The University, Accountability, and Market Discipline in the Late 1990s
Jun 10th, 2010 | By Dr. Michael Sosteric | Category: Featured Articles, Michael Sosteric, Political Economy of Higher Ed
This article originally appeared in Volume Three of The Electronic Journal of Sociology. It is reproduced here as part of the debate on the challenges of higher education.
This article originally appeared in Volume Three of The Electronic Journal of Sociology. It is reproduced here as part of the debate on the challenges of higher education.
Canada has a well-known history of telecommunications innovation. What many Canadians don’t know is that Ericsson does as well, with new ideas flowing from our research and development centres for over 100 years. That’s why Ericsson is funding the Centre for Wireless Communications at the University of Waterloo, the first graduate school of its kind in Canada. Soon, CWC graduates will make us proud with creative new wireless solutions made in Canada. Stimulating innovation is a mark of Ericsson’s leadership, both in Canada and around the world. You’re going to hear more from Ericsson.Advertisement, Maclean’s, March 16, 1998
In the past two decades in Canada, as in the UK before it,” there can hardly be a school, hospital, social services department, university or college …that has not in some way become permeated by the language of enterprise…. from the hospital to the railway station, from the classroom to the museum, the nation finds itself translated. ‘Patients’, ‘parents’, ‘passengers’ and ‘pupils’ are reimaged as ‘customers’” (du Gay and Salaman, 1992: 622). Business attitudes and speech, plus the shades of meaning associated with market theories have engulfed primary and secondary school systems (Sinclair, Ironside, and Seifert, 1996; Firestone, 1994; Ball, 1993). Discourses of efficiency, accountability, and consumerism have transformed the public sector and overflowed into the university, threatening academe’s principles of social betterment, its spaces of public debate, its teaching and its research. The university has become hooked on the discourse of the market-driven enterprise.
The outward signs are the business logos and trademarks that permeate Canadian universities. Pepsi has the monopoly at University of Calgary food courts, while at the University of Alberta, Coca Cola monopolises the campus. Students at the University of Calgary’s Centre for International Peace and Understanding and Fine Arts attend lectures inside” The Husky Oil Great Hall,” or meet peers and talk over ideas in” The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Hub” or” the Scotia Bank Milling Area.”1 Corporate names mark the entrance ways to buildings on many university campuses. Athabasca University has even placed trademarks on its slogans” Learning Without LimitsTM” and” Canada’s Open UniversityTM.” And as the University of Alberta tells us,” it makes sense” (or is that cents?). Similar patterns exist at universities across the country (Dwyer, 1997).
Academic positions, teaching and research are also named, marked, and shaped by tied aid. Tied aid is unlike grants and other forms of donations. This money comes with strings attached. As Bruneau notes, it a common practice these days.” …old fashioned philanthropy …unencumbered gifts…become scarce in a period when ‘inputs’ are nearly always tied to ‘outputs’” (Bruneau, 1998). At the University of Alberta, the Networks of Centres of Excellence on Sustainable Forest Management is funded, in part, by the forest industry and, in the main, by public funds. Centre representatives legitimate the union of public and private money by arguing that Centre research “tackles relevant problems and focuses on realistic solutions,” and” works closely with those organisations that are in the best position to implement the results of the Network’s research.”2 This means university graduate students and their professors carry out research for, and work closely with, the pulp, paper and forestry companies who exploit the public forests of Canada.
Cultural theorists use the term” discourse” to describe” the cultural ‘fixing’ of certain meanings, and their constant reproduction and circulation.” The fixing of a discourse brings closure to social debate. It shifts attention away from how explanations and justifications are constructed and how cultural meanings are embedded in these justifications. As a result,” other possible ways of making sense … have been absented, discouraged or closed out” (O’Sullivan et al., 1994: 93). This leaves a form of intellectual totalitarianism in the absence of critical awareness. In higher education, market discourses of accountability, enterprise, and efficiency are pressuring teachers and administrators to see themselves as providers of a service to consumers. As such thinking about education penetrates the academy, and funding cuts trickle down, increasingly we are in danger of losing much of the substance of the higher education.
