This posting is an edited text of the Residential Colleges Professorial Lecture I delivered at the University of Southern Queensland on August 6, 2014. For which, I was flattered to be asked. The lecture was intend to describe the nature of the corporatized university and the impact on traditional university values including the rights and responsibilities conferred through academic freedom. The central point of the lecture was that openness is perhaps the best means of recapturing the liberal nature of university values in part because the openness agenda has developed within the context of neoliberal economics as a counter-balance to the self-censorship adopted and imposed by many universities and scholars.
MY ORIENTATION TOWARD HIGHER EDUCATION
I am going to start by taking a few minutes to tell a short story to illustrate a point. While engaged in doctoral work at Texas A&M University, I had the very good fortune to work closely with Professor Dean Corrigan. Dean, which incidentally is Professor Corrigan’s first name, had served as dean of three colleges of education including those at the University of Vermont, the University of Maryland, and Texas A&M University, where I met him.
He was in many ways an exceptional personality, well liked and effective, in a challenging role that has historically bridged representing the interests of academics in the disciplines with those of university administration.
I am telling this story because it might sound very quaint and naive now – in fact it almost sounds out of place and irrelevant given the current state and focus of many universities. In retrospect though, it represents a fundamental statement about the nature of the university – its purpose and what it was.
What follows this story is about what the university has become, why this is so, and how I think that we can restore some balance.
I had worked as a research associate in a small research centre at Texas A&M University named “Commitment to Education,” which Dean founded and led after passing on his role as dean and returning to the faculty.
One day, while Dean and I were working through a stack of papers he stopped and referred to the seal of the Texas A&M College of Education, and started describing the conversation that ensued as the college faculty designed the seal.
The seal was fundamentally two hands positioned around a flame. Apparently, as Dean explained it, the seal was the subject of considerable debate while it was being designed, which continued long after the seal was adopted.
The questions that it raised were whether, education, as represented by the outstretched hands was protecting the flames or whether the hands were being warmed by the flames, which represented truth.
Dean confided that he always maintain that it was both and this symbolism and interpretation strikes at the civilising role of education and the purpose of the university.
No place else, was truth more central to an organisation and in no other organisation was the preservation and pursuit of truth more central to purpose.
And no place else in a society that values truth is there a more important role than that of the university and its commitment to liberal education.
The debate that Dean described had been echoed a thousand times in thousands of universities for hundreds of years. And through these conversations, influenced by the ascendance of reason and enlightenment, the rise of the nation state, liberal and distributive democracy, industrialization, civil society, and the knowledge economy, the contemporary university has taken shape.
The University carved out its role in society as purveyor of truth, in part as archivist, and transmitter, but perhaps most importantly by preparing at first men and later women to discover the truth, to develop it as knowledge, and to promote it, which has not always been a welcome, popular, or safe role.
These conversations in universities and the roles that universities have taken, has led to a tension between the need for the university to both remove itself from society for some measure of objectivity, and to embrace its role within society and ensure its relevance.
And it is through the purpose of the university and the tensions it creates that its odd structures and its formal governance has developed, but perhaps most importantly, it is through its most serious work, that the notion of academic freedom has taken shape.
As inferred above, the university is a special place. Although many think about universities as centres of radical politics, this reputation was earned by a handful of politically active scholars during the 30s and 40s and by student activists during a relatively short period of time in the 1960s and 1970s. It is probably more accurately thought of as a place that harbours radical or free thinkers.
Take a look at what I am wearing, and think about the procession that you were part of earlier this evening. It is part of a culture that speaks to just how profoundly conservative
universities are as institutions. They are meant to transmit the past and they are built to remember, they are meant to pursue truth and to do so responsibly no matter how unpopular or inconvenient that truth is.
Part of that responsibility adds to the conservative and deliberative nature of discovery and teaching, which is highly ordered, but by some standards outside of the University, and now perhaps inside the university as well, profoundly inefficient and too patient.
AN INTERROGATIVE AGENDA
THE UNIVERSITY AS CONVERSATION
If asking questions is an essential value, then we must assume that so is conversation, because asking provocative and important questions is an important part of stimulating engagement and thinking, and conversation is a principal form of engagement.
I am currently reviewing a collection of writings by Bartlett Giamatti, produced while he served as president of Yale University. For Giamatti the university is conversation.
It is important to note that he does not choose to define the university as an institution in which conversations happen, or as a place friendly to conversations, or that it is a place that incites conversation – although it clearly has these qualities. Instead, he defines the university as a conversation.
