If you ask me, business is good, but not necessarily so. Checks and balances need to be applied otherwise things get out of hand, like they are now. With the European economy on the brink of total collapse, and higher education going through some of the most fundamental transformation it has ever faced, business continues as usual. But unless something fundamental changes, the ship is apparently going to go down. Course correction required! So stand up and make yourself heard. Better yet, do your local business person a favour and tell them, too much it too much and enough is enough.
Corporations will make your life better. Corporations will solve your problems. Repeat those phrases often enough, and eventually you might believe them. Apparently, this is what happened to a surplus of gullible people over the past twenty years. Lots of otherwise well-meaning folks became hypnotized by free market mania: the idea that deregulated corporate greed would somehow produce beneficial social outcomes.
Yeah, right. Who spiked the Kool-Aid?
Nowhere has this nonsense proliferated more widely than in academia. After all, it was an academic, Milton Friedman, who cooked up the modern-day version of free market mumbo jumbo (aka, neo-liberalism) that brought the global economy to its knees in 2008. Three cheers for Uncle Milty! May he rest in peace and may his reprehensible ideas remain in repose with him for a long, long time to come.
Milty’s genius, such as it was, lay in applying free market principles to everything that lay under the sun. Take academics, for example, during the era of neoliberal mania, universities became increasingly corporatized. Time and again, neo-con-artists sneered that “the last person that you want to have running a university is an academic.” Presumably, when it comes to running organizations, such as universities, academics are lazy, slovenly, inefficient and unprofitable, whereas business leaders are, by contrast, lean, mean, capable, efficient, profit-generating machines.
If one was susceptible to such narrow-minded trash-talk, one might gather the false impression that academics simply could not hold a candle to their vastly superior business-oriented counterparts. Thus, the leadership and orienting principles at higher education institutions have sadly and gradually fallen under the sway of Uncle Milty and his corporate goons. After all, what’s more important than the pursuit of monetary gain…?
Then Came the Crash of 2008
Understandably, some of the luster has worn off of free market mania since the crash of 2008–but not nearly enough. Not by half. For the moment, let’s just focus on the ongoing corporatization of higher education. There are still some people out there who believe all of the baloney that Uncle Milty propagated about the panaceas that free markets create. “The more deregulated the better… blah, blah, blah…!” Give me a break!
But, as an eye-opener, just think about this: How many times in the history of global civilization have academics crashed the entire higher education system? The answer to that question is: a big, fat zero. Now, ask yourself this: On how many occasions, within the same time frame, have business leaders crashed the entire economic system? Historians and economists could very well debate that thorny issue until the end of time, but even the most hard-bitten free marketeer would probably be willing concede that the ballpark number of economic crashes would be significantly higher than zero.
So, if business leaders have an unwavering propensity to destroy the economies that they are charged with the responsibility of managing on a regular basis (i.e., about one crash every 30-60 years), and academics have never once destroyed the higher education system that it is their responsibility to manage (i.e., all of zero crashes after thousands of years), which group of professionals is demonstrably better suited to take care of their own institutions? Even more to the point, which group of professionals should be called in as consultants to help provide aid, comfort and advice to the “failures” who are sorely in need of professional assistance in managing the sorry state of their own affairs?
Yet, for reasons that utterly defy logic, it is universities that have been pressured into abandoning wise, stable, secure academic management practices in favor of embracing short-sighted, avaricious, profiteering business practices. The message is clear: someone is desperately trying to destroy the higher education system, and the surest way to do so is to transfer the responsibility for managing the higher education system to business professionals.
As administrators continue to speak the language of “corporate academia,” faculty have repeatedly tried to argue that such a bastardized institutional monstrosity is illogical, irrational, and dangerous. Making little headway among congeries of narrow-minded, ladder-climbing academic administrators, some faculty have sought alternative venues through which to air their grievances.
One of the best ways to fix problems within academia (e.g., creeping corporatism, and creepier administrators, etc.) is to tackle the problem from without: with a union. A faculty union. No administrators allowed.
Below I have copied the objectives, vision and principles that the faculty union executive committee at Colorado State University at Pueblo has articulated. As you can see, it is a strongly-worded statement, because we believe that the time has arrived for very strong words. The faculty has put up with a lot of baloney for a long time. We have permitted a lot of academic ground to erode beneath our feet, and we, the members of the union, have decided that it is high time for academics to begin redefining and reclaiming the boundaries of academic turf by and for ourselves.
Objectives, Vision and Principles of the CSU-Pueblo
Faculty Union Executive Committee
1. Dignity for all
- University administrators need to stop abusing adjunct faculty as if they were second class citizens who can be mercilessly exploited for their labor and degraded as if they were somehow less worthy of the honor and recognition they deserve as human beings and university faculty
- Words to live by!
