Janice Newson: The Corporate-Linked University: From Social Project to Market Force

Janice Newson: The Corporate-Linked University: From Social Project to Market Force
Canadian Journal of Communication, Volume 23, Number 1, 1998

Abstract: Recently, Canadian university campuses have begun to display signs of increasing corporate influence in their affairs. In spite of the recent appearance of these signs, the foundation was laid in the early 1980s for this increasing corporate influence through the shift in government policies and the political effectiveness of groups like the Corporate-Higher Education Forum, the Business Council on National Issues, and the Canadian Manufacturer's Association. However, universities themselves have neither been passive nor helpless in relation to these external pressures. They have been active agents in a process of self-transformation in which budget-based rationalization and corporate linking have been their means of institutional survival. As a consequence, universities are now functioning less as institutions whose essence derives from their educational and scholarly commitments and more as businesses that deliver educational services and produce knowledge-based products.
Résumé: Récemment, les campus universitaires canadiens ont commencé à manifester dans leurs affaires les signes d'une influence commerciale croissante. Bien que ces signes soient récents, les bases de cette influence commerciale croissante furent jetées au début des années quatre-vingt en conséquence d'une modification dans les politiques gouvernementales et de l'efficacité politique de groupes comme le "Corporate-Higher Education Forum" ("Forum entreprises-universités"), le "Business Council on National Issues" ("Conseil d'affaires sur les questions nationales") et l'Association des manufacturiers canadiens. Cependant, les universités elles-même n'ont été ni passives ni impuissantes face à ces pressions externes. En effet, elles ont joué le rôle d'agents actifs dans un processus d'auto-transformation dans lequel la rationalisation des budgets et les alliances commerciales ont été leur moyen de survie institutionnelle. En conséquence, les universités sont en train de fonctionner moins comme des institutions dont l'essence provient de leurs engagements éducatifs et savants que comme des entreprises qui livrent des services éducatifs et transforment le savoir en biens commercialisables.

A new word -- corporatization -- has been coined to identify a significant trend in university development. Physical manifestations of corporatization began to appear with increasing rapidity on local campuses in the 1990s -- not only in Canada but also in a variety of advanced industrial and developing societies, including Australia, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, Western Europe, the United States, Mexico, China, and Malaysia. These manifestations are many and diverse, some apparently superficial and relatively harmless in and of themselves, and others raising questions and concerns about their implications for the continued independence of universities and their ability to serve the broader public interest. In some cases, they have instigated student sit-ins, campus demonstrations, and academic staff strikes.

``Corporatization'' encapsulates at least two related yet distinct aspects of the university's changing relationship to the private corporate sector. One aspect concerns new kinds of contractual relationships in which some level of financial support to a university program or research project is exchanged for an opportunity for corporate donors to exercise influence over and /or benefit from specific research and /or educational activities. This aspect of corporatization is exemplified by (among other things) research projects specifically designed to produce knowledge that will lead to the development of marketable products under patent or license agreements with a corporate partner; displaying the corporate logos of donors on multimedia and on-line courses as a form of advertisement; donations of high-tech equipment (often as loans rather than outright gifts) for use in university facilities, to generate a market for additional equipment within the institution and among student users and to ``show-case'' equipment to other clients; naming new buildings, programs, and chairs after corporate donors; designing new programs and units according to the desired objectives or ``demands'' of a corporate donor; and securing representation in curricular planning and course design in exchange for a corporation's financial support. [1]

The second aspect of corporatization concerns the adoption by universities of the modus operandi, criteria, and objectives of private sector corporations. In the extreme case, rather than standing out as an institution whose essence derives from its distinctly educational mission, the university becomes undifferentiated from a business corporation engaged in the delivery of educational and research ``products.'' This aspect is signified by campus malls designed to attract commercial business and earn the university profits from products sold and /or commercial rents; ``for profit'' on-campus research units that bid for research contracts from public and private sector clients; in-house private research companies in which the university and entrepreneurial faculty members own shares; the provision of academic support activities through designated cost-units that offer their service to other campus units on a fee-for-service basis; and various kinds of trademarked courseware products developed by and licensed through faculty members or university-based companies.

These changes in universities' relationships to corporate clients and in the associated commercialization of their practices are seen by critics as indications of a growing corporate influence over higher education that has ominous implications. As well, both critical and supportive interpreters and commentators on these trends often assume that the corporatization trend has arisen out of the distinctive political and economic conditions of the 1990s. In Ontario, for example, critics often attribute manifestations of corporatization to the neo-conservative agenda of the Harris government. Relatedly, it is also often assumed that the political and economic ``causes'' of these changes are external to the university itself.

