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Technology and the Commodification of Higher Education

The following article is adapted from David Noble’s new book, Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education, just published by Monthly Review Press. Noble, a professor at York University, should need no introduction to MR readers. For the past three decades he has established himself as one of the great scholars and historians of technology, demystifying the subject and placing technology in the necessary social and political economic context. His publications include America by Design: Science, Technology, and The Rise of Corporate Capitalism (1977), Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation (1984), and The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and The Spirit of Invention (1997, all published by Alfred A. Knopf).

For nearly all of that time, Noble has been a critic of the “business-model” of higher education in the United States, an effort to subject learning to marketing practices, bottom-line return on investment, and capital accumulation, without regard to the demands of learning and scholarship. As Noble points out, the use of these techniques are all too widespread in this country’s universities. These days they feature prominently in the push for “distance education,” Noble’s critique of which is central to this article and to the argument in his book.

On the basis of his scholarly accomplishments, a search committee selected Noble in 2001 to be appointed to the endowed Woodsworth Professorship in the Humanities at Simon Fraser University. In violation of every academic norm, the administration is blocking the appointment, presumably on political grounds. Noble’s criticism of online education and the corporatization of academia in Digital Diploma Mills brings together and crystallizes his pacesetting work in this area.

The Editors

All discussion of distance education these days invariably turns into a discussion of technology, an endless meditation on the wonders of computer-mediated instruction. Identified with a revolution in technology, distance education has thereby assumed the aura of innovation and the appearance of a revolution itself, a bold departure from tradition, a signal step toward a preordained and radically transformed higher educational future. In the face of such a seemingly inexorable technology-driven destiny and the seductive enchantment of technological transcendence, skeptics are silenced and all questions are begged. But we pay a price for this technological fetishism, which so dominates and delimits discussion. For it prevents us from perceiving the more fundamental significance of today’s drive for distance education, which, at bottom, is not really about technology, nor is it anything new. We have been here before.

In essence, the current mania for distance education is about the commodification of higher education, of which computer technology is merely the latest medium, and it is, in reality, more a rerun than a revolution, bearing striking resemblance to a past today’s enthusiasts barely know about or care to acknowledge, an earlier episode in the commodification of higher education known as correspondence instruction or, more quaintly, home study. Then as now, distance education has always been not so much technology-driven as profit-driven, whatever the mode of delivery. The common denominator linking the two episodes is not technology but the pursuit of profit in the guise and name of higher education. A careful examination of the earlier, pre-computer, episode in distance education enables us to place the current mania not only in historical perspective but also in its proper political-economic context. The chief aim here is to try to shift our attention from technology to political economy, and from fantasies about the future to the far more sobering lessons of the past.

It is important to spell out what is meant by both education and commodification, since these terms are often used with little precision. To begin with, education must be distinguished from training (which is arguably more suitable for distance delivery), because the two are so often conflated. In essence, training involves the honing of a person’s mind so that it can be used for the purposes of someone other than that person. Training thus typically entails a radical divorce between knowledge and the self. Here knowledge is usually defined as a set of skills or a body of information designed to be put to use, to become operational, only in a context determined by someone other than the trained person; in this context the assertion of self is not only counterproductive, it is subversive to the enterprise. Education is the exact opposite of training in that it entails not the disassociation but the utter integration of knowledge and the self, in a word, self-knowledge. Here knowledge is defined by and, in turn, helps to define, the self. Knowledge and the knowledgeable person are basically inseparable.

Education is a process that necessarily entails an interpersonal (not merely interactive) relationship between people—student and teacher (and student and student) that aims at individual and collective self-knowledge. (Whenever people recall their educational experiences they tend to remember, above all, not courses or subjects or the information imparted but people, people who changed their minds or their lives, people who made a difference in their developing sense of themselves. It is a sign of our current confusion about education that we must be reminded of this obvious fact: that the relationship between people is central to the educational experience.) Education is a process of becoming for all parties, based upon mutual recognition and validation and centering upon the formation and evolution of identity. The actual content of the educational experience is defined by this relationship between people and the chief determinant of quality education is the establishment and enrichment of this relationship.