The Service University and Market Discipline
In the late 1980s Newson and Buchbinder (1988) outlined the sociological conditions, inside and outside universities, that gave us the” service university vision.” They encouraged analysis of the social and political context in which linkages between universities and corporations occurred. Since that time, significant changes have occurred that have forced a much tighter union between university and corporation. Increased funding cuts to universities have altered the make-up of university budgets, putting more pressure on universities to seek alternative funding sources.
Alternative funding can come from a number of areas none of which increase the independence of the university. One source is increased tuition fees. In 1980 universities received $6.44 in grants for each dollar collected in tuition fees. By 1995 the figure had dropped to $2.97 (Statistics Canada, 1997). Students have always paid a proportion of their actual education costs. However, under the new market mentality tuition fees rose by 86 percent between 1983 and 1995 (Statistics Canada, 1997). Today, student fees provide, on average, 24.3 per cent of Canadian university budgets.The explanation for tuition increases is not simply that governments are focused on deficit reduction. Rather, fee increases and cuts to university funding comprise part of the larger discourse that emphasises educational production for the market. This discourse assumes that universities should operate as businesses in the service of a client market. Certain assumptions are made here. First, students are seen as the key customers. Universities are to gear themselves towards satisfying these customers. Second, it is thought that the customers should take greater responsibility for their education by paying higher tuition. Third, higher fees are seen as beneficial because they will encourage students to make more informed choices in choosing their university education. And finally, once students become concerned with the quality of their education, universities will have to pay attention. The end result of this is that market discipline is forced on universities.
Besides subjecting universities to the discipline of the consumer, universities are subjected to market discipline in other ways. While it varies, most garner greater proportions of their operating budgets through corporate donations than they did in the past. In addition a new form of revenue, created by governments steeped in market ideologies, and called” performance based funding,” rewards universities for achievements that reflect their” responsiveness” to the marketplace. In Alberta, universities must take home a” report card.” Among other things, this report card looks for growing student enrollment (when there is no increase in base funding), examines graduate satisfaction with the educational experience (the education must be job or career relevant), and looks at the ratio of administrative overhead to direct expenses. Finally, in this report card, universities are rewarded for” enterprise revenue.” Enterprise revenue is earnings generated by the sale of university” services” in the commercial marketplace. Examples include the sale of classroom space to business or other institutions, or the marketing of survey expertise to the private sector. At the University of Alberta, the Population Research Laboratory (a social survey unit) now competes directly in the commercial market.
Ironically, the performance based funding envelope is quite a small percentage of a university’s operating grant. Compared to the effort required by universities to collect this data, it may cost more than what it is worth (a deep irony when economic efficiency is the ostensible goal). However, it serves the ideological agenda of a Tory government that wants to be seen, by the public, as compelling the university sector to adopt business techniques. The long-term fear is that, if the universities are successful in marketing their services, the government might raise performance funding to 10 per cent of operating funds.
There is more (Alberta Advanced Education and Career Development, 1997), but this gives the reader an indication of the essence of the Alberta government’s university evaluation system. The net results of this shift in funding sources is that universities become less dependent on government sources of revenue, and more dependent on sources of revenue that come with strings attached. The visible representations of this dependence, the Coca Cola monopoly, the lecture hall inscriptions, and now even the students (who are wearing industry jackets) speak clearly about the effects of this dependence. What meager independence the universities once had is being slowly but inexorably colonised physically, intellectually, and spiritually. As Newson and Buchbinder feared” the university means business” and defenders of public funding for universities are being pushed to the margins.
Not all academics oppose this business mentality. Newson and Buchbinder found many splits (1988). And there are winners. Dominelli and Hoogvelt identify two groups benefiting from the market mentality. They are the “privatized professionals” or former state and university employees and the petty bourgeois intellectuals. This latter group comprises” those within universities who are good at grasping opportunities that the market presents” (1996:89). Ranged against these intellectual opportunists are the critics of corporate-university connections. Dominelli and Hoogvelt call them activist and/or postmodernist intellectuals. It is time we examined some of the implications of the new business models for the academies of higher learning.