This conversation happens over time, between students and teachers, among academics, and between academics and the public. For the conversation to flourish, for scholars to engage, they must be free to behave as academics with rights, and with those rights observance of responsibilities.
Academic inquiry requires the right to pursue lines of inquiry in pursuit of truth and the right to express questions, and disseminate findings under prevailing standards of scholarship.
Acting always with integrity and occasionally with courage, the academic scholar should never fear loss of employment or discrimination due to asking important and perhaps unpopular questions and disseminating their knowledge.
This is why the rights and responsibilities associated with academic freedom tend to be tied to tenure. I mention this simply because most members of the public do not understand the nature of tenure and the reasons it exists, while many in popular media are willing to comment negatively while cloaked in their own ignorance.
Academic freedom is an essential construct at the contemporary university that allows the university to pursue truth and remain an embedded part of society. Briefly, academic freedom as expressed through peak professional associations of the “professoriate” in Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand are aligned on a few important points.
- Members of the professoriate have rights of free inquiry and expression. There are reciprocal responsibilities one of which is that inquiry and expression rise to the scholarly standards within their disciplines.
- Professors have the right to free private expression, but if speaking outside of their field of expertise, they need to make that clear and to not misuse the authority of their discipline or the university.
- The pursuit of truth and the dissemination of their knowledge ought to be made in ways that are open and maximise the public good. And the exercise of these responsibilities should not be curtailed by personal, organizational, or commercial considerations.
Although specific points about academic freedom are further developed in formal statements, it is these points that help ensure that professors are acting within the norms of the discipline and university ensuring that they earn and deserve the trust of their peers and the public.
The notion of what the university is, is also worth talking about, because once again, it is not as clear cut as it is in corporations.
While making this point, let me tell you a little story and in doing so quote Ernst Kantorowicz, who in the early 1950’s was at the centre of a loyalty oath controversy at the University of California where he served as a professor. Through this story, we can see how the University is perhaps something different from many other organisations.
There are three professions which are entitled to wear a gown: the judge, the priest, the scholar. This garment stands for its bearer’s maturity of mind, his independence of judgment, and his direct responsibility to his conscience and to his God. It signifies the inner sovereignty of those three interrelated professions: they should be the very last to allow themselves to act under duress and yield to pressure.
It is a shameful and undignified action, it is an affront and a violation of both human sovereignty and professional dignity that the Regents of this University have dared to bully the bearer of this gown into a situation in which–under the pressure of a bewildering economic coercion- he is compelled to give up either his tenure or, together with his freedom of judgment, his human dignity and his responsible sovereignty as a scholar.
Why is it so absurd to visualize the Supreme Court justices picketing their court, bishops picketing their churches, and professors picketing their university?
The answer is very simple: because the judges are the Court, the ministers together with the faithful are the Church, and the professors together with the students are the University. Unlike ushers, sextons, and beadles, the judges, ministers, and professors are not Court employees, Church employees, and University employees. They are those institutions themselves, and therefore they have certain prerogative rights to and within their institutions which ushers, sextons, and beadles or janitors do not have.
THE PURPOSE OF THE UNIVERSITY
PURPOSE OF THE UNIVERSITY (HISTORIC VOICES)
Growth of Knowledge
The purpose of the university is an elusive topic. It will depend on who you ask and frankly when it is
being considered. In my opinion, the motto of the University of Chicago is a convenient starting point.
Let knowledge grow from more to more, and thus be human life enriched.
PURPOSE OF THE UNIVERSITY (CONTEMPORARY VOICES)
THE NATURE OF CONTEMPORARY HIGHER EDUCATION
Environment / Conditions
- Historic Reduction in Public Support, leading to increased costs for students, enhanced debt in many cases, and a real need to generate additional income to service debt. But beyond this simple economic logic, when the discussion is almost entirely about higher education’s purpose is to lead to financial rewards, there is a natural inclination to exclude other considerations while maximising the one criteria that seems to be valued.
- Demand for Increasing Access, which increased the impulse for university administrators to view education as a commodity and students as customers.
- Outcomes Expectations of the Public, Funders, and Graduates, are shifting to focus almost exclusively on financial returns, which creates a consumer logic in which there is a quantitative expectation of return, and where education is seen as something one either has or does-not-have based on a certification, rather than education being something that one does throughout their lives.
- Increasing Emphasis on the “Knowledge Economy,” which contributes to the demand for increased access, but also points to the failings of current university structures and curriculum, leading to reliance on a market logic to validate knowledge produced at the university.
- Information, Communication, Technology (changing cost structures, access, and methods for creating knowledge and distributing information), has created an information and content culture, shifting the role of the university and placing it in the information and knowledge network, in direct competition with other types of knowledge producers and transmitters, most of which are more efficient than universities.