Like education, the word commodification (or commoditization) is used rather loosely with regard to education and some precision might help the discussion. A commodity is something created, grown, produced, or manufactured for exchange on the market. There are, of course, some things which are bought and sold on the market which were not created for that purpose, such as labor and land—what the political economist Karl Polanyi referred to as “fictitious commodities.” Most educational offerings, although divided into units of credit and exchanged for tuition, are fictitious commodities in that they are not created by the educator strictly with this purpose in mind. Here we will be using the term commodity, not in this fictitious, more expansive, sense but rather in its classical, restricted sense, to mean something expressly created for market exchange. The commodification of higher education, then, refers to the deliberate transformation of the educational process into commodity form, for the purpose of commercial transaction.

The commodification of education requires the interruption of this fundamental educational process and the disintegration and distillation of the educational experience into discrete, reified, and ultimately saleable things or packages of things. In the first step toward commodification, attention is shifted from the experience of the people involved in the educational process to the production and inventorying of an assortment of fragmented “course materials”: syllabi, lectures, lessons, and exams (now referred to in the aggregate as “content”). As anyone familiar with higher education knows, these common instruments of instruction barely reflect what actually takes place in the educational experience, and lend an illusion of order and predictability to what is, at its best, an essentially unscripted and undetermined process. Second, these fragments are removed or “alienated” from their original context, the actual educational process itself, and from their producers, the teachers, and are assembled as “courses,” which take on an existence independent of and apart from those who created and gave flesh to them. This is perhaps the most critical step in commodity formation. The alienation of ownership of and control over course material (through surrender of copyright) is crucial to this step. Finally, the assembled “courses” are exchanged for a profit on the market, which determines their value, by their “owners,” who may or may not have any relationship to the original creators and participants in the educational process. At the expense of the original integrity of the educational process, instruction has here been transformed into a set of deliverable commodities, and the end of education has become not self-knowledge but the making of money. In the wake of this transformation, teachers become commodity producers and deliverers, subject to the familiar regime of commodity production in any other industry, and students become consumers of yet more commodities. The relationship between teacher and student is thus reestablished, in an alienated mode, through the medium of the market, and the buying and selling of commodities takes on the appearance of education. But it is, in reality, only a shadow of education, an assemblage of pieces without the whole.

Again, under this new regime, painfully familiar to skilled workers in every industry since the dawn of industrial capitalism, educators confront the harsh realities of commodity production: speed-up, routinization of work, greater work discipline and managerial supervision, reduced autonomy, job insecurity, employer appropriation of the fruits of their labor, and, above all, the insistent managerial pressures to reduce labor costs in order to turn a profit. Thus, the commoditization of instruction leads invariably to the “proletarianization” or, more politely, the “deprofessionalization” of the professoriate. (As investors shift their focus from health care to education, the deprofessionalization experienced by physicians is being extended to professors, who now face what some Wall Street spokesmen are already calling EMOs (education maintenance organizations), the education counterpart to HMOs (health maintenance organizations.)

But there is a paradox at the core of this transformation. Quality education is labor-intensive; it depends upon a low teacher–student ratio, and significant interaction between the two parties—the one utterly unambiguous result of a century of educational research. Any effort to offer quality in education must therefore presuppose a substantial and sustained investment in educational labor, whatever the medium of instruction. The requirements of commodity production, however, undermine the labor-intensive foundation of quality education (and with it, quality products people will willingly pay for). Pedagogical promise and economic efficiency are thus in contradiction. Here is the Achilles heel of distance education. In the past as well as the present, distance educators have always insisted that they offer a kind of intimate and individualized instruction not possible in the crowded, competitive environment of the campus. Theirs is an improved, enhanced education. To make their enterprise profitable, however, they have been compelled to reduce their instructional costs to a minimum, thereby undermining their pedagogical promise. The invariable result has been not only a degraded labor force but a degraded product as well. Thus, what is at stake in the struggle over the commodification of education is not only the professional autonomy and working conditions of educators but our understanding of education itself.

In the past five years, nearly all post-secondary institutions have climbed aboard the distance education bandwagon in search of new revenues and in fear for their piece of higher education turf, only to discover the hard way the harsh realities of their enterprise. At the same time, however, in league with their private-sector partners, they have successfully sought and secured taxpayer subsidy of their online efforts, thereby partially offsetting their losses and the absence of any real market demand. In addition, university administrators have learned that the technology of online education, whether cost effective or not, has afforded them a relatively disarming way to restructure their institutions to their managerial advantage. Meanwhile, faculty resistance to this restructuring, and to the deprofessionalization of the professoriate that it entails, has increased and gained coherence and confidence.

