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 Title

Taco Bell is Subverting Our Campuses! Not!

 Synopsis

Mr. Rubenstein skewers the ideas in Universities for Sale: Resisting Corporate Control Over Higher Education, by Neil Tudiver (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1999)

Originally published in the National Post. Republished with the permission of the author.

 Author

Hymie Rubenstein

 Author Notes

Professor of anthropology at the University of Manitoba

 Essay - 5/1/2000

Who but the most benighted of socialists could claim that "The public sector is in fact highly productive, especially in education, health, social services, and utilities" and that "Privatized services may be even more expensive in the long run" because "The cost of profits is passed on to the public through higher prices for goods and services."

Who could say this when Economics 101, the successful privatization of Canadian Crown corporations and the implosion of the Soviet Union all tell us that monopolistic government services are at least twice as expensive and half as efficient as their private-sector equivalents?

Tenured professors, that's who. These sinecured radicals have academic freedom. Hence, they can advocate all the nutty ideas they like without worry about any adverse effects of their real-world implementation.

Neil Tudiver, an economist by training and a professor of social work by vocation, says these things in a new book called Universities for Sale: Resisting Corporate Control Over Higher Education. By "corporate control" Prof. Tudiver means the presence of exclusive campus food franchises; attempts by senior administrators to make their institutions more efficient; efforts to eliminate weak or unpopular programs; annual compensation-based "performance reviews" of professors; profit-making from royalties and commercial spin-offs; research partnerships with multinational drug corporations; the development and sale of Internet courses; and the taking up of corporate board memberships by university presidents.

"Universities are already well down the path towards privatization," this champion of the Linda McQuaig school of discredited economic ideas laments, "in the sense that more revenue comes from private sources, services are geared to corporate supporters, and decision-making follows classic business patterns based on profit centres instead of service units." These claims are belied by his own book, which was subsidized by four different government grants.

Prof. Tudiver's most pervasive examples of corporatization are campus fast-food franchises, which "replace broader-choice cafeterias with limited selections of factory-produced food." He seems unaware -- or conveniently ignores -- that many of the cafeteria-style operations were themselves multinational corporations that monopolized campus food service for decades. Many of these monopolies were also perennial university money-losers because students refused to eat their hospital-style swill. Fast-food outlets were invited in after surveys showed students wanted them replaced. But because these new franchises -- "Robin's Donuts, Domino's Pizza, Taco Bell, and Mr. Submarine" -- are money-making multinationals, they "amount only to another method of exploiting students."

"Corporate control" is also subverting, this sage tells us, the traditional ability of professors to "set their own agendas for research and teaching as a labour of love, commensurate with low salaries and the tenuous state of tenure and academic freedom." But if corporate control were as strong and academic freedom as "tenuous" as Prof. Tudiver claims, how did he get permission to produce a work so critical of corporate control? If research and teaching is such a labour of love, why have so many faculty unions hit the picket line in recent years to gain higher wages, lower teaching loads and fatter early retirement packages? If tenure is so "tenuous," why is the annual rate of termination for incompetence, redundancy or financial exigency among Canada's 28,000 tenured professors less than one-tenth of 1%? If salaries are so low, why do full professors earn an average of more than $90,000 a year for teaching 7.5 hours a week for only 26 weeks? Many also conduct research, of course, but this is optional: There is not a single reported case in Canada of a tenured professor being fired for never managing to publish anything.

Professors have such idyllic jobs because, after 35 years of ceaseless decentralization, our universities are now run not from the corporate boardroom, not from the office of the president, but from the shop floor and the union hall. As Prof. Tudiver himself unwittingly shows, Canada's university presidents, tormented by the country's strongest, best-financed, and most ideologically driven labour unions and paralyzed by dysfunctional and self-serving bottom-up decision-making procedures, have been reduced to bean counters, ceremonial figures and fund-raisers.

Several Memorial University senior administrators recently lamented that "those among us who are honest with themselves will admit that universities are basically ungovernable." The reason, they say, is the power of faculty unions. These trade unions, according to Dalhousie University chancellor Sir Graham Day, have succeeded in "blurring, among other aspects, academic freedom, rank, tenure, job security, pay and benefits with the management of the university." This is an unhealthy situation, Sir Graham states: "Regardless of the institution, one cannot have the inmates in charge."

But even when the inmates are in charge, some are more in charge than others. Prof. Tudiver's own good work as faculty union president and as author of this work has just earned him a corporate benefaction of his own, a cushy job in Ottawa with the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

Prof. Tudiver has no qualms about having his salary paid out of union dues, even though such monies are undemocratically commandeered via the Rand Formula. Nor does he show any shame about calling for higher personal taxes to "restore state support" for universities to the profligate levels of the 1960s and 1970s, even though this has always represented a transfer of wealth from the children of the working class to the children of the middle and upper classes.

Although fleecing the working class is good, accepting money from industry is bad because this has a "chilling effect" on the free and unfettered search for truth. This is another disingenuous claim. Why would campus Marxists who have never had a qualm about loudly damning the right-wing policies of governments, still the universities' largest patrons, waver in criticizing the policies of private-sector donors and partners? Monsanto, Prof. Tudiver's prime example of corporate greed, is spending $9-million on a new research centre at my university. If I were to proclaim that the company is out to poison us all with its Frankenfoods, the university would not punish me.

I can stick it to Monsanto because, if universities are actually for sale, there are hardly any buyers, even at schools with large applied-research facilities. The broadest possible estimate of all forms of business support and research collaboration at the University of Manitoba, also Prof. Tudiver's home institution, is 2.5% of all university revenue. His own figures show that "gifts, donations, and non-government funds" for all of Canada's universities average less than 1%. Much of this support comes in the form of unencumbered grants.

If corporatization is destroying higher education, what can save it? Prof. Tudiver has a good leftist answer: questioning capitalist values, criticizing corporate practices, "identifying male bias in science," encouraging "activist programs in the community" and enforcing quotas for admitting students and hiring staff. His faculty of social work's Affirmative Action Educational Equity Initiative restricts one-third of student placements to visible minorities, immigrants, political refugees, persons with disabilities, and two categories of Aboriginal people. This is to achieve "equality in professional education." Translation: Outstanding students need not apply.

If the predatory and greedy corporate sector -- tiny as its presence on campus may be -- is the enemy of higher education, who are its friends? Its best friend, according to Prof. Tudiver, is CAUT, the professors' powerful national lobbying group. Though technically not a union, CAUT opposes performance reviews, high bonuses for star performers and anything that would make professors and their universities accountable.

But virtual ivory towers, university mergers and acquisitions, and a transfer of more research to independent think-tanks will soon check the hegemony of CAUT and its member unions. How do you organize, let alone collect union dues from self-employed professors producing courseware from their home offices? How do you stop universities from hiring the canned lectures of superstar teachers who are employed at non-unionized universities in the United States? How do you stop university downsizing when more and more corporations are starting their own in-house academies?

Canada's citadels of higher education will soon face their day of reckoning.


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