In neo-right discourse, subjecting Universities to the discipline of the market is described as raising the accountability of institutions. Universities become “accountable” to students, taxpayers, and the businesses who fund the research laboratories and lecture halls. Such calls for accountability are not new. In the sixties, this clarion call for accountability was first heard. At that time, universities were jostled out of their self-assuredness by loudly voiced student demands that universities pay attention to student needs. This led to” increased student involvement in decision-making, more diverse course offerings, and greater sensitivity to the concerns of minority groups” (Krahn and Silzer, 1995: 13). Today, however,” accountability” has been redefined not by students for students, but because:
…politicians and the public as a whole started to ask more critical questions about the purpose and performance of colleges and universities. Provincial governments across Canada have made deficit reduction one of their primary goals, and, therefore, have begun to demand more accountability from postsecondary institutions (Krahn and Silzer, 1995: 13).
Today’s post-secondary institutions are held accountable to government for their economic efficiency – a measure more appropriate to the production of goods, than the provision of education. Universities” prove” their value by turning out satisfied consumers and quality products with a minimum of resources. We get the most bang for the public’s education buck. This shift to a” clientocracy” is significant. Instead of accountability to the deeper educational needs of students, to issues of social justice and equity, and to a standard of truth not coupled with hegemonic discourse, we are now becoming accountable to narrow criteria of economic efficiency. This new accountability and these new appeals to innovation differ from those of past critics of universities (Friere, 1971; Stumpf, 1979; Feldman, 1993; Broder and Dorfman, 1994), or from publications devoted to improved learning (e.g., Teaching Sociology and The Teaching Professor).
Some see a positive change in this new climate. Proponents argue that application of market principles to university education will make it flexible, innovative and cheap. However, many more refute the notion that forced accountability through cuts and performance funding will lead to better education (Bruneau, 1998). Yet some universities continue instituting performance criteria willingly, believing it better to retain certain controls rather than have accountability unilaterally imposed.
It is clear that the social and political climate of the 1990s is forcing colleges and universities to move in the direction of self-evaluation. In our opinion, postsecondary institutions would benefit more, and perhaps suffer less, if they took the initiative to devise and implement a valid set of performance indicators rather than wait for someone else to impose a less appropriate set of measures (Krahn and Silzer, 1995: 13).
We can reasonably ask whether or not participating in the colonization is an effective strategy. Outside the university, in the lower systems of education, there is much evidence to suggest that accountability and its accompanying restructuring have caused loss of job security, work intensification, decline in pay, and declining quality of services (Sinclair, Ironside, and Seifert, 1996). From our own perspective, the strategy of beating the government to the performance indicator punch lacks an assessment of student needs, and a pedagogical rationale. It is more of a damage control measure designed to appease those who hold the purse strings. Furthermore, the strategy harbours a built-in conservative bias that makes its efficacy dubious. Given this model, if teachers or administrators innovate, they do so at the cost of not doing well in the government set performance indicators.Complicity in this performance indicator exercise could be the Trojan Horse that imports new political ideologies into universities through seemingly value- neutral techniques. Ironically, many professors and students seem silent and even complicit in the issues despite the fact that the new accountability means altering the very experience of university life as we suggest below.
Cutbacks to higher education funding are ongoing. In response, university administrators have raised tuition fees. In Alberta, for example, there have been tuition increases of between 174% and 227% in the past ten years. And there is no indication that the situation will get any better anytime soon. In Alberta, we expect nearly 37,000 new students by the year 2005. Yet the government has indicated there will be no increase in base funding, instead proposing that any funding increases be tied to outcome-based measures (Faculty Circuit, 1998). Other provinces and other institutions are also experiencing the pressure. At some universities in the maritime provinces of Canada students pay over half of their institutions operating costs (Bruneau, 1998).