As more colleges and universities have moved squarely into the realm of commercial online education, alone or in collaboration with private-sector partners, the distinction between nonprofit and for-profit institutions has been blurred to the vanishing point. Not so very long ago, the post-secondary establishment railed against their for-profit online counterparts (in particular the University of Phoenix and Jones International), in defense of their own monopoly of higher education. The major trade associations like the American Council on Education and the American Association of Universities indignantly opposed formal accreditation of the pariah “for-profits” and lobbied virtuously against any relaxation of federal requirements for student aid that might support their “virtual” rivals. Today, these same organizations are striving to keep up with the Joneses. Joining forces with their erstwhile adversaries, they now rail against any and all state regulations that might cramp their own for-profit propensities, especially by limiting their part-time and distance-education offerings. In particular, they now vigorously oppose federal requirements for student aid eligibility—such as the “twelve-hour rule” defining the minimum full-time course load and the “50 percent rule” restricting institutions from offering more than half of their courses at a distance—which were intended to safeguard public support of quality education against the fraud of diploma mills. In essence, universities are disconcertingly departing from academic tradition. Not only are they setting up their distinctly for-profit subsidiaries, like Columbia’s Fathom or New York University’s NYU Online. They are fast becoming de facto unabashed “for-profits” themselves, and doing so with abandon.

The academic rush to commercial enterprise has been a rocky ride for most institutions, however, especially in the wake of the dot-com collapse. The unanticipated costs associated with the development of online capability combined with an unstable and uncertain, and highly competitive, market belatedly gave even the most ardent enthusiasts pause. “Reality is setting in among many distance education administrators,” reported the Chronicle of Higher Education. “They are realizing that putting programs online doesn’t necessarily bring riches.” Accordingly, now “distance-education leaders predict that some administrators will slow or stop their expansion into online learning.” Even the vanguard of private-sector online-education companies, whose siren song seduced many an administrator, felt the squeeze and cut back. E College laid off thirty-five of its employees; UNEXT eliminated fifty-two people; and Onlinelearning.net reportedly trimmed a third of its staff. What industry analyst Trace Urdan of E.R. Hambrecht and Company said about UNEXT could be said about them all: puffed up by investors with dreams of IPOs (initial public offerings), they are now “dealing with the realities of the private market.”

Facing a fickle future, the intrepid entrepreneurs of online education turned in time-honored fashion to the taxpayer to bail them out. In addition to lobbying for indirect public subsidy through federal student aid, they have also become direct beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse through the Education Department’s expanded Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships, which they lobbied vigorously both to create and enlarge. Most importantly, however, these strident capitalists have done what so many of their forebears have done before them when they found themselves in trouble: they have called in the cavalry.

After several years of lobbying by vendors and universities and their trade associations like Educom/Educause and the American Academy of Distance Education and Training, the Clinton-Gore White House, by means of its Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, secured the cooperation of the Department of Defense in artificially creating a market for these champions of free enterprise, at taxpayer expense. Announced first by the Arm, in August 2000, and then followed up by the Navy and Air Force, the combined armed services decided to dedicate almost a billion dollars over five years to provide taxpayer-subsidized university-based distance education for active-duty personnel (and eventually their families as well). Overnight, the Department of Defense became the largest consumer of distance education in the land. The pioneers of online education had at last found their missing market.

The story is familiar. Throughout the history of industrial capitalism the military has served as midwife and handmaid to private enterprise, supplying taxpayer support for technical innovation and thereafter providing a taxpayer-created market for new processes and products. The Army did it early on with interchangeable parts manufacture for muskets, which became the model for the so-called American system of manufactures. The Navy did it with the revolution in shipping and longshoring called “containerization.” And the Air Force did it with the automation of metalworking by means of “numerical control,” starting in the aerospace industry, which gave rise to computer-based batch-process manufacturing.

These epochal military-sponsored developments produced a radical restructuring of these industries, not only in terms of industrial process and product design and manufacture, but also in terms of labor relations, signaling the de-skilling and ultimate demise of gunsmiths, dockworkers, and machinists. Together the armed services—the leading training organizations in the world and the primary source of nearly all instructional technologies of the last half century—are now undertaking to underwrite a similarly radical restructuring of the higher education industry, at the expense of the professoriate.

In August 2000, the Department of Defense sponsored an industry conference to kick off the new military distance-education initiative, get feedback from key industry players, and give the same players an opportunity to position themselves at the public trough. Over a thousand vendors, administrators, and military personnel were invited, but no students or faculty, whose exclusion followed a pattern established earlier with gunsmiths, dockworkers, and machinists. Speakers at the conference hailed from Educause and UNEXT rather than from the arts and sciences.

