Is everything in a university for sale if the price is right? In this book, one of America's leading educators cautions that the answer is all too often "yes." Taking the first comprehensive look at the growing commercialization of our academic institutions, Derek Bok probes the efforts on campus to profit financially not only from athletics but increasingly, from education and research as well. He shows how such ventures are undermining core academic values and what universities can do to limit the damage.Commercialization has many causes, but it could never have grown to its present state had it not been for the recent, rapid growth of money-making opportunities in a more technologically complex, knowledge-based economy. A brave new world has now emerged in which university presidents, enterprising professors, and even administrative staff can all find seductive opportunities to turn specialized knowledge into profit.Bok argues that universities, faced with these temptations, are jeopardizing their fundamental mission in their eagerness to make money by agreeing to more and more compromises with basic academic values. He discusses the dangers posed by increased secrecy in corporate-funded research, for-profit Internet companies funded by venture capitalists, industry-subsidized educational programs for physicians, conflicts of interest in research on human subjects, and other questionable activities.While entrepreneurial universities may occasionally succeed in the short term, reasons Bok, only those institutions that vigorously uphold academic values, even at the cost of a few lucrative ventures, will win public trust and retain the respect of faculty and students. Candid, evenhanded, and eminently readable, Universities in the Marketplace will be widely debated by all those concerned with the future of higher education in America and beyond.
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Princeton University Press
November 14, 2004
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Excerpt from Universities in the Marketplace by Derek Bok
THE ROOTS OF COMMERCIALIZATION
It is one of the unwritten, and commonly unspoken commonplaces lying at the root of modern academic policy that the various universities are competitors for the traffic of merchantable instruction in much the same fashion as rival establishments in the retail trade compete for custom.--Thorstein Veblen, The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Businessmen (1918)
Toward the end of the twentieth century, American universities--with their stately buildings, tree-lined quadrangles, and slightly disheveled, often-preoccupied professors--found themselves in an enviable position. No longer quiet enclaves removed from the busy world, they had emerged as the nation's chief source for the three ingredients most essential to continued growth and prosperity: highly trained specialists, expert knowledge, and scientific advances others could transform into valuable new products or life-saving treatments and cures.
This newfound importance brought growing interest from the media, increased funding from government agencies and foundations, and closer scrutiny from public officials. It also brought abundant new opportunities to make money. Universities learned that they could sell the right to use their scientific discoveries to industry and find corporations willing to pay a tidy sum to sponsor courses delivered by Internet or cable television. Apparel firms offered money to have colleges place the corporate logo on their athletic uniforms or, conversely, to put the university's name on caps and sweatshirts sold to the public. Faculty members began to bear such titles as Yahoo Professor of Computer Science or K-Mart Professor of Marketing. The University of Tennessee, in a coup of sorts, reportedly sold its school color to a paint company hoping to find customers wishing to share in the magic of the college's football team by daubing their homes with "Tennessee Orange." One enterprising university even succeeded in finding advertisers willing to pay for the right to place their signs above the urinals in its men's rooms.
Commercial practices may have become more obvious, but they are hardly a new phenomenon in American higher education. By the early 1900s, the University of Chicago was already advertising regularly to attract students, and the University of Pennsylvania had established a "Bureau of Publicity" to increase its visibility. In 1905, Harvard was concerned enough about its profitable football team to hire a 26-year-old coach at a salary equal to that of its president and twice the amount paid to its full professors. As President Andrew Draper of the University of Illinois observed, the university "is a business concern as well as a moral and intellectual instrumentality, and if business methods are not applied to its management, it will break down."1
What is new about today's commercial practices is not their existence but their unprecedented size and scope. Before 1970, university presidents may have sounded like hucksters on occasion and resorted at times to advertising and other methods borrowed from the world of business. Nevertheless, commercialization in the strict sense of the term--that is, efforts to sell the work of universities for a profit--was largely confined to the periphery of campus life: to athletic programs and, in a few institutions, to correspondence schools and extension programs.* Today, opportunities to make money from intellectual work are pursued throughout the university by professors of computer science, biochemistry, corporate finance, and numerous other departments. Entrepreneurship is no longer the exclusive province of athletics departments and development offices; it has taken hold in science faculties, business schools, continuing education divisions, and other academic units across the campus.
What accounts for the growth of commercial activity in institutions dedicated to higher learning? To Veblen, the obvious culprits were university presidents and their entourage of bureaucratic helpers. Intent upon accumulating money to expand the size and reputation of the institution, campus administrators were forever forcing the methods of the marketplace on a reluctant community of scholars. In Veblen's view, the remedy for the disease was as obvious as its cause: "The academic executive and all his works are an anathema and should be discontinued by the simple expedient of wiping him off the slate."2
If Veblen harbored any doubts about the reasons for commercialization, he did not acknowledge them. Even in his day, however, it should have been plain that the roots of the problem went beyond the academic bureaucracy..