directly from the world of finance or government (wait… are those still two different things?). In a nutshell, they simply don’t think like academics, a fact evidenced by the preference for a language of “efficiency” that compares the university to a “brand-name,” as well as a growth-for-growth’s sake mentality. University administrations have become nurturing grounds for a whole breed of neoliberal bureaucrats, men like Lawrence Summers (ex-president of Harvard who gave us deregulation of derivatives), Jacob Lew (former union busting Vice President of NYU, Citigroup executive, and now chief spokesman for the austerity wing of the Obama administration), and Richard Levin (union-busting president of Yale, rumored to be Obama’s second choice for economic adviser). This close connection of universities with what David Harvey calls the state-finance nexus cannot but alter the culture and dynamics of universities themselves.
This isn’t because people who work at Citigroup or the Treasury Department are inherently evil (though the verdict is still out on some of them…), but because the bureaucratic, instrumentalized, one-dimensional styles of thought that these powerful organizations tend to encourage are inimical to the measured manner of critical thought and democratic engagement, that good education should foster. Not to mention the famous disdain for democracy that places like this inculcate in their leaders.
Further there is a strong body of thought that holds that critical intellectual production must come, to some degree, from the outside, from those who can feel a certain detached– even alienated– stance towards that which they analyze. It become dangerous, then, to hand over the reins of intellectual production to men (and it does seem mostly to be men) who are such complete and total insiders.
Next, the GESO report highlights how the Yale administration has been re-structuring the time-to-degree requirements in order to push graduate students out, a process they refer to as “speed-up.” This is a mini-Taylorization of graduate education, complete with more structured work “goals,” accelerated work schedules, and intensified surveillance of graduate students. The goal of speeding up the time-to-degree is a laudable one, but if it comes on the back of students, it can lead to demoralization and lowered job opportunities. It is especially cruel to be pushing students out of school so quickly in this job market.
The horrible irony, of course, is that even at prestigious universities like Yale, fewer and fewer teaching-hours are being performed by tenured faculty. So the same corporate policies that are pushing graduate students into the job market, are also those insuring that fewer and fewer tenure track positions will be available for those students when they are out there on the job market.
Too often, unionization of graduate students is framed as a labor issue alone. It is, of course, to a large degree about traditional “bread and butter” issues like wages, health care, and job protection. But even people who feel secure in these matters, should be deeply concerned about what future universities will look like. Will they simply be an appendage of the financial/corporate state, devoid of any purpose beyond simply training the next generation of Lawrence Summers? Or will they be able training students to think critically, to engage in their world, to learn to empathize and, even feel solidarity, with people of other countries and in other situations? In other words, one can make as strong and convincing a pedagogical argument against the current trend of corporatization as you can make a moral argument against it.