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Pedagogy 2.1 (2001) 151-154
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Invasion of the Corporate Body Snatchers
The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling the Corporate University and Creating True Higher Learning. By Stanley Aronowitz. Boston: Beacon, 2000.
Our universities are turning into elitist bubble-gum factories where students, after four years of processing, emerge as vocationalized drones with no sense of culture or education; they are automatons waiting to be placed somewhere in the work sector, often in an area outside their field of study. The corporatizing of universities becomes more serious with each passing year and shows no sign of slowing as attention is diverted from a dedication to education to a preoccupation with the almighty endowment fund. While corporatization has been a concern for several decades, only in the last ten years has the familiar ethic of scholarship--to advance and transmit knowledge--been replaced by the commodity fetishism of the marketplace. The ivory tower has turned into a pewter skyscraper where everyone involved in higher education, from students and faculty to administrators, is a shareholder.
In The Knowledge Factory Stanley Aronowitz continues this line of criticism, sparked by Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind in 1987 and pursued in one form or another by Henry Giroux, Cary Nelson, Stephen Watt, Edward Said, and many others. In a sardonic, witty narrative peppered with engaging anecdotes, Aronowitz moves beyond a decades-old debate into the very nature of the American university to provide a solution for the burgeoning problem of corporatization. [End Page 151]
According to Aronowitz, once the Cold War began, the university system gave way to research-centered training hubs whose primary goal was to train students for specific jobs. Colleges were transformed into trade schools. Students, once regarded as learners, became consumers and targets of marketing schemes--customers whose preferences were to be satisfied rather than challenged. Commodity has supplanted idealism as more students have enrolled in business and technical fields, leaving the social sciences and humanities barren. Most universities fail to see this as a problem because of the increase of students in the departments that receive most of the grants and endowments from outside donors, who eagerly await the graduation of their "investments." Aronowitz believes that their eagerness pressures faculty to keep grade point averages high and to keep the customers, on both ends, happy. Faculties are more like employees than members of communities dedicated to intellectual concerns: "Increasingly, the institutions of faculty control are losing their status and are viewed by administration as, at best, a nuisance whose utility for purposes of legitimation may have overreached its limit" (67).
While those who disagree with such changes could fight against the system, Aronowitz views resistance as futile due to the growing use of adjuncts and teaching assistants in place of assistant professors. That is, job security has overshadowed principles. Administrative and corporative power is placed above the purposes, needs, and desires of faculty and students. There is little cultivating of the critical minds of students and a lot of vocational training to gratify the interests of donors and parents. The crisis, according to Aronowitz, reflects an idealistic belief in the power of higher education as an institution that prepares people for life in the larger world. However, universities have defined "preparation" as training for specific jobs, not as universal and "wholesome" education. Bottom-line management and partnerships with corporations are given priority over the obligation to educate students, and when universities do get around to educating, the process is reduced to credentialing.
Of course, students are not the only ones who suffer; so do the faculty. Nearly half of all higher-education faculty are part-timers. Many of those lucky enough to be hired full-time are subjected to short-term contracts with no chance for tenure, so the educational workforce will be more flexible and diverse. Aronowitz's solution? Return to the passion and desire that first drove teachers and professors to unionize in order to get the benefits they deserved. They must now become "agents of a new educational imagination" [End Page 152] who must "reverse the de facto...