This representation of the relationship between the university and society as one of the external causes that produce internal effects is not new to these times. In fact, the organizational literature on the university, which greatly expanded after World War II when government began to invest increasing funds in higher education, has predominantly represented the relationship between the university and society as a one-way relationship in which society ``affects'' the university and the university ``reacts'' or ``adapts'' to the constraints and demands of its external environment. This view of the university as a social institution which reacts and adapts to externally produced social, political, and economic forces is not just the analytical stance adopted by academic commentators and researchers. It also appears in public political discourses -- including ``higher education policy'' discourse -- which tie the future of the university to the high-profile issues of the time: government deficits, a globalizing economy, and new ``information-highway'' technologies.

Such a representation of the university's relation to its ``outside'' is both disempowering and mystifying. It is disempowering because, in a practical sense, adapting to external pressures rarely offers much if any room for challenging the pressures themselves. It is mystifying because it camouflages the extent to which the university itself is implicated in the very social, political, and economic forces to which it then ``must'' accommodate. The mystification escalates the sense of powerlessness. How is it possible to exercise an initiating, as opposed to a merely adaptive, agency when faced with processes over which we have no control -- processes that are located ``elsewhere'' or even ``nowhere''? It is not surprising, then, that rhetoric that advocates the imperative of the university's adjustment and accommodation to these external pressures tends to represent the pressures as inevitable and to argue that failure to accommodate to them will lead to the university's demise.

The discussion of corporatization which follows challenges this disempowering and mystifying characterization of the university's relation to society. It will attempt to show that changes in the university's own institutional practices significantly laid the ground for, and greatly facilitated, the aspects of corporatization described above. I argue that these changes in university practices constitute a potentially, if not already realized, significant transformation in the raison d'être of the university: from existing in the world as a publicly funded institution oriented toward creating and disseminating knowledge as a public resource -- social knowledge -- into an institution which, although continuing to be supported by public funds, is increasingly oriented toward a privatized conception of knowledge -- market knowledge. [2] The university will not be displayed as mechanically adapting to government policies and other external political, economic, and social pressures. Although these pressures form part of the story, the university will be represented as actively engaging with them, often giving them concrete form and substance and thus providing the means for carrying them forward. Rather than appearing to be mysterious and inevitable, these processes of transformation are displayed as arising from the concrete interventions and actions of social agents who participate in social practices that can be identified.

Two projects of the post-World War II university

In Canada and elsewhere, the expansion of higher education in the late 1950s and 1960s was justified primarily in terms of two societal needs. On the one hand, massive financial investment of public funds was premised on the need for a highly skilled and well-educated work force to contribute to the economic health of the country. On the other hand, it was also emphasized that universities should play a democratizing role, not only by promoting opportunities for social, political, and economic mobility in society at large but also by providing an example of a public institution whose structures and practices conformed to democratic principles of governance. In fact, some commentators of that period refer to the university as a democratic social movement (see, for example, Zaslove, 1996). At least, it is arguable that a kind of rapprochement was achieved between these two roles insofar as there appears to have been a politically workable agreement on the idea that the expansion of higher education was a good thing (see Newson & Buchbinder, 1988, chap. 1).

No doubt, the dramatic growth of universities through this period in terms of student enrollment, faculty, and staff size contributed to the dynamic and upbeat quality of university life and the sense that on the campus was ``the place to be.'' With its prevailing doctrine of ``meritocracy,'' the university of the 1960s and early 1970s could be viewed as having staged a contest between the two objectives of serving the needs of the economy, on the one hand, and contributing to the political project of advancing democratic sensibilities and practices on the other. If anything, the democratic project of the university held a degree of pre-eminence over the purely economic project, at least in the interplay of political and cultural struggles that were taking place on campus. By ``political and cultural struggles'' I am referring to struggles to assert a particular version of academic culture -- whether a hierarchical culture based on academic status or a participatory culture based on representation in academic decision-making bodies of the various campus constituencies and even of nearby off-campus communities. And I am referring to related struggles concerning the independence of the academy from ``external'' social, political, and economic pressures. Expressions of these struggles were reflected, for example, in attempts to ensure the exercise of academic freedom as a right of faculty members, in institutional claims to autonomy, and in the insistence that the university must exist at arm's length from the ``military-industrial complex,'' which is also to say that the university should be wary of being tied to the market. Together, these struggles contributed toward the relative success of institutionalizing the idea of ``collegial self-governance.'' [3]

