[Marxism] Columbia expansion

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 28 13:58:30 MDT 2006

Yesterday there was a picket line at the front gate of Columbia University, 
my employer:

 >>Shouting slogans and waving signs, opponents of Columbia’s proposed 
Manhattanville expansion brought their gripes to the University’s gates in 
a large protest Thursday.

A crowd that peaked at nearly 200 circled behind police barricades, 
chanting variations of “Harlem not for sale.” Several signs read “Save our 
homes” and “Stop Columbia” in English and Spanish, while one suggested 
“Harlem is short on space, needs to expand. Let’s take Columbia’s South 
Lawn by eminent domain.”<<


This is not the first time that Columbia has clashed with its Black and 
Latino neighbors. In 1968 the university was going to build a gymnasium in 
Morningside Park, which was used primarily by Harlem residents. Anger over 
the Vietnam War and this racist expansion into Harlem brought the campus to 
a boil and students occupied Low Library, the administration building. The 
cops who were sent by "liberal" mayor John Lindsay to evict the students 
were so brutal that a massive strike broke out.

Now, nearly 30 years later, another imperialist war is happening and 
another racist expansion is planned. Lacking the irritant of a draft, 
however, I would believe that Columbia students are not inclined to go as 
far as they did in 1968. Also, the Black community is not as militant as it 
was in 1968 when the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords were on the 
front lines of the struggle rather than NYC Councilmen as is the case today.

I have worked at Columbia University since 1990 and have watched the 
institution become more and more aggressive in its bid to compete with NYU 
within the city and with the Ivy's beyond the city In fact my department 
was scheduled to have moved to the Manhattanville campus over 2 years ago, 
but community resistance has put this move and all others on hold.

Last April a document was uncovered that detailed the university's plans to 
spend $300,000 on a consulting project to determine whether the law of 
eminent domain could be applied to the Manhattanville land grab. The 
university tried to assure the community that this would be a "last resort".

For me the interesting question, which does not really surface that much in 
discussions around the proposed expansion, is what forces are driving the 
university to compete with other institutions. Listening to President 
Bollinger, it is almost a case of penis envy:

"As alumni know only too well, Columbia is both one of the great 
universities of the world and one of the most constrained for space. At 326 
square feet per student, Columbia has less square footage per student by 
far than other leading research universities (compare Yale at 866 sq. ft., 
Princeton at 828 sq. ft. and Harvard at 673 sq. ft.)."


I have seen the same empire-building tendencies at work at my alma mater 
Bard College which had a single campus with about 450 students when I 
entered it in 1961. Now it has 1400 students on a campus that no longer has 
the slightly dog-eared rural charm it once had. With its icy postmodernist 
architecture, it looks more like a projection of Leon Botstein's id than 
anything else. Botstein has also made Bard the hub of a network of 
subsidiary institutions, including the Bard Graduate Center for Design on 
West 72nd Street in NYC. The school received money for this expansion and 
others as well in exchange for putting George Soros's wife Susan in charge.

Probably the most extreme example of using a business model for university 
expansion was Larry Summers' tenure at Harvard University, where he 
garnered as much publicity for pissing off the faculty as he did for 
raising capital.

In July 2001 the former head of the World Bank became President of Harvard 
with a mandate to expand:

 >>Lawrence H. Summers today starts what many think will be a defining and 
controversial presidency of Harvard University, a run likely to alter not 
only education on campus but also the landscape of Boston.

As he takes the helm of a university with wealth and power unprecedented in 
higher education, Summers by all accounts wants to dynamite the slow-moving 
Harvard culture that might stall his academic reforms and ventures. A 
Harvard economics professor in the 1980s, and treasury secretary during the 
Clinton administration, the 46-year-old Summers views complacency as an 
enemy and sees parts of Harvard as too set in their ways.

"This is a huge moment of opportunity for Harvard, and it's very important 
that we take advantage of it," Summers said.

But his biggest impact may be well outside Harvard Yard. With the 
university now owning more land in Boston than it does in Cambridge, 
Summers is poised to put Harvard's stamp on the city like no president 
before him.

Barring an economic crisis, campus sources say, members of Harvard's 
governing corporation are inclined toward rapid development of their huge 
acreage in Allston by moving prestigious professional schools across the 
river - including the Law School and the John F. Kennedy School of 
Government - and by making a push for prominence in the sciences by 
building a research park that includes academic programs, business 
incubators, and museums.<<

Since universities are by definition nonprofits, one wonders why there is 
such a driving need to follow what is basically the business model of a 
capitalist firm. As we know from reading the business press, big 
corporations are under tremendous pressure to add new lines of business and 
increase volume. But why can't Columbia University remain in a static state?

You can find answers to this question in a perceptive article titled "The 
Corporate University in American Society" by David Schultz that appeared in 
Logos Journal: 
He writes:

 >>Higher education in America is being transformed by the contradictions 
that have historically defined and determined its existence.  Seen as an 
educational institution, its importance lies in empowering individuals­both 
within the academy and outside­to become critical and knowledgeable 
citizens capable of self-governance in a democracy.  Seen as an economic 
institution, its value lies in producing trained subservient workers for 
employers, and in socializing many of the costs necessary to sustain profit 
accumulation in a capitalist society.

Yet while for much of their existence colleges and universities have 
managed to hold these twin imperatives in balance, political-economic 
forces such as globalization, an increasingly conservative political 
agenda, and a tightening of public financial support for higher education 
have tipped the balance, resulting in the emergence of the corporate 
university.  As corporatized entities, American colleges and universities 
are under increasing pressure to emulate other market participants and 
operate in ways that affect their governance and structure, as well as how 
they generate revenue.  The result is that the new corporate university 
seeks to jettison many of the traditional manifestations of higher 
education, such as tenure, academic freedom, and shared governance, and 
replace them with a business model of management and more adjunct faculty 
who are viewed as mere employees.  The need to do this is simple­less 
revenue to support colleges and universities is coming from the government, 
thereby forcing higher education to reduce labor costs and also seek 
financial support from private sector investors who view the traditional 
mission of these schools with suspicion.<<

In December 1980, Congress passed the Bayh-Dole bill which gave 
universities the right to profit from patents on products developed within 
the institution. As the inventor of numerous pharmaceuticals, Columbia was 
able to realize 62 million dollars in licensing revenue in 1996. There is 
little doubt that in order to increase this kind of revenue, more 
laboratory space is required.

Ultimately, the ties between the university and the corporate world go back 
to WWII when governments turned to the university to help provide the 
technologies that would win the war. After all, it was Columbia's Physics 
Department that developed the first nuclear pile as part of the Manhattan 
Project that would ultimately result in the production of atomic bombs. So 
in the final analysis there is a dotted line connecting the Manhattan 
Project to the Manhattanville expansion.



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