CONTEMPORARY FRAMING OF HIGHER EDUCATION + ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS = CORPORATISATION OF THE UNIVERSITY
Although the corporatized entity may not perform as a for-profit company, it will also be forced to change its norms to survive, which is happening in many public and private universities. For example,
- A university education is increasingly being seen principally as a private good rather than a public good, and in doing so devaluing those disciplines that do not maximise the private good.
- There is reduced public funding and a shifting of cost burden from the public to private interest. (State to Student)
- We see a move from a liberal education (humanist) to a professional education (commercial).
- There is a move from producing public knowledge to focusing on and valuing proprietary knowledge.
- There has been a move in some countries from full-time tenure/tenure track (permanent) to fixed-term and adjunct (contingent) academic staff, shifting the locus of control from decentralised faculty governance to administrative decision-making.
- There has been a shift from traditional forms of capitalisation such as tuition, fees, development, and public allocation, to those more typical of private enterprise such as commercialisation of inventions, commercial out-sourcing arrangements to other institutions, raising capital through large bond issues, and venture capital arrangements for “spin-off” companies.
- For some universities online and continuing education was developed in units isolated from the university proper to better perform as a revenue positive activity much as a corporation.
- The market logic tends to increase access potential and promote development of services that are “customer” oriented. We have seen this as universities…
- Deliver academic products based in customer demand, at levels that optimise financial reward for the university and potentially for the student graduate.
- Direct marketing to populations, developing a culture of consumerism and perhaps a commodification of education and knowledge.
- Turning toward international students, that represent higher than normal net positive revenue flows.
- Focus on activities that lead to commercialisation beyond tuition generated for teaching and research training, which frequently requires the production of proprietary knowledge, The logic is increasing applied to both research and course materials.
Freedom of Inquiry
- Corporations (including venture capital) direct fields of discovery
- Employment Markets determine disciplines worth teaching
Freedom of Expression
- Proprietary Information
- Financial Entanglement
necessary counter balance to government political agendas or corporate commercial agendas? Do we provide the patience that others seem to lack?
- It is a major responsibility of university governing bodies and senior officers to protect and promote academic freedom. This includes ensuring that funding and other partnerships do not interfere with autonomy in deciding what is studied and how.
- Faculty members and university leaders have an obligation to ensure that students’ human rights are respected and that they are encouraged to pursue their education according to the principles of academic freedom.
- Faculty also share with university leadership the responsibility of ensuring that pressures from funding and other types of partnerships do not unduly influence the intellectual work of the university.
EVOLVING THE CORPORATE UNIVERSITY
CONTEMPORARY ISSUE TO CONSIDER - OPENNESS
- Courage: Participating even when doing so results in fear and uncertainty.
- Participation: The action of taking part in something (being there). The nature of one’s participation is dictated by its quality.
- Honesty: The quality of behaving in a manner that is free of deceit, is truthful, and is sincere.
- Reflection (assessment): Engaging in serious thought or consideration about oneself and one’s motivations, behaviors, and impacts.
- Humility: Practicing honest reflection with the discipline necessary to achieve a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one’s place in context.
- Communication: Sharing information through a variety of means. Transparency is a pre-condition for open communication.
- Transparency: Providing access to information in a manner making it easy to perceive, detect, and understand.
- Self-organization: When coordination arises out of the local interactions between individuals and groups of individuals of an initially disordered grouping.
- Collaboration: Voluntarily working with each other to accomplish a task and to achieve shared goals.
- Evidence-based decision-making: The explicit (and transparent), conscientious, and judicious consideration of the best available evidence and decision-making methodology.
- Meritocracy: An organisational system or philosophy in which ideas are judged based on their merit, as opposed to a proxy, such as the title of the individual offering the idea.
- Openness is a fundamental tenant of academic freedom and is a responsibility for the academy and the professoriate, striking at the very purpose of the university and its singular role in free societies.
- As such it gives voice to a logic that challenges neoliberal approaches to university education that has led to corporatisation.
- Giving reasoned voice to alternatives creates the opportunity for discussion and the possibility of weighing values and commitments within a framework that refers to the fundamental purposes of the university.
- It opens us to seek solutions allowing the university to thrive within the realities of a contemporary setting, while also supporting a logic that preserves the unique role of the university.
A Primer on Neoliberalism
The Loyalty Oath Controversy, University of California
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada revised statement on academic freedom
Understanding Free Cultural Works
What is the Paris OER Declaration?
The 2-3-98 Project, Openness Index