However, the salience in university affairs of the democratizing project and its apparent equality with the economic project of the university no longer describes the political and cultural situation of and within the academy. Something has changed -- for some observers and participants, imperceptibly, but nevertheless quite dramatically -- in the relative balance between these two projects. Like many faculty members of my generation, my biography is significantly interwoven in the shift in balance between these projects. Since the early 1980s, I have been trying to make sense of my experience of this shift in the academy over the past 20 to 25 years, and to provide an interpretative framework not only for my experiences, but also for experiences [4] that have been reported to me in the course of doing research on the university in Canada, Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. In searching for this ``sense-making'' framework, I have not been simply interested in developing a polemic even though I strongly oppose the re-alignment of the university that I perceive to be reflected in these events and materials. Because of my interest in intervening in the process, I have been much more concerned with understanding how such a remarkable shift in orientation could have been accomplished and is being accomplished from within the academy itself.

The shift toward the market

It is not a small matter that the shift to which I am referring has taken place during the course of my own career within the academy. It therefore is a shift that has involved many of the same colleagues with whom I collaborated in the 1960s as a graduate student, demanding revised senate and departmental constitutions that were more democratic and inclusive and insisting upon the need for the university to maintain a critical distance from the political and economic powers of the time; the same colleagues with whom, in the 1970s, I helped to organize our faculty association into a certified union in order to ensure that the collegial decision-making bodies of the university would not be dismantled by an increasingly aggressive university administration.

Today, along with many of these same colleagues, I find myself in departmental and faculty meetings engaged in debates over how we can re-shape our academic curricula to better accommodate the demands of ``the external market.'' We attempt to justify our pedagogical strategies in terms of measures of efficiency and cost-effectiveness; we re-formulate our research interests to fit into the most recently announced policy objectives of various government ministries which are closely paired with (if not embedded in) SSHRC, NSERC, or MRC funding program guidelines; and we try to define the ``products'' of our intellectual activities, whether teaching or research, in ways that will attract and serve the needs of potential corporate clients or that will fit into a prescribed market ``niche.'' Perhaps most perplexing, we find ourselves within collegial bodies of various kinds often bitterly divided over how decisions in the academy should be made: whether we should orient our actions toward our faculty union and insist upon following procedures that are spelled out in collective agreements and senate handbooks; whether we should orient ourselves more toward an agenda that is set into place by central administration and by-pass or even abandon collegially based fora like departments and faculty councils as places in which to debate academic policy; whether students should continue to be treated as participants, and retain rights of citizenship within the academy, or whether they should be treated more as ``consumers'' of our products or even as the products themselves.

As I listen, hear, and see myself in these situations, I have come to understand that our responses to the so-called pressures of these times do not merely reflect ``a change of mind'' although, certainly, our discourse reflects a way of thinking that differs significantly from a way of thinking that would have found expression even ten years ago. I perceive our responses, more importantly, as reflecting significant changes in the institutional relationships in which we and our practices as academic workers are embedded. These changes in networks of relationships -- changes that involve the dismantling of one set of relationships at the same time as another set is being put into place -- are what I have been trying to unravel.

The changes to which I am referring are not limited to the institutional interior of the university; in fact, they significantly involve changes between and among universities and university-based academics and ``external'' bodies like granting agencies (NSERC, MRC, and SSHRC), private-sector corporations, nationally and internationally based research consortia, and so forth. As Claire Polster (1994) argues, they transcend the boundaries of discrete institutions like universities or government agencies and therefore cannot be fully comprehended as arising from, or limited to, a single site. However, for the purposes of this essay, I will focus on the university as one site in which these relationships are being re-constructed, and the implications of this reconstruction for the university and its role in society.

From collegialism to managerialism

One dimension of this reconstruction is the shift from collegial self-governance to managerialism as the dominant mode of institutional decision-making. Some commentators and scholars conceptualize ``managerialism'' as an issue of personal style attributed to a powerful senior administrator, such as a president, [5] or of a cultural style shared by those whose positions within the institution are classified as ``administrative.'' [6]

I, on the other hand, conceive of managerialism more in terms of the institutional practices that are employed for making decisions, whether the decisions are made by people who technically occupy ``administrative positions'' or by members of the faculty, the support staff, the student body, or a combination of these. As described by Marguerite Cassin & Graham Morgan (1992), this shift from collegial functioning to managerialism is reflected ``in the appearance in the universities of a certain way of thinking, a particular kind of language beginning to be applied ... [the content of which] implies judgement and evaluation'' (p. 249).

