Selling the Soul of Academia (A Guest Post from Steven Mintz!)

I have the great pleasure of introducing an article by my friend, Steven Mintz, better known as the Ethics Sage. Among many other things he is doing, he has a recently developed new blog site: http://www.higheredethicswatch.com/

So, please read and enjoy! As always, like and share whenever possible!

Selling the Soul of Academia

Commercialism a Threat to Academic Freedom

I just read about Texas A&M ‘s lottery to sell hotel reservations in a facility across the street from Kyle Field, where the Aggies play their football games. For a mere $100,000, A&M supporters and alums can stay close to campus and watch Aggie football games. Sound over-the-top? Well, to date 750 alums have expressed interest in the program. If you’re interested in a suite, you can enter the lottery and start the bidding from $125,000 to $475,000.

Guaranteed room options, as their called, seems to be gaining support at colleges and universities across the U.S. Universities, especially those with top-flight sports teams, are always seeking to monetize their athletic programs. But, are these universities selling their soul to commercial interests in return for a seat at the table? Or, in this case, a room across the stadium for long-distance travelers.

I have previously blogged about conflicts in the biotech industry and research by professors,[1] and increasing commercialism at academic institutions industry[2]. In the latter, I pointed out that Penn State University and the University of Minnesota had signed contracts with Pepsi-Cola ($14 million) and Coca-Cola ($28 million), respectively, giving the beverage companies sole rights on campus to sell their products. These pay to play agreements limit choice and should be discussed in classrooms in the context of free or speech and whether such agreements are ethical.

Other conflicts of interest abound including selling patents developed by university researchers to pharmaceutical companies and conducting “independent research” on the efficacy of new drugs in their experimental phase. Does anyone believe the researchers would write a crucial report IF the pharmaceutical companies are donors to the university?

I recently read an insightful publication, University Inc: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education, in which the author, Jennifer Washburn, states[3]:

“During the past two decades, commercial forces have transformed virtually every aspect of academic life. Corporate funding of universities is growing and the money comes with strings attached. In return for corporate largesse, universities are acting more and more like for-profit patent factories, while professors are behaving more like businessmen. Secrecy is replacing the free flow of basic knowledge, university funds are shifting from the humanities to more commercially lucrative science labs, and the skill of teaching is valued less and less. The consequences of the new academic-industrial complex are wide-ranging and disturbing.”

So, what’s the problem with a university raising funds from corporate and other commercial interests?

  • The monies often go right back into athletic activities, not to improving classroom instruction.
  • Academic independence is threatened. Imagine if Pepsi and Coke used child labor overseas. Would the universities criticize the donors?
  • The pay for play arrangements send the wrong message to students that out in the real world they may have to compromise their integrity to gain business for their employers.
  • Funded professors are taken out of the classroom to do research and paid enormous salaries as well. One recent study reported at least ten professors getting $500,000 or more[4].
  • Underpaid lecturers are brought in to teach those classes and, rather than increasing their salaries, more students and/or larger classes are assigned thereby straining their already over-taxed schedules.

These are just a few of the ethical issues. What bothers me the most is it’s another step down the ethical slippery slope, like denying the right to free speech of those with controversial points of view. Rather than opening up the minds of university students, colleges and universities are contributing to the closing of their minds.

Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, is a Professor Emeritus at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. His new blog on higher education ethics can be found at: http://www.higheredethicswatch.com/. Visit Steve’s website at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/.

[1] http://www.ethicssage.com/2012/02/academic-freedom-and-the-commercialization-of-universities.html.

 

[2] http://www.ethicssage.com/2011/07/the-selling-of-american-universities.html.

 

[3] https://muse.jhu.edu/article/195083.

 

[4] https://thebestschools.org/features/highest-paid-college-professors-america/.

 

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