Statistic Canada argues that the evidence is mixed as to whether rising fees have become a barrier. Although enrolments fell in 1994 and 1995, they are up 30 per cent between 1983 and 1995 (Statistics Canada, 1997: 23). Nevertheless there is cause for concern. Authors of the report Post-Secondary Education in Alberta(1997) note that in the province’s 1996 High-School Graduates Survey,” 64% of graduates felt that ‘post-secondary education is getting too expensive for people like me’ and 38% of those not attending PSE immediately after graduation were delaying entry because they couldn’t afford it.” It seems naive to think that a continuing rise in tuition will not have an impact on enrollment at some point. While absolute numbers may continue to rise for a time simply because our credentialed society demands more from the future workforce, the social class of people attending our instituions may shift dramatically. As Ball’s study of the UK and USA found, funding cuts and restructuring were thinly-veiled forms of class warfare designed to reproduce “relative social class (and ethnic) advantages and disadvantages” (1993: 4).
While most provinces in Canada place absolute limits on the proportion of the operating expenses that can be extracted from students, these limits are now coming under pressure. The worst possible scenario, unregulated tuition fees, was announced in December of 1997 by the government of Ontario. Astronomically higher tuition rates are expected (Lewington, 1997). If deregulation of tuition fees succeeds in Mike Harris’ Ontario, we can expect other provinces to interpret it as an indication of public acceptance.
The Changing Classroom
The net result of the desire to do more with less, only better, has been a decline in the quality of education, and the creation of Fordist-style degree mills (Noble, 1997). Postmodern theorists call it” performativity,” that is,” the capacity to deliver outputs at the lowest cost [which] replaces truth as the yardstick of knowledge” (Crook et. al. in Delucchi and Smith, 1997: 323). In practical terms,” performativity” means upping the student-teacher ratio. An extreme example must be the first year psychology class with 1200+ students at the University of Western Ontario (University Teaching Services, 1988). Even third year classes with 200 + students are no longer unusual. Assuming a tuition fee of $350, a class of 1200 students would generate $420,000 dollars. With such a classroom model universities would need to hire only one instructor, a few tutors, and some technicians and their budget problems would be resolved. But increasing class size does not lead to increased quality of education
Increases in teacher-to-student ratios have a negative effect on learning because they reduce the time instructors have available for each student and often result in significant changes to instruction and evaluation. Research on class size and student performance suggests that pedagogical technique is the most important variable in determining the quality of a learning experience: classes that are engaging, have the opportunity for one- on-one discussion and encourage participation achieve high quality learning. Class size directly affects the choice of technique (i.e. large classes reduce the ability of instructors to involve students in discussion and debate); rising class sizes make it increasingly difficult to maintain the quality of the learning experience. Large classes force instructors to abandon essay and laboratory exams that test students’ ability to apply knowledge in situations similar to those they will face in the workforce in favour of multiple-choice testing (Post-Secondary Education in Alberta, 1997: 21-2).
Instructors who are shifted from class to class or who are dealing with increased student numbers feel pressure to rethink their teaching strategies. For example, many rely on evaluation methodologies that some have suggested have dubious pedagogical value – such as multiple choice exams coded by computers. Responding to the pressure to develop efficiencies, instructors (sometimes allied with powerful business interests) are also seeking innovative methods of course delivery. Moving in to fill the new demand in this brave new academic environment are the multinational book publishing houses which offer canned class materials, predeveloped lectures, overheads, web-based materials, automated exam banks and other ancillary course material (Anon, 1998). Alongside increased video and computer technologies in teaching, however, canned class materials are reminiscent of the first wave of scientific management strategies designed to separate the individual components of the labour process in order to deskill and deprofessionalise (Braverman, 1974).
These new teaching methods need to be seen in the larger context of the Taylorisation of intellectual labour (Dominelli and Hoogvelt, 1996); the separation of teaching and research; the growth of part-time, contract work (Newson and Buchbinder, 1988); and the use of technology in university teaching (Noble, 1997). The patterns are ominous. Evidence from the lower systems of education suggest that the restructuring of intellectual work has caused job insecurity, work intensification, decline in pay, and declining quality of service to students (Sinclair, Ironside, and Seifert, 1996) It is not unreasonable to assume a future university where teaching technicians, assisted by expensive technology, will deliver multimedia learning materials to hundreds of students. It has already happened in the secondary school system (Sinclair, Ironside, and Seifert, 1996).