To be sure, this change in language and ways of thinking have arisen in a context not necessarily chosen by those who now employ them. This context includes the fiscal pressures that began to be felt in Canadian universities in the early- to mid-1970s, when the publicly funded expansion of higher education which characterized the postwar period gave way to a prolonged period of underfunding that has continued into the 1990s. Initially, bouts with funding shortfalls were viewed from within the academic community as short-term, requiring strategies that would bridge between the difficulties of the present moment and a not-too-distant future moment when funding would return to previous levels. During this period, government officials often justified their ``cutbacks'' by arguing that university budgets had sufficient ``fat'' to allow for improved economies in their operations without jeopardizing either the quality of their programs or their ability to meet the increasing demands for accessibility. The actions taken within local institutions tended to reinforce this viewpoint. Universities continued to function with the appearance that little damage, if any, had been done to the integrity of programs, even though internal cuts had been made to meet budgetary shortfalls.

However, as fiscal restraint began to assume a chronic state which universities were expected to live with into the foreseeable future, different kinds of responses and justifications emerged. The earlier idea of ``fat'' in the budget extended to a more general diagnosis that universities are being insufficiently managed. ``Restructuring'' has become a recurrent theme in policy discussions both at the level of local institutions and at the level of entire systems of higher education, ``restructuring'' in forms that will secure increased efficiency in the delivery of educational and research programs and greater value for the public tax dollar. Moreover, that a one-time experience of fiscal restraint had been a ``good thing'' in forcing institutions to think through priorities was often promoted, even from within the university, as the basis for inserting an agenda of financial discipline and budgetary centrality into university decision-making.

Hence, fiscal restraint has provided the opportunity for a significant shift in the procedures and criteria for making decisions within universities. The activity of administration -- centred around the management of increasingly constrained fiscal resources -- has moved to the centre of institutional decision-making. The more ``democratized'' governing structure, which was largely achieved under the conditions of expansion, has now come to be seen as cumbersome, indecisive, and, above all, ill equipped to deal with budgetary matters. In fact, from the 1970s and on into the 1980s, books written about the university tended to emphasize these aspects of organizational inefficiency and to implicitly if not explicitly characterize both ``collegialism'' and ``democratization'' as ``part of the problem.'' The face-to-face talk and lengthy debates of academic senates and faculty councils are assessed, not in terms of democratic representativeness or collective decision-making, but rather in terms of their effectiveness for making ``the tough decisions.'' The argument for ``a more managerial approach'' has been premised on a need to transcend the local interests of departments and faculties, something that can be accomplished best through a purportedly neutral body -- the central administration -- which will give primacy to meeting budgetary constraints rather than to preserving academic territory.

As ``managerialism'' moved to the centre of decision-making, academic decision-making moved to the margins. This does not mean, of course, that academics are no longer involved in decision-making practices. On the contrary, as they have remained involved they have acquiesced to, or actively participated in, a process of change in which academic considerations have taken a secondary, or even tertiary, place. More ``objective'' and strategically sensitive means of allocating increasingly limited resources are being employed. For example, at the highest level of university functioning, decisions about enrollment levels, admission standards, advising and registering students, hiring policy, and research priorities are more often made and justified in terms of budgetary criteria and parameters that have been predefined in written documents like mission statements and five-year plans. These documentary forms of decision-making have largely displaced or made redundant the face-to-face debating of policies and practices within academic bodies like departments, faculty councils, and senates through which various groupings of the faculty, sometimes in alliance with students, and even groups of students alone were once able to exercise considerable influence over institutional policy. Although academics and various collegial bodies may have input into this documentary process, it is highly centralized and less open to scrutiny and intervention. It is more difficult for campus constituencies to subsequently question or challenge the parameters within which their own individual and local activities take place. They appear to be able to make choices but these choices are about less and less significant things, the bigger issues having been resolved ``elsewhere.''

More recently, ``performance indicators'' have been introduced into Canadian universities (and into the functioning of the three research granting bodies, SSHRC, NSERC, and MRC) as a means of making ``objective'' and budgetarily sensitive decisions about the allocation of resources within departments, faculties, and the university as a whole. While it is true that indicators have been employed in universities for some time as a means of assessing various aspects of academic quality, the purposes to which these indicators can be put is significantly changed in the context of managerialism and the process of budget-based rationalization which it serves. In fact, as a managerial technology, performance indicators provide the opportunity for greater co-ordination of the internal activities of universities from outside, at provincial, national, and even international levels. [7] Perhaps most important, through these new means of resolving decisions about how, and on what basis, to allocate resources, criteria such as ``efficiency,'' ``productivity,'' and ``accountability'' are becoming embedded in the routine day-to-day decision-making that takes place in ``local'' units throughout the university. They are utilized as the operative if not valued criteria for assessing and deciding how to carry out a wider and wider range of academic activity -- initiating new courses and phasing out others, putting forward new research projects and deciding which ones to support, and so forth. Cassin & Morgan summarize this process as follows:

