You are on page 1of 7

Lesson Learned: How Corporate America Infringes on Academic Freedom

Lesson Learned: How Corporate America Infringes on Academic Freedom

Jeffrey Hilliard

Lesson Learned: How Corporate America Infringes on Academic Freedom

Abstract Autonomy within the classroom and research lab is in jeopardy. Is this due to the influence originating from corporate America and complicit politicians who derive much of their campaign contributions from these outside organizations? What academic value can be found in lessons taught by a faculty member who must answer to a power outside of the institution itself, not to mention one which is immune from the responsibility of educating? During the McCarthy era, government agents and politicians attempted to drive out uncooperative professors of American universities who by protecting its citizens from the blasphemous philosophical ideals derived on the other side of the Iron Curtainall in a spirit of national security. In the modern era, the threat of left-leaning professors causing ideological hardship to corporate interests bring about, again, government agents and politicians who step in and referee the rhetoric within the halls of academe. Special interests will never be defeated, not in the halls of government nor the glasslined office buildings in a downtown metropolis; there is hope, however, that our individual rights, recorded in the constitution, will remain strong and provide for the success of American higher education in the 21st century. Though academic freedom, and the true scholarship that results from it occasionally upsets the power structure outside of academe, students are owed this right, both to empower America, humanity and intelligent work in any and every field or endeavor.

Lesson Learned: How Corporate America Infringes on Academic Freedom

Lesson Learned: How Corporate America Infringes on Academic Freedom

Never before in our history have private and public bodies been so knotted together. In the past, it was normal to see political in-fighting and ideological struggles between public institutions, particularly government and higher education. In many ways, this is what kept our nation steady, never moving too far to the right nor the left. There are special times in our history when this hasnt rang true; the era of McCarthyism, and the turbulent sixties are two that come to mind, but the nation and the public institutions which have provided it with guidance have always managed to find their place again and serve those who are dependent on the composure of these bodies. The implications of this fact, particularly with regard to academic freedom and freedom of learning are dire. Our modern times are witnessing a kind of symbiotic relationship which is shaping higher education in ways which will likely steer that historical fight into a territory which is uncharted. This relationship, which can be broadly stated as the merger of private corporations with governing committees within public institutions of government and education, is leading to the loss of higher education freedom faculty employed throughout are more or less used to operating under. The calamity of the recession we still live in has led to an emergence of two hard facts: One, the U.S. government (and its states) was forced to take on unprecedented levels of debt which eventually lessen its ability to fund institutions that provide, in many ways, the spark which keeps our modern economy rolling. Higher education is one such institution which receives this discretionary money. Two, private corporations, which were complicit in the previous administrations arrogance and faulty management, emerged not only with a big part of

Lesson Learned: How Corporate America Infringes on Academic Freedom

that public money, which they received because they were too big to fail, but also emerged more powerful due to the perceived necessity for their services, products and jobs. Now, with those billions of tax dollars stuffed neatly corporate coffers, they are using it to buy higher education and the ideology which it confers. John Lee and Sue Clery wrote an article titled, Key Trends in Higher Education, in which they communicate such ideas by saying that due to the loss of money from the states, universities are compensating by raising revenues from non-state sources (p. 26). How universities are going about raising those revenues has many asking about the moral implications of such activities. Of course, this money was, before the collapse, designated for higher education institutionsit still is, but is now being funneled first through institutions that wont be quite as welcoming to differences of opinion. How this translates into loss of academic freedom will be plain later in this article. In addition, private institutions always seek to inject private interests into formerly public domains. Take the university cafeteria, the dorm rooms, the book stores and even the health centers as examples as ways in which private companies are slowly encroaching on public service arenas to make a profit and inroads which eventually will lead to ever-increasing influence within the classroom (and higher tuition costs). According to Lee and Clery (2004), private companies now provide healthcare to one in eight colleges, own 40 percent of university bookstores and 60 percent of dining halls (p. 33). Since corporations seek profit first, will tenured professors with their lifelong employment and fat perks be the first to goand if they are, and are replaced by adjunct professors for hire on annual contracts, what conditions will be placed on them in order to keep employment?