Commodification, Colonization, and Discipline
The issues go deeper than access and quality of education. Under subtle but direct attack is the very existence of an academy of free inquiry. Universities have always made space for criticism of the status quo, confirmed over the years no doubt by intermittent assaults on the notion of a tenured faculty. Yet today it seems the new world order is eroding critical inquiry in novel and more effective ways through the ongoing commodification and colonization of the academy with forms of discourse most appropriate for the marketplace. As Norman Fairclough (1992: 207) notes of the process of commodification:
Commodification is the process whereby social domains and institutions, whose concern is not producing commodities in the narrower economic sense of goods for sale, come nevertheless to be organized and conceptualized in terms of commodity production, distribution and consumption…. In terms of orders of discourse, we can conceive of commodification as the colonization of institutional orders of discourse, and more broadly of the societal order of discourse, by discourse types associated with commodity production.
In” Can Virtue be Bought? Moral Education and the Commodification of Values,” Daryl Pullman examines an interesting example of this colonization. As he notes, the growth industry in applied ethics has reversed the decline of philosophy departments. Pullman is wary of this success. Like the processes described by Fairclough, Pullman describes how” moral education as it is ostensibly practised in our university settings and in the private sector, is likened to an industry that produces and markets a certain kind of good.” He argues that academic departments are competing” to convince the powers that be that what they have to offer is important, or better, essential, and hence that their particular discipline deserves a bigger piece of the pie.” The price paid for this wantonness, however, is a pedagogical one. Philosophers end up presenting themselves” as merchants with something to sell,” instead of” catalysts in an important process of moral development” that is,” educating society on the need for a different process” (Pullman, 1994).
In New Zealand, a similar market mentality has impacted educators and students and has had powerful results:
The market has been seen as the ideal model on which to base educational arrangements. Competition between students, staff and institutions has been encouraged. Students have been redefined as” consumers”, and tertiary education institutions have become” providers”. Bureaucrats now talk of” inputs”, “outputs” and” throughputs” in the education system. Any notion of educational processes serving a form of collective public good has all but disappeared; instead, participation in tertiary education in now regarded as a form of private investment (Roberts, 1998).Du Gay and Salaman (1992: 615) suggest that the implications extend as far as the” conduct and identities of employees” because defining students as “customers” makes it possible to couple administrative discipline of teachers with consumer feedback. Michel Foucault (1977) linked disciplinary power with visibility in his popularisation of Jeremy Bentham’s panoptic disciplinary mechanism. Today’s proposals to evaluate student-teacher relations appear designed to increase the visibility of the academic worker inside the formerly opaque classroom. Efforts to make workers visible to management are identified by Fuller and Smith (1991) in their study of” Management by Customers” and less flatteringly, by du Gay and Salaman in” Consumer Cult[ure]” (1992). Consider Townley’s take on Human Resource Management (HRM) techniques:
HRM serves to render organizations and their participants calculable arenas, offering, through a variety of technologies, the means by which activities and individuals become knowable and governable. HRM disciplines the interior of the organization, organizing time, space, and movement within it. Through various techniques, tasks, behavior, and interactions are categorized and measured. HRM provides measurements of both physical and subjective dimensions of labor offering a technology that renders individuals and their behavior predictable and calculable. … familiar tools of personnel management – skills inventories, performance appraisal systems, assessments and evaluation methods, attitude measurements – are all arrangements for ranking, which facilitate a serial ordering of individuals….These schemes are…very much disciplinary techniques (Townley, 1993: 526-529).
