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Universities in the Marketplace

Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education

Derek Bok
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Universities in the Marketplace
    Book Description:

    Is everything in a university for sale if the price is right? In this book, one of America's leading educators cautions that the answer is all too often "yes." Taking the first comprehensive look at the growing commercialization of our academic institutions, Derek Bok probes the efforts on campus to profit financially not only from athletics but increasingly, from education and research as well. He shows how such ventures are undermining core academic values and what universities can do to limit the damage.

    Commercialization has many causes, but it could never have grown to its present state had it not been for the recent, rapid growth of money-making opportunities in a more technologically complex, knowledge-based economy. A brave new world has now emerged in which university presidents, enterprising professors, and even administrative staff can all find seductive opportunities to turn specialized knowledge into profit.

    Bok argues that universities, faced with these temptations, are jeopardizing their fundamental mission in their eagerness to make money by agreeing to more and more compromises with basic academic values. He discusses the dangers posed by increased secrecy in corporate-funded research, for-profit Internet companies funded by venture capitalists, industry-subsidized educational programs for physicians, conflicts of interest in research on human subjects, and other questionable activities.

    While entrepreneurial universities may occasionally succeed in the short term, reasons Bok, only those institutions that vigorously uphold academic values, even at the cost of a few lucrative ventures, will win public trust and retain the respect of faculty and students. Candid, evenhanded, and eminently readable, Universities in the Marketplace will be widely debated by all those concerned with the future of higher education in America and beyond.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2549-3
    Subjects: Economics, Education

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-17)

    Toward the end of the twentieth century, American universities—with their stately buildings, tree-lined quadrangles, and slightly disheveled, often-preoccupied professors—found themselves in an enviable position. No longer quiet enclaves removed from the busy world, they had emerged as the nation’s chief source for the three ingredients most essential to continued growth and prosperity: highly trained specialists, expert knowledge, and scientific advances others could transform into valuable new products or life-saving treatments and cures.

    This newfound importance brought growing interest from the media, increased funding from government agencies and foundations, and closer scrutiny from public officials. It also brought...

    (pp. 18-34)

    Commercialization is not a neutral word, let alone a term of approval, in most academic circles. Rarely, if ever, does one read that a university’s efforts to “commercialize” its educational programs or its research activities have met with applause from its students or enthusiasm from its faculty. On the contrary, to commercialize a university is to engage in practices widely regarded in the academy as suspect, if not downright disreputable.

    These reactions are neither recent nor surprising. Scholars, especially in the traditional disciplines, have deliberately chosen academic life in preference to the ways of commerce, in part because they look...

    (pp. 35-56)

    On a sunny afternoon in 1852, two groups of oarsmen—one from Harvard, one from Yale—raced against each other on Lake Winnipesaukee. The students may not have known it, but they were participating in the first intercollegiate sports contest in the United States. Even then, although there were no paying spectators and no television crews, the event had definite commercial overtones. The race was the brainchild of a railroad owner and real estate developer who hoped to attract the public’s attention to the charms of Southern New Hampshire by staging an athletic spectacle. With calculating shrewdness, he lured the...

    (pp. 57-78)

    John Le Carré’s latest novel,The Constant Gardener, tells of the murder of a young woman in Africa and her husband’s valiant efforts to avenge her death. It soon appears that these events all grow out of a major pharmaceutical firm’s campaign to develop a new drug for combating tuberculosis.¹ Discovered in a Polish laboratory, the drug looks very promising at first, raising hopes of earning hundreds of millions of dollars. As tests on human subjects begin in Kenya and other African countries, however, problems start to surface. There are side effects. Patients die. One of the scientists who discovered...

    (pp. 79-98)

    In 1998, Meyer Feldberg, dean of the Columbia Business School, received a phone call from an old friend, Michael Milken, impresario of junk bonds, master of the leveraged buy-out, and active again after twenty-two months in a federal prison for securities law violations.¹ Milken was calling to urge Feldberg to talk with another mutual friend, Andrew Rosenfield, lawyer, University of Chicago trustee, and currently operating as founder and CEO of an online company interested in distance education. What Milken and Rosenfield wanted was a collaboration that would allow Columbia professors to offer on-line courses in exchange for royalties from fees...

    (pp. 99-121)

    Commercialization typically begins when someone in the university finds an opportunity to make money: an offer of generous research funding in exchange for exclusive patent licensing rights; a chance to sell distance courses for a profit; or a lucrative contract with an apparel manufacturer offering cash and free athletic uniforms in return for having players display the corporate logo. University officials naturally welcome the prospect of new resources that can help them fund a promising program or close a looming deficit. They eagerly investigate the opportunity and calculate the returns it will bring. Only with these benefits in mind, do...

    (pp. 122-138)

    In 1987, after thirty-six years of service as the executive director and principal architect of the modern NCAA, Walter Byers retired and began to write about his long career presiding over intercollegiate athletics. One might have thought that the resulting work would be another memoir rich in anecdotes about the author’s exploits and the famous sports figures he had known. The book that finally emerged was nothing of the kind. What Byers wrote was a lengthy indictment of the entire system of big-time college sports, accusing it of exploiting athletes in search of profit while pretending to foster amateurism and...

    (pp. 139-156)

    In the early years of the twentieth century, professors debated whether they or their universities could properly obtain a patent and assert ownership over discoveries made in campus laboratories. Many eminent scientists frowned on the idea. Jacques Loeb of the Rockefeller Institute declared that “if the institutions of pure science go into the handling of patents I am afraid pure science will be doomed.”¹ Johns Hopkins University rejected T. Brailsford Robertson as a candidate for a chair in Physiology because he had sought patent protection for his discovery of tethalin, even though he claimed to do so only to keep...

    (pp. 157-184)

    In the turbulent world of public education, a battle is in progress over the role of private enterprise in reviving troubled urban schools. For-profit companies, such as the Edison Corporation, are bidding to take over individual schools or even entire city systems, claiming that they can raise test scores, instill a new spirit of learning, and still make money in the process. Teachers’ unions have fought back strongly, arguing that educators driven by the bottom line will not have the students’ best interests at heart. To the National Education Association, the selfish motives of business executives are no substitute for...

    (pp. 185-198)

    Setting clear guidelines is essential to protect academic values from excessive commercialization. But guidelines alone, however thoughtfully devised, will not be enough. Cases will inevitably arise in which the rules are ambiguous, the circumstances novel, or the deviations arguably minor. Enterprising aides will think of clever arguments to justify going forward. In such situations, it is neither realistic nor fair to expect that presidents and their deans will consistently summon the resolve to make the proper decisions. The prospect of new revenue is a powerful temptation that can easily lead decent people into unwise compromises, especially when they are under...

    (pp. 199-208)

    Today, American universities face exceptional opportunities and exceptional risks. Their research is needed more than ever now that new discoveries and expert knowledge have become so essential to progress in health care, economic growth, and other endeavors that matter to the nation. As careers grow more complicated and subject to sudden change, adults in all occupations and stages of life are seeking further education at the very moment when technology gives people everywhere ready access to university instruction.

    Now that scientific discovery and continuing education are valued so highly, pressures have arisen from every quarter to have universities make their...