Susan's paper has introduced a term that I have not heard around Australian universities yet - academic capitalism. Interesting how a name can suddenly bring to light a whole raft of issues you've been thinking about for a few years. While Susan writes mainly from a US perspective, she refers to research carried out in Australia, UK, Canada and the US.
Academic capitalism is defined as “institutional and professorial market or market-like efforts to secure external moneys” (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997, p. 8). In the 1980s and 1990s academic capitalism flourished as government support for education declined, corporate interest in new products and processes coincided with the university’s search for increased funding, and as the government sought to enhance national competitiveness by linking postsecondary education to business innovation... Public higher education institutions became dependent on sources beyond the government and that process is already changing the roles, rewards, and structures within academic institutions.I can't help quoting this paper at some length, as I know many of my colleagues will put off reading a PDF, but they might take a few minutes to read some notes here. I've copied Susan's spot-on observations of some of the consequences of academic capitalism.
At the university level
Academic capitalism is sweeping higher education. Although some institutions have been partially insulated by unique missions or large endowments, it is a growing phenomenon. At the institutional level rewards now flow to academic units that build external funding. There is an expansion of sales and service functions from branding and promoting logoemblazoned products to marketing web-based services. Campuses now resemble malls with recognizable private food and book vendors. Admissions functions have become enrollment management as the pressure increases to compete for new students. More and more administrative responsibilities are pushed out to the academic units. There is a decline in collegial governance with more important decisions being made at the central level to respond quickly to external constituents. There is growing tension between academics and central administration.
At the department level
There is an increase of hyper-competition between academic units for scarce resources. (This competition has exaggerated already present disciplinary biases.) Fields “close to the market,” such as business and engineering, continue to gain power while those less close, such as the liberal arts, are losing influence. The salary differentials between faculty members in fields that can access external dollars and those fields that cannot continue to grow. Fields further from the market are also experiencing increased teaching loads. There is an increase in the numbers of part-time faculty. Less and less importance is being placed on the quality of undergraduate and graduate instruction as reward systems shift and the maintenance of external partnerships absorbs increasing amounts of faculty time.
Faculty members are under pressure to pursue external funding. There is a shift away from community-minded attitudes toward attitudes of personal gain. Faculty members have less time to devote to instruction. Faculty, especially untenured junior faculty, are experiencing high levels of stress due to an increasing number of faculty roles. Maintaining external relationships demands larger and larger amounts of faculty time, and less time is available for other roles. Faculty members are becoming resistant to committee and university service as demands on their time increase. There is a decline in collegiality and campus community. There is less allegiance to the institution as faculty increasingly view themselves more and more as independent entrepreneurs.
Overall there is less government funding available for research. There is less basic, or curiosity-driven research, and more specialized and applied research. External constituents are setting more and more of the university’s research agenda. Faculty members engaged in research have less allegiance to the university as centers and institutes become increasingly funded by external, non-governmental sources.
Students are experiencing steady tuition increases. More and more students are seeking means/end education for career advancement. There is a growing resistance to broad educational experience as per course costs increase. Students are developing a shopping mall, consumer viewpoint of knowledge as a commodity. There is greater competition among students for spots in prestigious institutions. Broad access to higher education is being threatened as tuition spirals upward.
I've been a change agent in education for quite some time now.. one thing that has troubled me for almost all that time is that the rhetoric and the actions of education don't fit together. Susan picks this up also:
Research has shown that the theories, or mental models, people use in practice are, for the most part, tacit. Few people are consciously aware of them. It is these unquestioned theories-in-use that often guide our actions and strategies not our espoused theories. (Argyris and Schon, 1974, Argyris, 1980, Argyris, 1987, and cited in Smith, 2001) Thus, quite often the world-view and values we espouse are not the world-view and values implied by our behavior. This is not just a difference between what we say and what we do (between theory and action) but between two different theories of action—-one we profess and one we actually use.Bingo!. I have a lead to a body of knowledge that investigates this phenomenon. Many thanks! Susan goes on to use a great example to illustrate this point. Airport security measures! Nice one :) where their actions are clearly having consequences on many of the other values that inform their practice, but clearly know one has an eye on the relationships between values, practice and consequences. Susan gives a simple method for ensuring this happens:
Once you implement [change] strategies you may ask: “What did we expect to happen?” “What were the results?” and “How might we alter our strategy next time?” These questions are all asked from within the mental model you hold of the situation. If we also ask questions such as: “Why did we select this strategy?” “What made us think it will work?” “What have been the unintended consequences on each of our guiding values?” we are asking questions about our mental model and challenging our theory-in-use.
The trouble with this I think, and especially in the academic sector where truth is largely relative, and people's depth of understanding is non sequential and a-synchronous, such a review of consequences might lead to a paralysis. I've certainly come to such a point in many areas of my work, particularly when looking more deeply at the values of 'learning', the practice of 'education', and the consequences that practice has on 'learning'! aka Illich. Our practices are so deeply embedded, and the critique is so fundamentally challenging, that many people become simply paralysed and end up either ignoring the critique and 'getting on with it anyway', or dropping out of the structure all together. As a result, it is very difficult to find people in the sector who are willing and able to discuss the critique.
Perhaps though, this is simply a result of not having enough people in the room to discuss the problem and devise actions that move us on somewhat.
‘Unfreezing’ (Lewin, 1951) is an organizational term that has come to mean many things. First, it means that for change to take place members of the organization must see not only a need for change but also an urgent reason to change. Slaughter and Leslie have made the case for urgency by showing us that, out of financial necessity, higher education is already undergoing a quiet revolution that is having some unintended consequences. Second, Lewin’s concept of unfreezing warns us that attempts to change without addressing an organization’s cultures and values will fail in the long run.It has been a bit of an a-ha moment for me this simple little paper. Its references enlightening fields of research I would not have come across in my present reading lists. Academic capitalism is a very appropriate term for obvious reasons. The seeming oxymoron in the two words coming together is not an invitation to adopt an anti-capitalistic stance necessarily, but it sure does give me pause to reflect on my actions and proposals that are ultimately responding to this large changing force in the sector.
The erosion of public funding that has led to academic capitalism implies a shift not merely in funding sources but also in the deeper values that underlie education’s role in society... The use of a strategy such as academic capitalism needs to be consciously undertaken and widely discussed with broad awareness of and input regarding intended and unintended consequences not only on the financial health of the institution but also on the university’s mission and guiding values.