The common technique used by universities, the student survey administered at the end of a semester, takes on new meaning when interwoven with discourses of student satisfaction. These surveys are used to monitor and correct instructor performance (Rose, 1989). Tied into the culture of the student as consumer, however,” the rating procedure is… transformed…[from] an irksome, intrusive and threatening technique of management control, ….[to] a benevolent … technique to assist individuals to become their true selves and to realise their aspirations” (Grey 1994: 489). Rarely does an administrative officer have to correct the teacher. Teachers discipline themselves by shifting their pedagogical strategies. The authority of the ideology of” self-betterment” and “good service” vested in the survey instrument make it hard to question, especially for term and sessional instructors. Management control over workers is obscured in the process.
Concerned about survey feedback, and not wanting to create dissatisfied student-consumers, some teachers (especially those not protected by tenure) shift away from critical pedagogy and free experimentation towards classroom teaching that is low risk, more conservative, and more entertaining. Pedagogical strategies are designed to net acceptable report cards. Likewise students, instead of seeing themselves as participants in the education process, or as junior colleagues there to learn from those preceding them, internalise the consumer role and see themselves as purchasers of a product that must meet their own specifications.
Education thus becomes the consumption of non-threatening entertainment, which, at its best, puts pedagogical control into the hands of the students (Edmundson, 1997) and, at it worst, demands that offensive (dare we say challenging) academic material be expurgated from the course lest it offend sensibilities. Merit, hard work, and actually getting students to learn something become less important to staff than pleasing students (Long and Lake, 1996). Indeed, studies have show that personality can explain as much as 90 percent of the variance in instructor ratings (Deluchi and Smith, 1997).
As student’s ideas of what constitutes a good education shift, and as they adopt the consumer mentality, the pressure to pander to student expectations can become intense and irresistable. In California, after reading a psychology course disclaimer saying” This is a class for mature adult students wherein sexually explicit material will be discussed in [an] open, frank manner…” a student promptly initiated a sexual harassment suit saying” I don’t like X-rated movies and I don’t read X-rated books. So I don’t think I should have to take an X-rated class” (Globe and Mail, 1998). The comparison of a university course with other forms of consumer goods, and the call to consumer accountability, is unmistakable.
As Brookfield (1995) notes, the new discourse violates the teachers deeply held convictions about how to teach in a meaningful and critical fashion. It is impossible to teach critically in an environment dominated by the consumer ethic because education is not always easy, painless, or emotionally uplifting. Yet, as noted, the new environment encourages a shift in pedagogical authority towards the students. The result is an environment where the whims of the student’s are catered to at the expense of sound pedagogical strategy. This is not to discount the need to engage the students in a relationship characterized by concern, mutual respect, and dedication (Boyd, 1997). However it is to question whether or not the new environment is conducive to anything more than superficial contact and superficial learning.
Significant learning and critical thinking inevitably induce an ambivalent mix of feelings and emotions, in which anger and confusion are as prominent as pleasure and clarity. The most hallowed rule of business – that the customer is always right – is often pedagogically wrong. Equating good teaching with a widespread feeling among students that you have done what they wanted ignores the dynamics of teaching and prevents significant learning (Brookfield, 1995: 21. Italics added).
Students’ re-definitions of themselves as consumers reinforce, in turn, teacher strategies to produce satisfied and entertained consumers. Students will lose in the long run.
Corporate Boards of Governors?
In Canada in the 1990s, deficit reduction and balanced budgeting have become a mantra and universities seem caught up in it:” We have to operate more efficiently and be more focused because we can’t do everything,” says Frederick Lowy, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, of Concordia University. At Carleton University in Ottawa, this dictum means closing and streamlining programs such as languages, literature, and comparative literary studies and laying-off tenured faculty – despite apparent high demand for their graduates. Such cutbacks are dangerous, and move us towards accepting an economic logic that will justify lopping off other” unproductive” departments. The ultimate direction of this rethinking was succinctly stated by Ontario Premier Mike Harris, who claimed that geography and sociology programs were, in the current economic environment, surplus (Lewiston, 1997: 1).
