Campus, Inc.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Aug 31 06:15:08 MDT 2000


(Forwarded from Greg Elich)

CORPORATE CAMPUS TAKEOVER TREND JOLTED BY RADICAL BOOK

A review of "Campus, Inc.," edited by Geoffry D. White, Ph.D., with
Flannery C. Hauck, Amherst, New York, Prometheus Books, 2000.

by Geoff Berne

If Ted Kaczynski needs a room-mate I am ready to sign myself in after
reading Campus, Inc., an outpouring of rage against the machine of higher
education as it has become since 1980 when the Bayh-Dole Act allowed
corporations to establish patent agreements and other proprietary
relationships with American campuses that would put them in a position to
plunder the entire system for profit.

I can remember when muckraking meant journalism like Lincoln Steffens'
"Shame of the Cities" that exposed the squalor of immigrant life in urban
tenements at the turn of the last century. Here is muckraking of today that
takes us down into the lower depths of the higher education system and
portrays a dankly reeking slave ship in which young minds are kept in
chains and made to crank out "product" like galley oarsmen of the ancient
Roman triremes.

It's a picture of bleak exploitation and systemic manipulation of minds
that naively entered academic life with the notion that they would find
freedom and opportunity and instead found an existence as throwaway
"adjunct" instructors, hired and then fired, adrift like the Ancient
Mariner and forever roaming the earth in search of a tenured port.
According to author Michael Parenti it's a campus that has had any instinct
of linkage to the world of red meat political action browbeaten out of it
by decades of draconian surveillance. According to Noam Chomsky all that
has kept the vast university sector afloat was money from the Defense
Department, which led to students and teachers becoming little more than an
obedient home army providing technical and logistical support for a
government that is at permanent war. Ali S. Zaidi, for example, describes
Rochester Institute of Technology as a School for Spooks, where the
school's famed graphics and photographic technology capabilities, even
after temporarily successful student-faculty protest in the early 1990's,
remain in service to the CIA and the national security state.

And according to Leonard Minsky, these conquered campuses have become
inhabited by a lockstep captive population that he labels "Dead Souls,"
suggesting the analogy of a veritable concentration camp. In the exact
words of Minsky, Bayh-Dole resulted in the

"displacement and subordination of the humanistic tradition and collegial
society that are integral to the university . . . . Without significant
public scrutiny (corporations) annexed billions of dollars in public
investment in the universities, silenced corporate and military critics on
campus by defunding their departments and programs, replaced students with
a more docile group intent on securing corporate jobs and benefits, and
altered the culture of higher education by focusing it on the needs of
corporate sponsors for marketable products instead of basic research." (101)

Are these new knowledge factories a deviation from how colleges used to be
in some idyllic bygone day: a genuine ivory tower and haven for free
political speech - what Chomsky calls a "refuge for radicalism"? Was there
ever a day when a student could feel that his/her personal intellectual
growth (as opposed to completion of a vocational certification) was the
reason he/she was on a college campus? Or wasn't there always a
factory-like essence inherent in our university system, going back to the
late 19th century when America began to adopt the German model with its
emphasis on graduate rather than undergraduate degrees and on the written
research product as the exclusive measurement of achievement?

The question is raised because the relentless denigrating of the
corporation that spills out of this book's every page makes one ask in what
non-corporate historical era the authors collected in the book would
ideally, if they could, choose for the university to be. Are these
anti-corporate critics standing on the same ground as reactionaries like
Allan Bloom in his nostalgic yearning for the vanished undergraduate core
culture of Western canonic texts that were a staple of teaching in the
1940's and 50's? Or do they want us to go back even further, to the early
1800's, when colleges were founded by the various religious denominations,
were mainly geared for undergraduate instruction, and specialized in such
indispensable disciplines as rhetoric, ancient languages, and divinity?

How can we have it both ways? Either we go with a system of graduate
education that trains for vocational placement in a society that
unfortunately, at least for the time being, happens to be corporately and
capitalistically run, or we abolish graduate schools, let corporations
train their own recruits and run their own research laboratories and
institutes, and just have poorly funded colleges modeled on medieval
monasteries that shut out intrusive influences of the secular world.

Critics who belong to the first camp basically accept the industrial model
of the campus as a knowledge factory and call for organizing the workforce
for self-defense in the form of unions. The second camp radically rejects
the industrial model and hearkens back to the pre-industrial model of the
campus as collegial refuge, a parallel and transcendently separate world
for scholastics whose product is that intangible commodity called "thought".

Labor unionism is the focus of chapters by Henry Steck and Michael Zweig,
Corey Dolgon, Thomas Reifer, and Jeff Lustig: union representation for
faculty, for adjunct faculty, for graduate students and teaching
assistants, for janitors and other service personnel, and even
undergraduates are all ideas whose time has apparently not only come but
also won significant victories on select American campuses. Lustig's idea
of a non-industrial university is implicit in the militant determination of
activists who have tried to keep the university off limits to CIA,
military, and recruiting by socially and environmentally irresponsible
corporations

While championing unionization and the victory of the California Faculty
Association at California State University at Sacramento where he teaches,
Lustig, however, also charts an alternative to the campus as knowledge
factory and vocational training school for the corporate order. His idea of
a democratic university would train academics in the mold of philosophes of
the Enlightenment who brought to society itself the fruits of their
learning in the form of a radical criticism that nurtured history's
earliest movements for revolutionary democracy.

