The End of the University (or a New Beginning)

after reading about the current protests across the University of California system, and the ongoing commercialization and corporatization of higher education (as exemplified by top-down hierarchical decision-making practices focused on the "bottom-line" and the domination of managerial speak in bureaucratic rhetoric on education, such as: "efficiency", "results", "return on investment", and so on) - and considering my own research on the precarity of work in contemporary liquid modernity (especially in the creative industries, but evidently across all industry sectors), I'd like to share a few thoughts on the end or possibly a new beginning of the university.

as mentioned, the inspiration for these concerns comes from recent publications documenting the transformation of the university around the world, as exemplified in the US by:

- a gradual decline in the number of tenure-track jobs (and an increase of adjunct, parttime, visiting, and otherwise contingent positions);

- the ongoing marketization/commodification of knowledge and innovation produced by universities exclusive to companies, including closed-access corporate publishers (as opposed to actually making that knowledge available to all people, which the university increasingly does not do);

- increasing investments in e-learning (in effect "virtualizing" teachers), financial markets (making budgets of universities contingent on market fluctuations, see for example the endowment problems at all US universities that manage such funds), and sports facilities (intended to boost revenues from ticket sales, merchandising, and corporate sponsorships);

- a shift in thinking about education from teaching critical thinking to offering industry-driven or "work-ready" skills (preparing students for a labor market that is increasingly precarious, contingent, atypical, and uncertain).

although my university - Indiana University - has a long and proud tradition of protecting the faculty and students against much of these influences, recent years have seen an acceleration of the aforementioned trends: huge building projects (of up to $ 1 billion dollars), tenure-track hiring freezes (but plenty of openings for adjunct and visiting lines), and increasing pressure on us to provide students with e-learning facilities and "practical" skills that help them in the "real world" (where what is "real" is defined by mainstream segments of industry).

all of these trends boost the corporate and commercial orientation of the university (which trend in turn gets reinforced as one-third of US college presidents in fact serve on the boards of corporations).

i do not consider the role of corporations or commerce a problem per se (one could argue that the current proliferation of academic knowledge mainly through and perhaps due to the internet is encouraging), but if that orientation does not come with specific caveats, protections, checks and balances, the university as we know it becomes just another factory workplace - not a place for independent and critical reflection; a place that teaches people to make up their own minds.

now let me assure you: i am not a socialist or communist, nor a fascist or capitalist (if anything, i am radically opposed to anything that comes even close to TINA-thinking).

i am, however, concerned about the growing threats to the foundational values of the university - especially academic freedom and faculty governance - that compelled me to come to the US to work there in the first place.

optimist as I am, I'm looking for evidence for a new beginning...

some further links that offer food for thought:

Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor

essay on Digital Labor and education by Michelle Glaros (Dakota State University)