- “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
- Democratic principles are every bit as applicable at the university as they are everywhere else
- Democracy now, democracy everywhere, democracy forever!
2. Universities are not businesses – To Hell with corporatism once and for all!
- The corporate model is great for certain things, such as building cars, flipping burgers, Internet dating, fabricating iPads, etc.,
- But the corporate model is a terrible, utter, outright failure at other things such as delivering a quality higher educational experience
- Corporations can deliver a cheap, artificial, knock-off version of an educational experience, but they are not capable of delivering a real, high-quality higher educational experience
- That’s because corporations only understand profit
- One must value other things besides monetary profit in order to deliver a high quality educational experience
- Someone who only understands the pursuit of monetary gain can’t even begin to grasp that
- It is time for administrators to acknowledge that universities are not businesses, students are not customers, and faculty are not customer service providers.
- In the business world, the customer is always right, but that kind of thinking simply is not tenable in academia.
- If faculty must assume that students are “always right,” then how will students ever learn anything? It doesn’t make sense.
- In reality, the relationship between students and faculty is very different.
- Faculty must begin with the assumption that students have a great deal to learn–and that students are both educable and eager to learn
- The corporatist model is ignorant, wrong, has done a great deal of damage, should never have been adopted in the first place, and should be repudiated without further delay
3. If you enjoy living in the information society, then thank an educator (e.g., Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Dell, Napster, etc. were all invented in college dorm rooms)
- Too often, educators get all the blame for social ills, and none of the credit for social progress
- That is wrong
- We need to recognize that education and educators have created the modern world.
- For too long, the role that education has played in creating the modern world has been entirely overlooked.
- The information society did not invent itself.
- Education, and what’s more, hard-working educators created the information society.
- It took a huge investment of time, energy and resources to establish the intellectual infrastructure to support the information society.
- If the United States is the world’s preeminent super-power, then that is only because the US is the world’s leading educational super-power.
- The US will only remain the world’s leading super-power so long as we maintain our commitment to more and better education for education for everyone.
4. Unionization created a middle class in the industrial era and unionization can re-build the middle class in the post-industrial era
- The middle class has been shrinking ever since the process of de-industrialization got underway in the 1970s.
- Unions simply need to establish a new footing in the information society.
- Knowledge and service workers cannot expect to enjoy a decent middle class lifestyle (i.e., good jobs with good pay, good benefits, job security, worker protections, etc) until the union movement becomes revitalized and re-established in the post-industrial society.
5. University administrators need to repudiate corporatism and re-embrace the higher educational ideals of the university
- Corporatism puts the mindless pursuit of profit ahead of every other more elemental, and more important human value.
- We reject that, and we call upon the university to do likewise. We are academics, and we ought to know better. There are many more important things in life than the pursuit of monetary gain.
- If university administrators don’t understand that, then we encourage them to sit in on a few of the courses that their faculty are teaching and wise up.
6. Occupy the university and build a better, brighter future for all
- Historically, Southern Colorado drew immigrants from all over the world to participate in the dream of transforming the US into the world’s leading industrial power. While we can still celebrate those glory days, it is essential for the university to look forward and to serve as a bridge to the future. Just as the mines and the steel mill were once a conduit to the economic lifeblood of the industrial era, in an evolving information society the university needs to step up and fill that role as the community’s primary conduit to the information society.
- Pueblo is by far the most economically disadvantaged county in the state of Colorado–but it has not always been that way, and it need not remain that way.
- The people of Pueblo have a pride that runs deep and an unshakable dignity–which they have relied on time and time again to accomplish extraordinary feats–they simply need a workable vision and a plan for the future and they will once again accomplish extraordinary things.
- The university can provide that conduit and that vision–and, in fact, it is already doing so; however, with the help of a new breed of university administrators and a more enlightened, more energized, more democratic university climate, it can begin doing a great deal more.
- Welcome to the future
- The information society…and beyond.
- Union, Union, UNION, YES!
About the Author: Tim McGettigan is a professor of sociology at Colorado State University – Pueblo. The Socjournal is an outstanding resource for all things sociological. Too often, the media examines social issues from a singularly economic perspective. If you really want to understand how the social world works, it's better to use a broader, clearer lens. In this column, I will discuss a variety of forces (technological, scientific, political, cultural, and, yeah okay, economic) that are currently reshaping the globe. Whether or not the world is changing for the better is an open question — and, thus, it's a question that I look forward to debating at length in this column.