The over-riding managerial consideration is for ``effectiveness.'' This concern is applied increasingly to the various aspects of work of the professoriate, requiring that the products of the work and the extent of the work be described in standardised ways using standardised criteria. ``Effectiveness,'' therefore, depends upon methods of describing and quantifying those aspects of the professoriate's work that are deemed capable of accountability, and deemed ``relevant'' to the mission of the university....[T]he managerial predilection is to encourage and support those activities in the university that can most readily result in reducing costs and /or increasing revenues. (1992, p. 253)

It is therefore of little consequence whether academics themselves are or are not active through the traditional collegial bodies in this form of decision-making. Not only do the structures and processes of decision-making provide a greater voice for ``management'' but, also, the very criteria that have relevance for decision-making subordinate academic and professional judgments to the discipline of the budget.

From social objectives to market objectives

Managerialism has not sprung up within the university from nowhere. In fact, the managerial practices that have been increasingly applied to the interior operations of universities have been long associated with private sector, profit-oriented businesses and corporations. It is not surprising, then, that the second major institutional shift has involved the university's relationships with private sector corporations.

Initially, the idea that universities should develop closer relationships with the private corporate sector was presented as a means of alleviating some of their funding difficulties. Through this collaboration, universities would acquire new sources of funding to counteract the effects of government underfunding and corporations would gain much needed expertise -- a window on science -- to provide them with a competitive edge in the international marketplace. However, the idea of a mutually beneficial trade-off to assist universities through their funding crisis opened the door to the argument that partnership between universities and business is good in itself, that it should be actively promoted, and that universities in particular should be willing to accommodate.

For example, the first report published by Canada's Corporate-Higher Education Forum shortly after its founding in 1983 -- Partnership for Growth (Maxwell & Currie, 1984) -- argued that universities need to abandon some of their treasured ``cultural'' ideals, such as the maintenance of autonomy and academic freedom, in order to establish the needed compatibility with industrial culture. Had this argument been put forward as an explicit re-structuring policy from government when it was first published in 1984, these proposals for altering the university's ``culture'' might have been rejected outright by the academic community. Instead, they were put forward as a direction of thinking about how universities could respond to the exigencies of their times. In fact, even more than a direction of thinking, they offered a formulaic solution to universities for resolving their underfunding dilemmas and to governments for devising a new way of funding universities in the face of economic and political changes.

For instance, the idea that universities can enter into partnerships in which knowledge is traded off for money implies that ``knowledge'' can be bundled up into neat packages and a precise monetary value can be attached to them. To accomplish this end, knowledge needs to be quantified and measured in terms of its economic ``exchange'' value. Practical questions must be resolved. How much money for how much knowledge? How is it possible to ensure that the ``search for knowledge'' will produce a result that will be of marketable value to the client? Who will then ``own'' the knowledge that is produced?

Answers to these practical questions are found in the various types of contracts and in a wide range of university-industrial linking mechanisms that are worked out by university researchers and administrations with the funding bodies -- government agencies, research councils, and corporate clients. Senior-level administrative positions -- usually at the level of vice-president -- are oriented toward seeking out (mainly paying) clients and markets for the university's knowledge-based products. Some university professors have re-fashioned themselves as intellectual entrepreneurs who can bridge the gap between academic and commercial worlds through setting up private companies, sometimes on campus, in which both they and the university own shares. Granting councils have developed targeted and strategic research programs that ensure that the knowledge search will be designed to produce the knowledge that will be useful to specific clienteles and markets. Patent agreements and the expanding jurisprudence around ``intellectual property rights'' embody the idea that knowledge can be commodified and thus offered for sale and appropriated as the protected (even private) property of an owner.

As well, around the edges of the traditional university, new structures have emerged that increasingly assume a central place in achieving the (shifting) objectives of the university. For example, spinoff companies, centres of excellence, innovation centres for technology transfer, and various other units which embody corporate-university partnerships draw on the university's faculty and support staff resources, operating funds, and share of research monies. In a sense, they represent shadow institutions which gain legitimacy from their connection to the academy but are not subject to its academic control.