Later that month, the Army revealed its six-hundred-million-dollar distance-education initiative. Citing free distance education as an incentive for recruitment and reenlistment, the Army announced plans to issue a primary contract with a private-sector “integrator” and subcontracts with other private vendors, colleges, and universities, whose staffs, in the wake of the industry conference, were no doubt already at work on proposals for a piece of the action. “The Army will become the largest broker and customer of distance learning in the United States,” the Chronicle of Higher Education noted, describing the Army program as a “bonanza for colleges looking to either create or expand online offerings,” a bold initiative that “could reassure college administrators venturing into distance learning.” “This is very concrete,” Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera declared. “If you are trying to develop this type of program, you can now go to your own president and say, ‘Look, there is a huge market out there.’” In January 2001, the Army announced the successful bidders for the Army University Access Online contracts. The accounting powerhouse PriceWaterhouse Coopers was selected to be the program “integrator,” having won out in the competition with IBM, Arthur Andersen, and Electronic Data Systems. The initial roster of the program team included ten private firms and twenty-nine colleges, and other participants would be added later. Corporate partners included Blackboard, Compaq, Fiberlink, Intel Online Services, and PeopleSoft. Academic partners included Florida State University, Indiana University, Kansas State University, Penn State, SUNY Empire State College, the University of Washington, Utah State University, and the University of Massachusetts. “This is the largest e-learning program of its kind,” bellowed Michael Sousa, director of Price Waterhouse Cooper’s worldwide corporate training program. Judging from the effects of similar military programs upon other industries, the Department of Defense distance-education program is intended to have and is bound to have far-reaching consequences for higher education. Distance-education enthusiast Bob Kerrey, former senator and now New School University president, explained the potential significance of the program. “Not only is this a forward-looking investment, but an investment that will have an impact on everything that is going on in all of our educational communities.” As the Chronicle of Higher Education observed, the program “will likely spur the development of new methods and technologies to provide distance learning and online courses at every level of education” in the process, “it will create a new kind of model for delivering education.”

And just what kind of model might that be? Again, judging from earlier military experience in other industries, it is most likely to entail the familiar patterns of command, control, and precisely specified performance, in accordance with the hallmark military procurement principles of uniformity, standardization, modularization, capital-intensivity, system compatibility, interchangeability, measurability, and accountability—in short, a model of education as a machine, with standardized products and prescribed processes. The influence of such extra-academic military criteria on higher education is bound to reinforce and extend further already accelerating extra-academic commercial tendencies toward training and deprofessionalization.

The U.S. military has long been the world’s leader in on-the-job training and has, over the last century, developed and perfected a vast array of training techniques and technologies, many of which have subsequently been adopted by the civilian education system. The goal is the efficient training of precision-skilled personnel prepared to do a predetermined job according to specifications whenever and wherever necessary. The military (and now corporate) training slogan “just-in-time education,” which derives from the famous Japanese system of inventory control, says it all: skilled personnel or, more precisely, the disembodied skills themselves (the person, presumably the focus of education, drops out of the picture) are viewed as inventory items in organizational planning. The military training regime is designed and refined to produce this product, in the shortest amount of time, with the least resources, and to the greatest effect. This is the model of education that will now be imposed upon higher education via the Department of Defense distance-education program.

According to Diane Stoskopf, director of the Army Continuing Education System, the specifications for university involvement in the military distance-education program “will be very detailed.” Course content, curricula, and teaching methods, transparent in online format, will all be subject to military prescription, monitoring, and review and, hence, to implicit ideological censorship and a routinized abridgement of academic freedom—the customer, after all, is always right. All of the elements of instruction will be standardized and rendered interchangeable (through modularized “reusable content objects”) in order to eliminate error and redundancy among subcontractors and guarantee quality control. “Getting schools to standardize their way of doing business is going to be a major obstacle,” Stoskopf acknowledged. That such military standardization might entail an abandonment or relaxation of academic standards is also readily acknowledged. “Colleges in the Army program may also find themselves pushing against traditional academic boundaries to make the distance education program work,” Stoskopf noted, such as giving academic credit in “non-traditional forms.”