In Canada, governments appoint public members of university boards of governors. These university boards often have included corporate leaders, in greater and lesser degrees (Ornstein, 1988). Their potential for influence, however, was often restricted to indirect shaping of relatively resilient academic institutions based on collegial decision-making and tradition. Nowadays, in an era of public accountability, restructuring, performance indicators and revenue based funding, members of boards of governors are often involved in questioning the very nuts and bolts of the university as an organisation:” neo-liberals seek to change fundamentally the way in which universities function” (Horn, 1998: 20).
While it is true that some board members are interested citizens, contributing their time and energy to universities (albeit with a business approach to problem- solving and little acceptance of academic or collegial decision-making), in most cases they are on boards to carry out the key functions of approving budget plans and expenditures, and securing funds for cash-strapped universities from the private sector. David Bond, Chair of the Board of Governors at Simon Fraser University and V.P. of Government and Public Affairs at the Hong Kong Bank of Canada, states that:” Board members are put on the board to give money or raise money. It’s like an honourary degree,” …” You either give, get or get out. I can understand concerns over exclusivity. But unless the public opens its cheque book this is the avenue for survival for the great universities” (Bond, quoted in Schmidt, 1997).
Cross-linked with the corporate and finance sectors in ways that would make Domhoff wince, representatives of business in Canada preside over the future of many Canadian universities. That these corporate leaders and university fund raisers, for the most part, champion neo-liberal economic models and have restructured their own firms, means that we could well expect them to think likewise about university affairs. The Vice-President of the Hong Kong Bank of Canada sits on council at Simon Fraser University. The President of the Bank of Montreal holds the chief position at the University of Toronto. A retired banker sits at Acadia. Last year the top decision-makers at McGill University included the chief executive officers of the Royal Bank, Noranda Inc., Canadian National Railway Co., and BCE Inc. They were backed up by senior executives from the Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Ernst & Young and Canadian Pacific Ltd. (Schmidt, 1997).
In the context of this physical (as opposed to intellectual) colonization, significant resistance to the corporate and neo-right agenda disappears. Negative consequences for the public may ensue. For example, might not board representatives from banks encourage and approve higher tuition rates in the name of making students responsible for their education, while banks provide and profit from student loans? Doesn’t big industry gain access to cutting-edge university research without footing the majority of the bill (responsible students and taxpayers still do most of that)? It’s possible though that business may not be satisfied with their beachhead in the universities. They may want more. This was vividly demonstrated by the announcement to construct the Technical University of British Columbia. This is an institution” designed specifically to work closely with industry in turning out job-ready graduates in technology-related fields” (Came, 1997: 65), and structured in such a way as to allow no student or faculty input into governance, and no tenure. Perhaps this is the underlying subtext of the word” accountable.”
The trends seem obvious and, in a way, unsurprising. ”Years ago the university shaped itself to an industrial ideal – the knowledge factory” (Rowe, 1990). Science at the service of culture, industry and the status quo has a long history (Goonatilake, 1982; Haraway, 1986; Shields, 1987; Jacob, 1988; Harding, 1993), so current trends continue many past practices. Now there is renewed vigour in the assault, made possible by the elimination and/or harnessing of alternative discourses that might counter the hegemonic ones of Weberian rationality and economic efficiency (Schiller, 1989). The space where critics once voiced counter discourses is left gapping. Dare challenge efficiency calculations and you risk being marginalised or branded a Luddite educator unconcerned with quality, unaware of the new economic contingencies, or incapable of reason and common sense.
The ability to pursue ideas in circumstances where failure is not judged by the narrow criteria of profitability is essential for universities. A halt must be put to panoptic controls and one-dimensional educational discourses. Here are six counterpoints:
- Recognize the political struggle over education (Spencer, 1998) and do not reduce issues of efficiency and accountability to some post-modern turn (Delucchi and Smith, 1997,) or a shift in demographics (Eisenberg, 1997). Resist performance indicators or find indicators capable of tapping pedagogical depth. The claim that economic efficiency and accountability is in the best interest of students is false, and must be opposed.
- Show how new forms of accountability are not in the best interests of universities, and must be resisted. This means exposing narrow business assumptions and interests, and demonstrating their pedagogical implications.