Lesson Learned: How Corporate America Infringes on Academic Freedom

Private interests have yet to completely take over and strip academic freedom which is fundamental for the protection of rights for the teacher in teaching and the student to freedom in learning (Kuehn & Joy, 2010, p. 1). They are, however, finding ways to influence the state which still provides many of the funds required for universities to stay in operation. One example of how private interests can affect that students freedom in learning comes from Tulane University which, refused to drop an academic program that sometimes represents citizens challenging petrochemical-industry environmental permits (Kuehn & Joy, 2010, p. 1). The industry threatened to bring financial punishment to the university by influencing state government officials to adopt legislation that would forfeit all state funding if a university offered certain types of law-clinic courses (Kuehn & Joy, 2010, p. 1). This is only one of many similar cases where the relationship between state officials and private industry have teamed up against the university which is designing courses and programs which provide real-world services and solutions to clients who otherwise would not have access to legal assistance (Kuehn & Joy, 2010, p. 2). Subjects ranging from law, journalism, geology and the environment have also raised eyebrows across the nation. Interestingly, the subjects and courses which are under attack by private interests and state governing bodies are all of the leftleaning variety or are serving liberal clientele. Even the Louisiana Supreme Court has become involved in ruling on these clinics by imposing restrictions on whom law school clinics can assist and what kinds of representation students can provide (Kuehn & Joy, 2010, p. 3). If this doesnt fall under the category of academic freedom abuse, a new definition is required. In contrast, it is possible to find the positive impacts of this new relationship when viewed more broadly. In Unpacking Faculty Engagement: The Types of Activities Faculty Members Report as Publicly Engaged Scholarship During Promotion and Tenure, one can find

Lesson Learned: How Corporate America Infringes on Academic Freedom

types and definitions of publicly engaged scholarship (Glass, Doberneck & Schweitzer, 2011, p. 12) which define dozens of ways that faculty, administration, the general public and even private interests do good work together. Since the real world doesnt run by one set of rules within one discipline, collaboration between corporate interests and higher education can also be beneficial. Changes made to the National Science Foundation in 1992 can illuminate on this idea more. The London School of Economics and Political Science noted, By perpetuating myths of determinant individual impacts from academic work all that universities, foundations and research sponsors achieve is to help sustain a nave and simplistic discourse about how impacts happen and how the contribute to modern social development (p. 1). Is the work done by academics, in and out of the classroom, important? Is it world-altering and contributing to social development, or is this idea of academic freedom being taken too seriously? The article continues, discovery-learning by societies and social groups often outpaces academic knowledge (p. 8). Academics, the article claims, are behind the curve and it can be deduced, for the scope of this article, that higher education would benefit from having the insight, experience and access that corporations and private groups can bring and finance. In conclusion, the battle between control of the classroom and the students hearts and minds is really just beginning. Faculty throughout the world, even in authoritarian-ruled countries like Iran, struggle to maintain academic freedomthere is little difference between government intervention in the classroom and corporate intervention. Both public and private institutions who seek to alter a professors voice or silence him/her altogether are at odds with a system that was built on higher ideals for the students and the scholars who teach them.

Lesson Learned: How Corporate America Infringes on Academic Freedom

References Glass, C., Doberneck, D. & Schweitzer, J. (2011). Unpacking Faculty Engagement: The Types of

Activities Faculty Members Report as Publicly Engaged Scholarship During Promotion and Tenure. Retrieved from http://0-www.eric.ed.gov.novacat.nova.edu/PDFS/EJ917872.pdf
Kuehn, R. & Joy, P. (2010). Kneecapping Academic Freedom. Retrieved from http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2010/ND/feat/kueh.htm Lee, J. & Clery, S. (2004). Key Trends in Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/pdfs/highered/academic/june04/Lee.qxp.pdf London School of Economics and Political Science, (2011). Impact of Social Sciences: Maximizing the Impact of Academic Research . Retrieved from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/the-handbook/