We Are All Corporate Professors Now (and what to do about it): Summer Reading Mashup

The Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) is the largest (and only public) university in Cambodia. To teach there you must be registered as a member of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Photo taken by Teri Yamada, June 2012.

I have just returned from six weeks in Cambodia.  Since 1996, I have worked there for most summers  to assist Khmer colleagues rebuild the higher education sector.  The Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP)  has a number of buildings spread throughout the city.  The RUPP building shown at the left contains the science labs which were stripped of every item and turned into holding pens for pigs by the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979).  Not only was the entire material infrastructure of the country dismantled and destroyed so was the intellectual infrastructure with over 90% of teachers, professors, judges, lawyers, doctors killed with the back of their head smashed in with a club  (bullets were too precious to use) or they died  from hard labor, extreme exposure, or from starvation, or a variety of illnesses — malaria, dengue, influenza, etc.  At least 90% of all library materials were destroyed as the Khmer Rouge used paper from books to roll cigarettes or for fuel.  I mention this because during the 1950s and 1960s Cambodia had the best public school system in Southeast Asia and now remains in  runner up place for the worst.  It has been very difficult for Cambodia to reconstruct the intellectual capacity it once had in the late 1960s to be competitive in the new global economy.  There are unknown consequences to dismantling a functional, however imperfect,  public education system.  Of course, in our case, it doesn’t require the Khmer Rouge.

We Are All Corporate Professors Now (and what to do about it): Summer Reading Mashup

by Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach

Over the past few months a number of excellent academic writers and public intellectuals have published information on the “corporate professor.”  Some contend that the formation of this role is aligned with the politics and economics of an “inverted totalitarianism” that has been overtaking American democracy since the 1970s (Hedges).   The question arises: How can we protect shrinking public spaces of open discourse—our own university’s capacity to protect and foster academic freedom and diverse research—in an age that promotes brand over content?

For how we got here, start with Ethan Schrum’s “A Bibliographic  Essay on the University, the Market, and Professors” in The Hedgehog Review (Spring 2012).  This is a nuanced, well-researched historical overview that covers the two major structural shifts in the  “constantly changing university”: post WWII and the ascent of neoliberalism from the 1970s.   The general public, which once viewed public education as a common good in the 1960s, has been propagandized into a perceptual shift that valorizes free markets and the university as a private good.  It is during that thirty-forty year process that unknowingly and unintentionally we became corporate professors.

With Schrum’s overview as a basis, continue to explore the role of the corporate professor in Gaye Tuchman’s essay “Pressured and Measured: Professors at Wannabe U.”  also in the same issue of The Hedgehog Review.  Here is her understanding of the historical and economic context in which we find ourselves:

            “Student consumerism, the control of faculty through metrics, the endowment, the division of athletics, and the commodification of education are all linked in a fairly straightforward manner. Emphasizing the individual right to profit for decades—indeed, the rights of the individual over the responsibilities of the individual to the group—neoliberalism has been identifying education as a private good.  It has also stressed the virtue and ubiquity of modern corporate organization, especially its ability to compete in a global economy and to “grow profits.” In part because universities have adapted to these tenets, in part because they have been conforming to the “best practices” of other institutions, in part because states have been putting their money into other activities, such as funding prisons to force miscreants to take responsibility for their actions, the relationship between higher education and the states has changed. Colleges and Universities have become ever more corporatized…. (They) have struggled to find alternative revenue streams, such as sales of and royalties from faculty inventions. Designing new regulations to promote productivity and to spur professorial compliance, they reward conformers and punish shirkers.”

Within this historical context the corporate professor, according to Tuchman, is “increasingly regulated by an accountability regime, a politics of surveillance, control and market management disguised as the value-neutral administration of individuals and organizations (italics mine).  it is the structural analog of an audit culture.”  We are all familiar with the imposition of student assessment metrics by our regional accrediting commissions, most significantly over the past decade as their own accountability came under scrutiny through the federal government’s displeasure over graduation/retention rates and PELL grants.

