Monday, September 16, 2013

Corporatism And University Administration In America: The University Of Oregon As An Example

Universities are an organizational anomaly.  Corporations, and most other organizations, have hierarchical structures in which the authority to make important decisions cascade to the top of the hierarchy.  Universities have been unique in many respects from the corporate structure that is dominant in society. The faculty are actively involved in making important academic decisions and they are even involved in evaluating and recommending the hiring and  promotion of faculty.  For example, the faculty set the requirements for the awarding of degrees, and they are actively involved in making decisions about the curriculum which is essentially the product that the university delivers to its students.  University administrators have generally been drawn from the faculty and they have historically supported this unique form of organization.  This article is about changes at the University of Oregon, which is similar to trends in other states, that limit the freedom of faculty and change the organizational structure of the university in important ways.  The intent is to impose the corporate structure on the American university.

This trend has been apparent for some time and it is consistent with the rise of corporatism and hierarchy in America.  Universities have become more dependent upon private funding as public funding has diminished over time.  Non-academic activities have also become an important source of revenue, and reputation for universities.  Universities with outstanding athletic teams have a recruiting advantage in attracting the best students. Athletic facilities, which are essential in building strong football, basketball and other sporting programs are often funded by private donors who desire naming rights on the new facilities.  The Boards Of Trustees at many universities have also changed over time.  They are frequently drawn from the executive ranks of corporations and they are more comfortable with the way that decisions are made in corporations. They don't understand or appreciate the unique structure of the traditional university.  For example,  a group of trustees at the University Of Virginia decided to fire a president who depended upon faculty input in academic decisions about the direction of the curriculum.  This led to protests which overturned the decision by the trustees but is an example of role played by trustees who do not respect the traditional ways in which universities have been organized.

It is important to point out that university faculty have also played an important role in our society.  They are highly educated and better informed about many subjects than the average citizen.  They typically have views about public affairs that run counter to popular opinion and the direction of politics in America.  That is not appreciated by many in the political and corporate hierarchy.  They are more concerned about establishing social control than they are about providing a platform for dissent.

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