If the military distance-education program tilts toward a university-sanctioned regimen of skills training at the expense of academic norms and educational quality, it also accelerates the move toward the automation and deprofessionalization of university instruction and constitutes yet another threat to the very occupation of the professoriate. The first casualties of the program will be the military’s own in-house training staff, whose work will be outsourced via the Internet to the universities. But university staff will surely pay a price as well. As the military, in collaboration with the university administration, underwrites an expansion of university online infrastructure and dictates the form and content of course development and delivery, faculty will face further abridgement of their academic freedom and autonomy, greater managerial supervision and discipline, a degradation of their working conditions and a deskilling of their work, the elimination of “redundant” courses, an appropriation of their intellectual property rights, a weakening of their collective bargaining power, and, ultimately, a reduction in their numbers. In short, the military presence will magnify, at taxpayer expense, the untoward impact that commercialized distance education is already having on institutions of higher education.

Whether financially remunerative or not—and with enough direct and indirect taxpayer subsidies who’s to know or care?—the development of online education is nevertheless enabling administrators to restructure their institutions and labor relations to their managerial advantage, at faculty expense. At the heart of this transformation is the Taylorization of instructional labor, in which the teaching function is broken down into discrete components and assigned to different detail workers, a process described by Adam Smith and Charles Babbage at the dawn of the industrial revolution and perfected by Frederick Taylor, the father of so-called scientific management. This transformation is well underway in academia. At NYU Online, for example, which considers itself in the vanguard of institutional change, the job of instruction is assigned to a team of designated specialists in course design, development, content, delivery, and distribution. Where once a single professor would perform all of these tasks as an integrated whole, the detail workers now do only their part, with far less control over the process and substantially less pay—precisely the pattern established long ago with the shift from craft to industrial labor that culminated in the assembly worker of modern industry. As Bill Scheuerman, president of the New York State United University Professions, accurately described what is happening from the viewpoint of the faculty, it amounts to nothing less than the “disassembling and deskilling of the profession.”

The deskilled job description that emerges from this process of deprofessionalization will no doubt become the template for future generations of academic labor. “I think the whole concept of adjunct professorship is going to be very important,” predicts NYU Online’s CEO, Gordon Macomber. Indeed, in the wake of this transformation of higher education thus far, we already witness the appearance of a new archetypal university instructor, one perfectly suited to the investor-imagined “university of the future.” With wonder and excitement, the Chronicle of Higher Education heralds the advent of a “new type of professor,” namely, the “rapidly emerging type of distance education faculty member.” This latest incarnation of university instructor hails not from academia but from the “corporate world.” For this new breed, hired more for their “business savvy than their degree,” “a focus on the bottom line is normal; tenure isn’t.” Says one such distance educator, “I love not only the teaching but the selling of it.”

In this decidedly commercial ethos of distance education, administrators are predictably trying to win the cooperation of faculty by offering them a piece of the action. This is the latest strategy for getting the faculty to give up their intellectual property rights to course materials. Several high-profile “experiments” are underway, at North Texas University and Stevens Institute, for example. At both institutions, faculty are now given the incentive of royalty payments for the use of their course materials by the university as well as a part of the revenues from the licensing of these materials to other institutions. And, indeed, a good number of shortsighted faculty are trading their ownership and control for a fatter pay envelope, and even boasting about it. But the last laugh may not be theirs. At Stevens, for example, faculty may take their course materials with them, if and when they leave, only if they pay Stevens a licensing fee. More important, fixated on their own bottom line, they have lost sight of the larger picture of the deprofessionalization of the faculty, to which they are wittingly or unwittingly contributing through their actions, and they have failed to understand that the point of retaining professional ownership and control over the content of courses is not the enrichment of the professoriate but the preservation of quality higher education.

Of course, not everyone is buying the new model of higher education. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education report, a recent Pentagon appropriation bill that includes some funding for distance education stipulates that the Army must continue using traditional classroom instruction in a training program for students at historically black colleges and universities rather than the distance education preferred by the Army. Apparently some members of Congress representing the interests of black constituents view distance education as a degraded, less valuable, form of education and have insisted that their constituents receive the genuine article instead. According to some, a “digital divide” separates the haves from the have-nots in that only the privileged have access to computer technology, further disadvantaging the less privileged. In the case of distance education, however, the digital divide is turned on its head, with the have-nots being compelled to take their courses online while the haves get to do it in person. The dissenting clause in the appropriation bill is evidence that at least some are beginning to catch on to this reality and defy it.