In response to assessment demands outsourced to us by our own university management under pressure from accrediting commissions seeking to prove their own accountability to the federal government, we have embedded student learning objectives in courses and programs; measured them through a variety of instruments; written reports on outcomes.    We email our reports to assessment coordinators or administrators who coordinate that process.  They gather this data into massive, time-consuming reports which they forward to regional accrediting commissions in preparation for site visits.  All of this to prove that we are “accountable”; yet, I have never received feedback from management on any annual assessment report or plan that I have submitted.   Under the threat of program elimination, reluctant corporate professors have slogged through assessment report production. We must prove through data and assessment that we and our programs are “valuable.” Through  our efforts, in a sort of halo effect, academic managers acquire “value” and subsequently our accreditation commissions.  In this way we have inadvertently become conformists of value.

The time-consuming nature of program and course assessment is a topic taken up in Dave Porter’s “Assessment as a Subversive Activity” in  AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom (2012, v. 3).  Since it is a response to two previous articles in AAUP JAF (2011) critical of the “relentlessly expanding assessment movement,”  it provides a good overview of critical opinions regarding the whole university assessment regime.  Porter has a point in reframing the problem of assessment in terms of a “lack of institutional integrity and the manipulative managerial style of administrators who do not understand the learning process and educational systems sufficiently to implement assessment programs effectively” (2).  That resonates as true; however,  faculty are not in a position to fire incompetent administrators. Only the campus president has that authority.  Not a single administrator with multiple negative faculty evaluations on performance reviews has been fired during my twenty-two years on campus.

We are experiencing a structural flaw in the organization of the “public” university: administrators exercise much more power over faculty through the assessment regime than faculty do over administrators. I suggest we seek an adjustment. Our colleagues at the University of Virginia have demonstrated success in rebalancing power  through concerted collective action,  enabling the reinstatement of Teresa Sullivan.  We could begin to change the management/faculty power imbalance by rotating qualified faculty into a significant number of administrative roles for three-year terms with an option to renew. Could academic senates facilitate structural change by voting to implement this type of plan as a five-year pilot program? The reduction of highly paid administrators would result in cost savings with the potential of a better managed public university.

There is a dangerous correlation between the assessment/metrics regime and the loss of creative space for research in the corporate public university.  If research doesn’t generate money through patents or grants, if a project’s outcomes can’t be quickly measured for short-term gain, then it  has no measurable value in Corporate U. And it if can’t be measured, it appears to have no value.  Moreover the metrics of assessment are now wedded to the corporate professor’s tenure and merit pay.   This culture of accountability ensures the public that tax dollars are not “wasted on useless professors.”   Different points are assigned to various types of publication.  A certain number of points must be scored over a certain number of years to receive merit pay with little recourse for grievance. Texas seems to be particularly keen on this type of standardization (3). A culture of surveillance of this nature is not conducive to risk-taking in research. Thus we undermine our own global competitive edge through a narrow-minded accountability regime.

Several scholars and think tanks have published commentary and reports  that express concern over the decline of research institutions in the U.S. Some attribute this to the corporate culture of the university that emphasizes individual competition over collaboration, and quick money over larger, expansive forays into the unknown (2).

Wrapping up, here is an email advertisement I received last spring in advance of our regional accrediting commission’s (WASC) annual assessment gathering (ARC) with its many vendors (1).  I have removed the company’s name for legal reasons; the bold type is theirs.  It reminds me of a billboard I saw in Phnom Penh recently selling “newness’” as fashion (anything new and trendy must be good so buy it!):

We couldn’t say it any better than WASC

“U.S. higher education is in the midst of a paradigm shift.  We face economic, technological, political and social challenges and more change is on the horizon.  It is clear that we must transform higher education … but how?” – ARC webpage

We couldn’t have said it better: New paradigms, New media. New methods. New modalities.  Each aimed at delivering the ultimate student experience, all for the greater good.

At XXX Systems, we know student outcomes are your highest priority.  And that colleges and universities today are also looking to improve business performance – by containing and reducing costs, by branding themselves to attract the best students, by standardizing and automating business processes.