- Support the funding of independent research, untied to business interests of goals. Remind the public that important discoveries have historically relied upon long-term government funding of research that showed no obvious signs of commercial benefit. The computer, for example, took 30 years of financial support from the U. S. government before it became the profit generating information technology sector that exists today (Flamm, 1987).
- Stem the culture of consumerism invading universities (based on a discourse of accountability) because it leads to intrusive forms of control. Academics have begun to challenge the efficacy of the consumer accountability paradigm (Sosteric, 1996) and even business is rethinking” the customer is always right” business paradigm and finding that depth of service makes more sense than superficial measures of customer satisfaction. (Keates, 1997). Universities should also emphasise depth of service rather than superficial satisfactions. Instructors could be rewarded for progressive experimentation and the application of innovative pedagogical strategies designed to facilitate this depth.
- Offer a constructive alternative program. A multi-tiered alternative would redefine” accountability” to not only mean accountability to students, but also the accountability of students to their own education. Students need to take an active role in defining their own needs within a critique of the consumer model of education. Universities, for their part, have to emphasise that they can accommodate the needs of students for jobs but only while developing the student’s ability to think critically, provide constructive criticism of the status quo, and offer ethical alternatives (Rowe, 1990).
It is important to recognise that a shallow, consumer led education system does not produce the skills needed for today’s complex high tech social world. We are constantly being told of the need to create workers capable of” informating” (Zuboff, 1988), that is, thinking laterally, and with depth and breadth so as to be able to creatively problem solve. Students need to be let in on this debate and convinced that the current environment is not giving them these informating skills.
- Recapture the student/teacher relationship with a new metaphor. Apprenticeship seems an appropriate starting metaphor. Others might evolve. Students should be viewed not as consumers, but as junior academic partners who are guided through the steps required to develop logical and theoretical thinking skills. Teachers must do this carefully and with sensitivity, always with respect for student needs, never with the assumption that the student” needs” or even” wants” consumer style education. We can easily create a” post-modern” style of education where student voice and multi-vocality are prized without descending into the dark depths of consumer rhetoric.
The risk is great if we sit idly by and watch our academic and democratic freedoms, and our ability to resist through critical education, placed under a panoptic microscope or rudely dismantled. Criticising the social order and challenging the new accountability are imperative in an environment where governments are shifting farther to the right. In Ontario Premier Mike Harris’s government has” In its 2 1/2 years in office, … removed safeguards against executive and bureaucratic arbitrary action, severely eroded the foundations of administrative justice, bypassed and ignored traditional avenues of consultation, substantially abbreviated legislature debate on its lawmaking measures and truncated opportunities for public comment” (Valpy, 1997). Hugh Segal finds that conservative ideologues are beginning to openly apply the criteria of economic efficiency to political debate – suggesting that” deliberation in politics … is no longer affordable.” (Hugh Segal quoted in Valpy, 1997). In elegant understatement, Michael Valpy notes that” The evidence is all there. It’s disturbing.” (Valpy, 1997: A31).
Successful counterpoints to the market driven model of university education depend on political shifts. Universities are rapidly approaching a new juncture, that could prove historically significant. Progressives need to organise and promote ideas that capture the imagination of the public, students, and administrators as we arrive at this intersection. Certain conditions for challenging the neo-right discourse are currently available. Its time we used them.
Alberta Advanced Education and Career Development (1997). Performance Envelop Proposal.
Alberta College-Institutes Faculties Association (1997). Post-secondary Education in Alberta. Online at http://www.gmcc.ab.ca/acifa/post_sec.pdf.
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1. The plaque in The Husky Oil Hall at University of Calgary reads:
Husky Oil is a Canadian-based integrated energy company serving global customers through the dedicated efforts of its employees. Husky Oil is proud to share the ideals of the Centre for International Peace and Understanding and Fine Arts and is conscious that only through positive interaction can we achieve the ideal of international Harmony.
2. See http://nce.nserc.ca/blurbs/foreseng.htm.
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