Of course, there's yet another option: transforming the university, and our
society, into places that are not either strictly vocational or strictly
non-vocational, yes offering training, but training for service not to
America's corporations but rather to real people of our own and other
nations, training not for world domination but for world cultural literacy
and citizenship.

That the campuses can be a battleground against corporations that degrade
workers and wreck economies around the globe is documented in chapters that
narrate the success of student actions against international sweatshops,
against a California attempt of communications companies to gain access to
the campus market in return for provision of educational technology, and
opposing foreign investment of human rights violator Burma. The molding of
American students as activists in a world struggle and actors on a world
stage is the wholly new concept of a university mission that this book
helps popularize.

Campus, Inc. is a work that will serve as a handbook and textbook for those
who'll be in the forefront of the effort to keep the campuses from being
run like for-profit companies by presidents who think of themselves as
corporate CEO's, and act the part, with downsizing of faculties, cheapening
of academic services and programs, and putting access to whole student
bodies to outside companies on sale to outside vendors and corporations.

It's hard, however, for one such as myself, who has lived for years outside
the orbit of the university and the combustible trends it describes due to
having jumped ship more than three decades ago, to respond to these pages
with the passionate indignation that the authors intend. There is, for
example, no chapter that deals with people such as myself who are now on
the outside of the university walls, who are parents or grandparents of
college age students but might perhaps like to have a say in how the
universities spend the money that we contribute so generously to them, that
might like to take action in solidarity with some campus labor or political
action without being escorted off the grounds as a trespasser, that might
object to rising tuitions going to high-tech infrastructure while cutting
programs and faculty in non-essential departments such as languages, social
sciences, arts, and humanities, etc. Or how about the helplessness a parent
can feel while taking one's daughter on a tour of one of New England's most
prestigious colleges and having the student tour guide point with pride to
one of the two dormitories that is drug free but not being able to get an
answer to my question: does this mean that in all the other dormitories
drugs are officially accepted?

Had I been asked, yes, I would gladly have contributed a chapter on
"Parents' Rights." And perhaps another chapter on "Alumni Rights." I
believe that alumni should have the option in return for a donation to at
least register an opinion about the running of a university, its lecture
programs and speakers, its relationships with outside companies, the
recipients of its honorary degrees, etc., and be listened to. I also
believe in "Taxpayers' Rights," i.e. to have some kind of input into a
school's governance; I believe that the land grant idea of service to the
community is one that entitles citizens to have full and lifelong access to
the campuses and by the same token gives campuses a responsibility of
outreach to the population outside the campus walls.

On the surface it would appear that the possibility of breaching the
barriers between academics and the community is at hand with the arrival of
the new technology of the internet, the video classroom, the virtual
campus, and distance learning. The best-known use of the video classroom
was by Newt Gingrich in using televised lectures from a college campus to
solicit money for his political action committee GOPAC. What Gingrich
accomplished for his right wing agenda could of course be accomplished too
from the other side, with campuses as broadcast centers for radical
proselytizing of the general public. No question but with internet and
television the technology is at hand for the university to offer an
"extension" to parts of the population that are presently excluded from the
exclusive world of university intelligence.

Unfortunately what good potential there might be for campuses to connect
with the larger society through electronics is easily offset by the
demonstrated negatives of introducing electronics into the classroom.

For me an article by Todd A. Price offers the book's darkest view of the
age of corporatized education, a forecast that the looming replacement of
classroom learning by technology's effect will be the transformation of the
campus from a learning place to pure workplace. Entitled "Wiring the World:
Ameritech's Monopoly of the Virtual Classroom," Price's piece shows the
likelihood that video and computer technology will be used to effect the
devaluation of the classroom experience as it has historically been known
with staged and canned computer and video-instruction that can be cut,
edited, centrally controlled and transmitted, and used to replace live
human classroom teachers altogether.

Parents who read this powerfully written piece of muckraking scholarship
will be skeptical about computers in the classroom and will want to run to
lock up their children when they see a video camera in the schools as
though having sighted a vampire getting up from a nap.

Price predicts the use of video instruction (also called distance
education) as a way of offering cheap, teacherless instruction for an
educational underclass deemed unfit to receive first class conventional
classroom instruction. In the colleges video technology allows extension
courses, previously meant to offer adults a chance to pursue instruction
without actually enrolling in school full-time. On the high school level,
video education's function is to substitute simplified, easily digestible
educational content for traditional classroom dynamics and relationships.

