Below you’ll find the first of a series of weekly posts offering an alternative to the current businessfication of higher education. They are part of a larger agenda to broaden the conversation on campus concerning the efficacy of adapting a corporate model.
How Do We Stop It?
Strategies for Pushing Back Corporate U
The thought on many an academic’s mind is how to stop it. The “it”? The barrage of reports, papers, and interviews stating that higher education needs to embrace “disruptive change,” treat students like customers, and become more entrepreneurial. In short, adopt a business model, or like a blacksmith shop in the age of automobiles, find itself a mere curio, a quaint but outmoded heritage industry. This attack comes from all quarters: government, think tanks, even from within the academy itself.
The response of many academics generally takes two paths: indignation or resignation. Reading the comments after one of Thomas Friedman’s “Revolution Hits the Universities” Op Ed takedowns of higher education or the latest Chronicle of Higher Education’s effusion patiently explaining how “How Disruption Can Help Colleges Thrive,” showcases the richness and depth of academics’ response when critiquing an argument. The problem is that we’re fighting a rearguard battle, trying to argue rationally where an ideology of “business first” is already established. And with papers to grade, research to complete, and articles to write, we end up complaining to each other in hallways and at faculty parties, or sigh and shrug, getting back to the real work of academia. In the meantime, “it” rolls on, powered by think tanks, policy wonks, and college administrators with time to kill.
But as the ranks of full time faculty steadily shrink, it’s clear that inaction will lead to a race to the bottom. And no one wants to be the last professor cast out of Corporate U.
So what’s the plan? How can faculty stem the “business as usual” tide that permeates so much of the discourse in higher education today?
What will follow, gleaned from research on higher education trends, education, and psychology, refutes much of the current pablum trotted out as innovation. Most of it will be familiar – they are things academics know we should do – but collected together they seem less formidable: a way to shift from a shrug to action. And that is what is needed now: action. The suggestions will be loosely grouped into three broad (and hopefully easy to recall) categories: information, communication, determination. Next week I’ll start with the first — and longest — category: information.
As always, feel free to leave feedback (anonymous if you’d like) below.
 Cf. “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education,” a report from the Bush administration’s Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling, Obama’s various “Race to the Top” initiatives, and from the academy, Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring’s The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out.
 For Friedman, the disruption is centered around online course delivery. In addition to “Revolution,” see his “Come the Revolution,” “Breakfast Before the MOOC, ” and “The Professors’ Big Stage.”