The attempt in the early 1990s to locate the permanent campus of the International Space University (the ISU) at York University, with satellite campuses throughout the Ontario higher education system, is a good illustration. This project was initiated through one of the structures referred to above, the Centre of Excellence on Space and Terrestrial Science, which is located on the York University campus and to which a large number of faculty members in the Faculty of Pure and Applied Science are cross-appointed. Its mandate, as with other centres that have been funded under the province's Centres of Excellence program, is to bring together academic and industrial scientists in order to develop knowledge that will facilitate technology transfer and produce marketable products. The bid, submitted by the Institute of Space and Terrestrial Science (ISTS) to International Space University Project Incorporated, based in Massachusetts, acquired the status of a highly confidential document based on ``proprietary rights.'' In other words, because it constituted a commercial venture, the undertakings that it made were considered to be proprietary information which were not to be made available to competitive bidders. [8]

As the controversy over the project heated up, the President of York University was interviewed by a student reporter about why the university community had not been consulted about the submission of the bid. The President stated that the bid had originated in the Centre of Excellence in Space and Terrestrial Science and that York University had no jurisdiction over the affairs of ISTS. In fact, he argued, rather than viewing ISTS as part of York University, it would be more appropriate to view York University as part of ISTS. The President's response notwithstanding, the bid contained significant implications for York University: it provided for the construction of new buildings on the York Campus; the creation of an educational institution within the campus in which tuition fees would be set at $25,000 annually; the use by the ISU of York's student program, library, and computer facilities; and, initially at least, the granting of the York master's degree to its graduates.

Although this particular project was eventually defeated, in the early 1990s it represented the most comprehensive attempt to date to enclose an entire system of higher education within a particular industrial strategy. Significant levels of public funding were committed by both provincial and federal levels of government. At the provincial level, this funding was to be channeled not through the Ministry of Colleges and Universities but rather through the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Technology. The justification for the project was not based on educational objectives but rather on an industrial strategy to spawn new economic growth through investing in the development of high-tech industries -- in this particular case, the fledgling aerospace industry in southern Ontario. The details of the bid, which committed not only York University but also the provincial government to actions that would have had significant academic and educational implications for the entire provincial system of higher education, were worked out and drafted by a small, self-selected team of administrators, research consultants, and corporate executives of companies that would benefit commercially from the project. Special arrangements were guaranteed to out-of-country administrative personnel and faculty (to be largely drawn from the U.S.A.) to permit them, firstly, to acquire jobs in Canada and, secondly, to facilitate their annual return to their home country so they would not have to pay income taxes in Canada. The governing board of the proposed ISU included representatives of foreign and transnational companies, including military contractors. The bid clearly anticipated that, within a short time, the ISU would become an autonomous, private, higher education institution, requiring special provincial legislation since no such institutions currently exist in Ontario. This special status institution was to be significantly interlinked with many other Ontario universities, as well as satellite campuses in the United States and throughout the world. The ISU project represented an attempt to construct a transnational corporate-linked higher education institution which would primarily serve the commercial interests of aerospace and telecommunications corporations but would be significantly funded through public monies.

The ISU episode illustrates well the relationships among universities, government, and corporate-sector partners that are emerging in the context of universities responding to their fiscal pressures by shifting their objectives toward the promotion of corporate sector development and commercializing their activities. Implicit in this set of relationships is a way of thinking about universities -- about their buildings, their personnel, the special skills of their faculty, their students, and primarily their capacity to create and disseminate knowledge -- as essentially economic resources that can be employed for achieving market objectives. In fact, university-corporate linking has opened the door to a potentially more significant development; that is, the university's traditional activities -- creating and disseminating knowledge -- are increasingly being pursued from within the university as commercial ventures oriented toward profit-making for the university and /or its associated faculties, schools, or centres as corporate entities, and sometimes for individual professors and researchers who utilize the opportunities made available to them for their own financial benefit. Similar relationships characterize other types of commercially oriented educational projects that are being initiated through the provision of public monies to Centres of Excellence and other types of university-industry research centres. [9] What is not acknowledged or accommodated in this way of thinking is whether and how the means that are thus employed to appropriate the university's resources for a variety of economic purposes alters the university's social [10] objective of producing and disseminating knowledge that is accessible and meaningful to the needs of the broadest spectrum of Canadian society; and whether this alteration diminishes the university's more broadly based educational purposes and transforms its essential character as an educational institution. Moreover, this appropriation of the university and its resources to support various forms of corporate and entrepreneurial profit-making activities is taking place in the context of a publicly funded system of higher education. Although the possibility of privatizing universities has been frequently bandied about and debated, the direction that is in fact being pursued gives rise to hybrid institutions which are primarily supported through the public purse but are increasingly utilized for private benefits: at the extreme, these institutions are publicly subsidized profit-generating institutions that serve particular markets and paying clienteles.


Managerialism and university-corporate linking have had mutually reinforcing consequences for integrating universities more fully into the productive sector. For example, managerialism imported into the university's organizational practices and conceptualizations of its activities have made it possible to redirect its objectives toward serving corporate needs. Moreover, through the technologies and outward-looking orientation of managerialism, the internal programmatic activities of the university have been brought under the influence, if not the control of, supra-local [11] constituencies such as governments, the business community, funding agencies, and the like.

