- Universities in the Marketplace, and: Academic Capitalism, and: Remaking the American University: Market Smart and Mission Centered
Is There a Way Out? Examining the Commercialization of Higher Education
In recent years, a variety of books have been published on the commodification and commercialization of higher education and the shift in the mission of higher education institutions from serving the public good. These texts synthesize and investigate a critical challenge that has been emerging over the last few decades, one that most commentators agree is changing the values and practices of campuses (Kezar, Chambers, & Burkhardt, 2005). For example, in previous decades, presidents reached out to communities and were critical commentators; student affairs administrators focused on student development. In more recent years, student affairs administrators wrestle with demands to become more market smart and to create revenues from student housing and bookstores. College presidents contend that they have more conflicts of interest because of research partnerships with the business sector and describe the intense demands of having to be entrepreneurial and raise money for the campus to supplement declining public funds and support. In this book review, I critique three recent books that address the commercialization of higher education, two of which suggest ways that leaders can confront this challenge. Each book describes the way in which commercialization has affected campuses and the factors that have contributed to this changed environment, and each examines the costs and benefits of commercialization. While all three books have a relatively similar message (we need to do more than allow a laissez-faire system of capitalism to prevail in the academy), I believe they all miss the mark by offering oversimplified solutions to the challenges confronting higher education in serving the public good. I highlight the need for scholarship on commercialization from a systems and cultural perspective in order to address one of the most compelling challenges that higher education has ever faced.
So, what is "the public good," and how is it being threatened by commercialization? Interestingly, each of the authors says little about the notion of the public good.1 Other recent commentators have noted that higher education's public role includes educating citizens for democratic engagement, supporting local [End Page 473] and regional communities, preserving knowledge and making it available to the community, partnering with social institutions such as government or health care in order to foster their missions, advancing knowledge through research, developing the arts and humanities, broadening access to ensure a diverse democracy, developing the intellectual talents of students, contributing to community and economic development, and creating leaders for various sectors (Kezar, Chambers, Burkhardt, 2005). While Derek Bok does not address the concept of the public good in his current book, his earlier book, Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Social Responsibilities of the Modern University (1982), addressed this issue. Since this earlier text provides context for Bok's latest book as well as for the other two books on commercialization, it is important to briefly review Bok's argument in Beyond the Ivory Tower and to understand the notion of the public good.
Many societal stakeholders attacked higher education in the 1960s for failing to truly meet the public interest, claiming that it had been unsuccessful in creating access for certain groups, had become too involved with classified research related to the war efforts, was not involved in international humanitarian efforts, and was not involved enough in broader political engagement. In this landmark book, Bok attempts to provide a framework and rationale for how, why, and when universities should be involved in meeting societal needs and how they can best serve the public good. He notes that the task has become increasingly complex since higher education has had increased opportunities to serve society since World War II, but he does not feel that universities should respond to every opportunity or demand. In contrast to earlier perspectives...