Not to mention keeping pace with an unforgiving environment of reporting and accountability.

To stay ahead of these disruptive events and paradigm shifts, you need a disruptive technology –  you need XXX Enterprise …a twenty-first century academic management system that’s InnovativeIntegratedIntelligent” (4).

 FOOTNOTES

1. WASC may be listening to criticism from both the federal and local levels. See Fain’s  “Rise of the Accreditor? See also Keep’s “The Worrisome Ascendance of Business in Higher Education.

2. For example see Atkinson and Stewart, Kiley, Clay, Chomsky, and Nelson below.

3. Adjuncts tragically are even more marginalized, see Berrett’s “Underpaid and Restless: Study Presents a ‘Dismal Picture’ of Life as a Part-Time Professor.”

4. For another view on disruptive technology see Neem’s “Disruptive Innovation: Rhetoric or Reality?”

READING/REFERENCE

Atkinson, Robert and Luke A. Stewart. “University Research Funding: The United States is Behind and Falling.” Information Technology and Innovation Foundation report. May 2011.

Atlas, Ben. “Chris Hedges on the Inverted Totalitarianism and the Commodification of Culture.” December 12, 2010. Benatlas.com

———. “Chris Hedges on the Corporate Neofeudalism.” December 12, 2010. Benatlas.com

Berrett, Dan. “Underpaid and Restless: Study Presents a ‘Dismal Picture’ of Life as a Part-Time Professor.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 20, 2012

Chomsky, Noam.  “Academic Freedom and the Corporatization of Universities.” University of Toronto Scarborough, April 6, 2011.

Clay, Rebecca.  “The corporatization of higher education: The intermingling of business and academic cultures brings both concerns and potential benefits to psychology.” American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology. 39.11 (December 2008).

Donoghue, Frank. “Tenure: Yes or No?” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 14, 2012.

Fain, Paul. “Rise of the Accreditor?” in Inside Higher Education. July 10,2012.

Giroux, Henry A. “Beyond the Politics of the Big Lie: The Education Deficit and the New Authoritarianism. Originally a Truthout Op Ed.  June 19, 2012.

———.“Zombie Politics, Democracy, and the Threat of Authoritarianism – Part I.”  Peter Lang.  June 2011.

Higgs, Steven. “Commodifying Education: The Corporatization of the American University“. Counterpunch. November 2011.

Jaschik, Scott. “U.S. Decline or a Flawed Measure?”  Inside Higher Ed. October 8, 2009.

Keep, William. “The Worrisome Ascendance of Business in Higher Education.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education.  The June 21, 2012.

Kiley, Kevin. “How to Stay on Top.” Inside Higher Ed. June 15, 2012.

———“Big Target, Bigger Cuts.” Inside Higher Ed. January 18, 2012

Neem, Johann. “Disruptive Innovation: Rhetoric or Reality?” Inside Higher Ed.  June 26, 2012.

Nelson, Libby A.  “Where Will the Money Come From?” Inside Higher Ed. July 12, 2012.

Porter, Dave.  “Assessment as a Subversive Activity”  AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, 3 (20012).

Roberts, Yvonne. “The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz — review.”  The Guardian, July 13, 2012.

Somek, Alexander. Individualism Oxford University Press, 2008.  Review in The International Journal of Constitutional Law

The National Research Council. “Research Universities and the Future of America.” 2012

Wilson, Robin. “Faculty Power Brokers at UVa.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 1, 2012.


One Comment on “We Are All Corporate Professors Now (and what to do about it): Summer Reading Mashup”

  1. Eric Bagai says:

    You have to go back to Jerry Farber’s “University of Tommorowland,” and Donald Domhoff’s “Who Rules America” to see the early recognition that capitalism has only two values: obedience through conformity and the upward concentration of wealth and power, which are the antithesis of egalitarian democracy; and that the accumulators of this wealth and power do not need to conspire or even to confer: they know what they want


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