This exercise of control and influence over the internal operations of the university, from sites that reside outside the university, significantly undermines and displaces practices that arise from the idea of the university as a collegially based, self-governing institution in several ways. First, facilitated by various forms of ``documentary decision-making,'' such as five-year plans, mission statements, and performance indicators, decisions about which institutions, which programs and activities within institutions, and which topics of research will be supported financially are increasingly determined by government ministries, the research councils, and non-publicly accountable groups that influence these bodies. Second, in a circular way, members of university communities participate less in their departments, faculty councils, and senates precisely because these bodies are less central to making the significant decisions about their institution's policies and programs (for more on this, see Newson, 1992).

Third, linkage arrangements between universities and their paying clients may secure representation of these external sites on collegial bodies. For example, a few years ago at McGill University in Montreal it became known to the campus that the university administration had signed a collaborative contract with Sony Classical that provided for the university to receive a loan of $250,000 of Sony state-of-the-art equipment to use in its music department. A student newspaper reporter obtained a copy of the contract [12] which revealed that the equipment is to be returned to Sony within a specified period, and the university is to be responsible for the maintenance and repair of the equipment in the interim. In exchange, Sony Classical will (a) have access to university facilities to display its equipment and its use for a number of days each year and (b) a member of Sony Classical Corporation (an American company based in New York) will be given a place on the curriculum committee of the music faculty. [13]

Fourth, as the relevancies of these supra-local sites of control and influence become embedded in the language and practices of the internal operations of universities, the more traditional grounds of decision-making associated with collegially based self-governance are less utilized or, if utilized at all, they are the focus of internal debates and divisions within collegial bodies, leaving the higher-level administration with greater opportunities to act on its own managerial agenda in alliance with the members of the faculty who share the same ways of thinking.

As the role of collegial bodies in allocating institutional resources and the influence of judgments based on internally generated pedagogical, professional, and communal criteria have been diminishing, [14] the supra-local sites whose perspectives are increasingly reflected in local institutional decision-making have come to operate from an overlapping if not identical ``way of thinking'' about the university and its resources. I am not suggesting that this shared way of thinking necessarily points to a conspiracy. In fact, the process is more complex than a simple conspiracy theory can accommodate. Instead, I am suggesting that it signals a fundamental re-positioning of the university within a changing economic and political context.

To be sure, the way material support for university-based activities has been re-configured over the past two decades or more has enabled this re-positioning. First has been the change in funding policies of governments: initially, underfunding and then, increasingly, the selective incremental funding [15] of projects and programs oriented toward enhancing corporate productivity and international economic competitiveness. [16]

Second, the three national research grant councils -- SSHRC, NSERC, and MRC -- have re-allocated portions of their general research budgets to strategic, matched funds, and partnership research programs and re-directed the purposes of their granting programs to align with the economic competitiveness project of government (see Polster, 1994, chap. 3). Third, ``third-party'' policy brokers like the now defunct Science Council of Canada, the Corporate Higher-Education Forum, the Canadian Manufacturer's Association, and the Business Council on National Issues have been aggressively promoting these policy changes through their direct links to the federal government (see Buchbinder & Newson, 1991b; Polster, 1994, chap. 2).

Nevertheless, until very recently, the university community has offered very little opposition [17] to this re-constructed role of higher education and to the re-ordering of its relationships to business, government, and other markets for its services. In fact, the university in the 1990s appears to be no longer simply reacting to -- let alone resisting -- a fiscal ``crisis'' imposed on it from the outside, as it might have been characterized in the early days of underfunding in the 1970s. Instead, it increasingly appears as an institution which, in its practices as well as rhetoric, is actively generating an internal institutional culture organized around ``budgetary accountability'' and knowledge-based services-for-profit. For example, it appears as an institution which emphasizes and reflects norms of productivity and cost efficiency; which cultivates the idea of knowledge as a privatized and, where possible, profitable ``commodity''; and in which many of its pedagogical and related educational activities [18] that were once guided by the academic judgment of the faculty and to some extent students are now primarily organized around technological and bureaucratic practices that are located within the sphere of management. To whatever extent intellectual vitality continues to be sustained by the university's inner life, it is less relevant to what the university actually does in the world and how it achieves its ends. To put it another way, rather than existing as an educational institution whose practices emerge from its distinctively academic and educational character, the university that is emerging in the 1990s is more accurately conceived of as producing and reproducing itself as a business institution (i.e., a corporation or firm) which delivers largely prepackaged or predefined educational and research services to (mainly paying) clienteles and markets. [19]


I wish to acknowledge financial support from the Association for Canadian Studies for the writing of this paper.


