In December of 2008, the Monitor on Psychology published an article concerning the "corporatization of higher education," which discusses the loss of values of the educational system as a result of the increasing reliance on corporate relationships and funding.
This concept treats a university as a business, professors and advisers as employees, presidents as CEOs, and students as customers.
This treatment of education has been common for many years, especially in the athletic realm, but in the words of Harvard President Derek Bok, "What is new about today's commercial practices is not their existence but their unprecedented size and scope."
University athletics have always been motivated by income, but this drive for profit is now intruding into the academic sectors, including teaching and research. This is realized by offering organizations the rights to sponsor certain courses, endow professorships, market their research, and as a result, to advertise on campus.
This recent increase in the commercialization of education can be attributed to a number of factors, particularly the rise of consumerism, a diminution in public support for education, and the demand for accountability, as well as an inevitable decline in public funding as the country's economy suffers.
While substantial amounts of money are required to maintain and run a university, and a lack of federal funding necessitates other means of financial support, the question arises whether the consequences of commercialization are worth corporatization.
For instance, in a situation where the student is viewed as the customer, consumer satisfaction becomes paramount. The growing use of student evaluations causes professors to feel (largely correctly) that promotion or advancement depends on positive reviews, resulting in the professors' struggle for popularity among their students.
Unfortunately, this popularity is obtained not only through charisma, but grade inflation as well. Since the competitive nature of the job market and graduate school admissions has caused a willingness to sacrifice a thorough education for a high GPA, the majority of students easily overlook such problems.
Corporatization also leads to certain money-saving techniques that may be detrimental to education. For example, the use of temporary employees unqualified for tenure (and therefore requiring a smaller income), in lieu of certified professors, is on the rise. Such workers currently comprise 68 percent of university faculty appointments.
Further, when a university begins to rely too heavily on corporate funding, unethical sacrifices are often made.
For instance, in the case of Nancy Olivieri, a doctor doing research for a university on certain drugs, a discovery was made concerning potentially fatal side effects of a drug she tested. However, because of the funding corporation's financial interest in this particular drug, Olivieri was pressured to conceal her discoveries. When she refused, she was fired from the university.
However, there are some suggestions toward ethical guidelines for corporatization.
Instead of only student evaluations, universities should use reviews in combination with certain measures of students' learning to determine the quality of professors. Martin Heesacker, professor at the University of Florida, points also to the efficiency corporatization has caused.
As universities struggle to conserve funds, courses, majors and even entire degrees have been cut if they are deemed unnecessary.
Though Heesacker indicates such steps as advantageous, cutting programs is clearly a sacrifice in education, and therefore not necessarily positive.
Ellen Mitchell of the Illinois Institute of Technology claims that such approaches "assume that what motivates people in the industrial world is similar to what motivates people in the academic world," a notion with which she disagrees.
Instead, professors and faculty in her opinion are more concerned with educational goals rather than financial ones, and therefore are not generally willing to make such sacrifices.
Regardless of such disadvantages, the reality is that declining financial aid for higher education requires schools to raise money elsewhere in addition to increased efficiency or cost cutting. If this necessitates corporatization, then universities must corporatize carefully in order to avoid damaging consequences.
This involves universities exploring all possible corporate collaborations to determine the most beneficial before getting involved with any business.
This also entails increased involvement by both professors and students in deciding which partnerships best represent faculty interest and academic strength.
With sturdy educational ideals unwilling to be sacrificed, a university has no excuse to compromise learning in the name of corporatizing.