Adrianna Kezar

On the commercialization of higher education. Kezar says the three books she reviews offer oversimplified solutions to the commercialization problem. She says commercialization must be studied from a systems and cultural perspective.

1. What is the public good, and how is commercialization threatening it? None of the authors say a great deal about the notion of public good itself. Bok (one of the authors) published an earlier book that did address this.

2. In the 60s many attacked HE for not meeting the public interest: it was too exclussive, too involved with classified research related to defense; not involved in international humanitarian efforts, and not engaged enough politically. Bok says universities should be involved in community activities beyond teaching and research but not activist.

3. Slaughter and Rhoades (Academic capitalism) explain commercialization and commodification of HE well. They don’t say a great deal on how to fix it or navigate it; Kezar says understanding it helps navigate it.

4. How does the new university serve the public good, though? Bok, in his newer book (2003), says academic capitalism does not have to be laissez-faire. We just need to make sure profit-making enterprises such as athletics, research partnerships, and online learning don’t lead to a decline in general quality of teaching and research. We should stop taking kickbacks (dream on, my man — N. Ed.).

5. The third book Kezar discusses (Zemsky) makes similar recommendations — with the right policies, quality will not be eroded. These are superficial recommendations that do not address the gravity of the problem.

6. Bok and Zemsky say the problem is the decline in state and federal funding; Slaughter and Rhodes say the issue is the neoliberal philosophy that underlies this, and that has reshaped societal and institutional culture. It is fundamental to consider the societal and policy environment in which institutions exist, and in which they and individuals act (and may not be strong enough to counteract).

7. Underconceptualized are commercialization as a systems issue, and the depth of the change. We need recommendations and a framework for management that actually takes the problem as a systems issue into account. Disciplinary societies, for instance, need to work to develop codes of conduct around these issues. (The review goes into some detail on the systems analysis and its points are important.) We also need to incorporate a cultural perspective, as the changes are deep and pervasive; we need to figure out how to navigate them.


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