[1] It is important to note that the size of the financial donation does not cover the full cost of these various projects and activities. The training and experience of highly qualified research and teaching faculty and the overhead of university buildings and equipment are still supported by the public purse. In other words, these exchanges between universities and corporate clients constitute a form of public subsidy to private sector corporations.

[2] That is, knowledge that can be commodified and privately owned and /or used for privately conceived purposes. See Buchbinder & Newson (1991a).

[3] I do not mean that the forms of ``collegial self-governance'' that were institutionalized should necessarily be hailed as a democratic achievement. I am cognizant of feminist and other critiques of collegialism as the protector of white and male dominance in the academy. However, in the context of the times, the achievement of collegial structures of decision-making and the more representative composition of these structures, in comparison with previous forms of decision-making in universities, was a move toward democratization. Moreover, this achievement was an objective of the campus movements of the time, whether student-, staff-, or faculty-based.

[4] I am mainly referring to the experiences of faculty members and administrators of universities. Studies of the experience of support staff, students, and other employee groups in the university are rare and are much needed.

[5] An article in the CAUT /ACPU Bulletin describing the state of affairs at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick adopted this approach. See Thorpe (1995).

[6] Michael Locke, a professor at the University of Western Ontario, adopted this view in his article, ``The Decline of Universities and the Rise of Edubis'' (Locke, 1990).

[7] For an expanded critique, see Polster & Newson (in press).

[8] Eventually, one of the few restricted copies of the bid came into the hands of a campus-based group that was mounting opposition to the ISU and its contents were made public. The opposition was based on several grounds, not the least of which were: the strong links between the ISU project and the U.S. Defense Department and leading military contractors; potential threats to Canadian sovereignty; the use of the university system as a resource for the province's industrial strategy; the commercialization of university research; the narrow high-tech thrust to the province's industrial strategy.

[9] Centres of excellence are one of the strategic instruments through which the deeper integration between publicly funded universities and private-sector corporations is being accomplished. A current example of a project that is similar in many ways to the ISU project, though supportive of a different type of high-tech industry, is the Virtual University Project at Simon Fraser University. It has been initially funded through NSERC and involves a large array of corporate partners. Its objective is to market university-level courses on disks under a ``Virtual U'' trademark registered to the academic researchers who applied for and received the NSERC grant.

[10] By ``social'' I am referring to the previously shared assumption that the university serves objectives for society as a whole, including such things as promoting general literacy, creating and preserving cultures, making human knowledge available to members of society in general, and, through all of these means, giving life to a meaningful democratic culture.

[11] I have chosen the word ``supra-local'' in order to avoid the use of the word ``external.'' Viewing the processes of change here as inside or outside an institution tends to obscure the ways in which they are implicated in the transformational process. This follows the usage recommended by Polster (1994).

[12] Such contracts are difficult to obtain because they are considered ``proprietary,'' thus justifying their confidentiality.

[13] Apparently, the university administration managed to side-step the controversy because the senate agreed to appoint the Sony Classical executive as an adjunct faculty member of the university. However, the main issue of controversy remains: namely, whether, in a publicly funded institution, it should be permissible for anyone to, in effect, ``purchase'' a position on a decision-making body.

[14] A more detailed elucidation is found in Cassin & Morgan (1992), especially pp. 251-253.

[15] Clyde Barrow (1994) describes a similar process in the United States with similar institutional results.

[16] Characteristically, the funding for these new kinds of programs is distributed not through Ministries of Education nor through ministries that have traditionally funded the general research agencies, but rather through Ministries of Industry, Trade, Technology or such newly named ministries as the Ministry of Advanced Career Development and Training. The names and, in some cases, re-namings of these ministries reflect the degree to which universities have been re-positioned to more clearly fulfill an economic mandate.

[17] I do not mean to dismiss or undervalue the efforts of a small minority of faculty members, students, and administrators who have been attempting to at least modify, if not impede, the university's reconstruction. However, these voices are few in number and unfortunately, in my view, they represent a small minority. Although the opposition to the ``corporatization'' of campuses has begun to build in the past year or so, it will be difficult to easily reverse some of the changes in practices and relationships that are already well embedded and re-inforced by government funding policies.

[18] Advising and enrolling students, for example.

[19] Perhaps a telling symbol of this transformation are the ever-popular campus shopping malls that are being constructed at the centre of many university campuses. They help to legitimate the idea that the campus is a place to ``consume'' goods and services.


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