Price traces the hard sell practices of Ameritech in its effort to
popularize video instruction in Ohio. A travelling sales presentation
called Ameritech Superschools was put on the road and tried out in the
educationally challenged schools of eastern Ohio's rural Appalachian
counties to demonstrate its supposed potential for raising the educational
performance of the hardest hit student population.

While dazzling onlookers with the spectacle of students watching teachers
who were a hundred and fifty miles away conduct classes, "none of the
promotional videotapes of the . . . Superschools prototypes presented any
hard evidence of the effectiveness, risks, or costs of VIDL. Rather,
Superschools was a carefully orchestrated and scripted political show from
beginning to end." (p. 223)

The reality, as Price stunningly documents, was student and teacher
frustration and alienation from the new equipment technology. "They ripped
my classroom up," one teacher is quoted as saying, and it was downhill from
there. "A lead teacher . . . described a macabre scene. A student teacher
was sitting in front of a row of students. She was wearing a headset with
an attached microphone. Each third grader had a microphone on the desk just
in front of them. A curriculum expert from the University of Athens sat in
the background, miles away, and transmitted corrective feedback to the
student teacher."

Most students recoiled, retreating into silence. The teacher pronounced the
experience of teaching on-camera as having little day-to-day value.

Price describes other experiments that failed horribly, with students and
teachers both acting self-conscious and awkward in front of cameras,
impatience of video editors with having to transmit sequences in which
ordinary classroom conversations are slow, repetitive, or just lacking in
cinematographic interest.

That has not stopped the snowball of enthusiasm for video instruction from
growing in Ohio and around the country. The cynical motive of huge profits
from placement of video and computer equipment in schools is shown to
totally overwhelm all consideration of actual educational benefit. What
will be left in the wake of this march of the big communications
corporations through the average American classroom will be a grotesque
conversion of the classroom into an industrial workshop with kids glued
either to computer or video screens and the chain of camaraderie to fellow
students and devotion to human teachers replaced forever with an electronic
linkage.

Price documents the intentions of Ameritech to market its electronic
classroom technology on a global basis, such as in bombed countries like
Yugoslavia whose need for infrastructure rehabilitation makes them ripe for
a fresh start with all-new Ameritech technology.

Let's hope that Price in his role as Executive Director of WYOU, Madison,
Wisconsin's public access station, continues to shine the same
embarrassingly honest light that he has already trained on the electronic
classroom's pretensions to be the salvation of all that ails education and
young people in our society. In addition to his photo record of an absurd
technological debacle in the classroom, he also offers a ringing verbal
warning worthy of the muckrakers who discovered worms and maggots in the
animal carcasses hanging on hooks in Chicago's packing houses: "the truth
is that unless the people speak up now, the public eduation diet will soon
be made up of junk-food curriculum. And our democracy will be lost." (232)

Like Star Wars missiles that don't work, anti-terrorist bombings of the
Sudan that wind up destroying nothing but a pharmaceutical factory,
laboratory-created animal feed for herbivorous animals that includes
reconstituted animal parts and even animal offal and winds up creating Mad
Cow disease, like a society that claims to be the world's last great
super-power while dragging behind it 45 million people who lack medical
insurance - like all of these failed pretensions to greatness, the American
higher education system plunges headlong to its rendezvous with
self-destruction.

The blind faith in corporate power that has become a virtual world religion
will not suddenly lose its hold because of the revelations in this book.
And even the varieties of militant anti-corporate resistance that this book
documents on many campuses will not reverse the increasing dominance on the
campuses of market values over values of social commitment and world
brotherhood overnight. But this book's publication marks a landmark dawning
of recognition that such a takeover of higher education by alien market
values has occurred, that the aura of independence and humanistic purpose
of these institutions has been breached, and that universities' complicity
in corporate exploitation of the world's peoples now makes them fair game
for counter-struggle. Indications are that that resistance will fly the
flag of an all-new post-corporate religion based on camaraderie between
peoples, rather than assertion of power by stronger over weaker nations,
that we may yet live to celebrate in the new century.

(Geoff Berne has an A.B. in 1960 and M.A. in 1965, and worked for
additional years on an uncompleted Ph.D, in English literature, from
University of California-Berkeley. He also attended Dartmouth College
(undergraduate) and Princeton University (graduate). He was an acting
instructor at UCLA at age 23 in 1962-63 and taught at California State
College at Hayward and San Jose State College. He was involved in student
advocacy groups at Princeton and Berkeley, published articles on campus
politics at Berkeley, and left a career as a popular teacher after 1970 to
work as a musician in California for two years, playing upright bass for
various acoustic bands, before moving to New Jersey. There he opened a
successful music theatre, produced two programs for PBS, produced nine
festivals in New York at Lincoln Center, and produced shows that were
presented in forty states and five foreign countries. Now residing in Ohio,
Berne has been a political consultant for one state and one county
electoral campaign, activist in organizations opposed to privatization of
education and infrastructure construction in Ohio, and writer of
internationally published articles critical of the war in Yugoslavia.)


Louis Proyect

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