Study Finds Public Discontent With Colleges -

Most Americans believe that colleges today operate like businesses, concerned more with their bottom line than with the educational experience of students, according to a new study. And the proportion of people who hold that view has increased to 60 percent, from 52 percent in 2007.

Why would folks think this? Hrm. Because the belief is on the money?

The knee-jerk reaction is that a college acting like a business is a wrongheaded move. To the degree that this mentality produces a college is simply vocational, I'd agree that the move is ill-conceived. To the degree that engineering colleges are business-like, these being fields which are trying to produce citizens whose research is specifically blending scholarship into business, well, the lines aren't quite so clearly cut.

One place where acting like a business is despicable is in the humanities. Nothing concerns me more than the way humanities departments are scrambling for cash via corporate sponsorship and/or partnership. I've heard very well-respected scholars argue that we are entering an age of the digital humanities, where our now increasingly technology-driven fields benefit from adopting the business-friendly model from engineering and hard sciences. Without their money, how can we perform the broad-based, collaborative research the new influences in our fields require?

These rationalizations lose the stereotypical tweed jacketed and elbow padded professor who is in the academy precisely because it provides them safe haven from -- no, simply an alternative to -- those parts of our nation driven directly through corporate capitalism or any other institutional mindset. The academy is supposed to be, well, perhaps "supposed to be" is too strong. The academy was once an institution that was largely separate from the state, the church, and industry. It chose to live in a privileged position from which intelligent citizens would give up their earning power to better society in specific, critical ways. The protection from chasing dollars is precisely what made the college powerful. That's why people set up endowments for goodness sake. Colleges are meant to be money losing propositions. We, as a society, passively or no, long ago said that such commentary was worth the "loss".

Do we blame the land grant college, the Moo U's, for compromising this romanticized goal of cultural critique for critique's sake? Do we blame the rise of collegiate sports and the way the common alumnus/a is just or more likely to give to the football booster program as their old department? Have universities and colleges simply worn too many hats under the same roofs, and this cultural osmosis was too difficult to resist?

I don't know. I just know, from taking a look inside, that faculty bends over backwards to figure out clever ways to make the humanities a money-making enterprise through service courses and science-like research. I've seen too many take jobs in the academy not because they understand the world and wish to make it better through personal sacrifice, but take the jobs only because they offer to them the most lucrative career and cultural respect that their abilities can support. I've seen the new academy take the critical lens of scholarship from its once protected position, and eviscerate its traditional ability to critique power and offer needed alternatives. Without the least feeling of being melodramatic, I feel comfortable saying that the nation, even the world, is worse off for the compromise.

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