At the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, meanwhile, some of the elite have come to understand as well that distance education represents but a shadow of a genuine education. In 2001 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that it is planning to put all of its course material on websites for free Internet distribution. Of course, MIT enjoys a secure market niche and plenty of funding, which affords it a degree of freedom unknown to most universities and enables it therefore to avoid some of the competitive compulsions of the higher education community. But the decision also reflects an understanding that students pay close to $40,000 a year to enroll at MIT for more than course materials. Of course, there are the benefits of a coveted degree and career-making connections, but there is also the quality education that comes from direct contact with fine teachers. As one promoter of the website distribution idea, civil engineering professor Steven Lerman, explained, “the syllabus and lecture notes are not an education, the education is what you do with the materials.” No MIT bachelor’s degree is offered online.

Such skepticism about distance education on the part of both the elite and the socially disadvantaged reflects a growing sophistication about what exactly is at stake here. Another sign is the growing struggle over the future of higher education, the context in which these Digital Diploma Mills articles were framed, and, in particular, the increasing and maturing resistance on the part of faculty organizations. A critical moment in this evolution was reached at roughly the same time the Department of Defense launched its distance-education initiative. At the end of August 2000, a potentially historic meeting was held at the Carnegie Institute in Washington. The meeting was called by the National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest, an advocacy organization founded in 1983 by the author, Leonard Minsky, Ralph Nader, and others to fight against the corporatization of higher education. It brought together the leaders of the most progressive faculty unions in the United States and Canada. In attendance were representatives from the California Faculty Association, the union of the Cal State system and the largest higher education affiliate of the National Education Association; the United University Professions, the union of the SUNY system and the largest higher education affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers; the Professional Staff Congress, the union of the CUNY system, the largest urban university system in the United States; the American Association of University Professors; and the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the umbrella federation of faculty associations in Canada. The purpose of the meeting was to explore the possibility of establishing a common agency and strategy to fight against the commercial hijacking of public higher education and the entrenchment of a new “intellectual property regime” in academia.

Faculty organizations are becoming ever more alert to the fact that seemingly benign, progressive, and “technology-driven” administration distance-education initiatives may constitute a threat to faculty autonomy, intellectual property, and job security. At the same time, they are recognizing that faculty represent the last line of defense against the wholesale commercialization of academia, of which the commodification of instruction is just the latest manifestation, and that their fight is of a piece with the larger effort to preserve and enhance public higher education. They are fighting back, therefore, in myriad ways and on both local and national levels. The Washington meeting signalled a crystallization and potential consolidation of these struggles, and focused not upon this or that particular battle but upon the entire regime of intellectual property itself as inimical to the culture of academia. Decades after academia divested itself of classified research on behalf of the national security state on the grounds that such practice was in conflict with the free and open exchange of ideas to which university culture is dedicated, the academy has adopted practices on behalf of private corporations that have the very same corrosive consequences.

Participants expressed their concerns about the conversion of intellectual activity into commodity form for commercial sale, by means of patents, copyright, and licenses on these; about the resulting incremental enclosure of the “knowledge commons,” through an array of proprietary arrangements, into a patchwork of private monopolies; about how universities have been adopting the corporate model of operation and outlook as they lock themselves into the corporate embrace, at the sacrifice of the core values of the academy; about the erosion of university culture as campuses have become a closed world of secret deals, non-disclosure agreements, prepublication reviews—the ensemble of practices that define the intellectual property regime; and about the campus atmosphere of silence, intimidation, and self-censorship that attends these arrangements and signals the demise of free speech and academic freedom.

Participants noted that these fundamental changes in higher education were the work of a relative handful of cynical and self-seeking, but otherwise perhaps well-intentioned, administrators who in reality constitute a distinct minority in academia, as compared with faculty, students, and the taxpaying public who support institutions of higher education. The participants resolved to try to reaffirm educational ideals, and to strive to recapture the ideological, rhetorical, and political initiative and moral high ground in the debates about higher education—in order to reinvigorate a non-commercial conception of higher education and reconsecrate the intrinsic rather than mere utility value of universities. On behalf of those who truly embody education, teachers and students, as well as the larger community that education is meant to serve in a democratic society, the participants determined to reclaim this precious and unique social space as a realm of freedom, of open access, debate, inquiry, and learning—a place, in short, where the habits and highest ideals of democracy are a way of life. This, in essence, is the challenge before us. It’s a tall order, to be sure, but it usually is.

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