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are in a bag of somebody’s cookies, chemistry experiments
on whether one brand of spaghetti sauce is really thicker than
another, environmental courses based on the life cycle of a
well-known athletic shoe. These are curricula that are actually
in use in high schools as we speak. So we should not minimize
the threat that this poses or the ingenious guises in which it
can come.
KW: So, left unchecked, how far do you think this trend
toward commercialization in higher education could go?
: Oh, I fear it could go pretty far. Again, one can look
to athletics as an example of the process that has gone on for
many decades. And certainly the fact that compromises have
been made with values that most people would say are very
fundamental—your admissions standards; your grading; the
nature of your curriculum; and the fact that academic officials
have acquiesced with those compromises—makes you believe
that there are dangers that we need to look out for, and that it
would be rather foolish to assume that somehow because it’s
higher education and we have high motives and lofty purposes
that we are not going to get into trouble if we don’t watch
KW: Is some of that compromising going on now?
: Yes, there’s enough so that you can see the problems
very easily. There are certainly cases of excessive secrecy.
There are cases in which there have been corporate efforts to
manipulate published academic research. There have certainly
been instances of conflict of interest in which people had
financial interest in the outcome of the research that they were
carrying out.
We’re at an earlier stage in education-for-profit via the
Internet, but as you see universities partnering with venture
capitalists who expect to make a large return from the money
that they put into distance education via the Internet, one can
expect that decisions by some institutions
for Internet education will be driven more
by their moneymaking potential than by
their capacity to enhance the learning of
students. And those two are not the same.
And profit-making efforts in education
may in some circumstances produce high
quality education, but there will be other
circumstances in which it does not, and
students will suffer as a result.
KW: How can you distinguish between
the profit motive that is beneficial to
education and the profit motive that is
detrimental to education?
: That, of course, is the trick. And I
don’t think I can give you a single formula.
I think there are a series of categories of
behavior. You have to look at each one and
try to draw some guidelines.
I do point out in the book that simply looking at each
situation as it arises on an ad hoc basis is almost certain to get
us into trouble, because the benefits are real and immediate,
and the costs are much more intangible, long-run, not easily
attributable to any
single decision. And
so you’re bound, bit
by bit, to slip into
the same sorts of
problems that you
have in athletics.
So you do need
guidelines. But there
isn’t a single guideline
that can be applied to
all situations.
I think you have to be very careful about what your values
are and then apply them to each category, such as secrecy,
or conflict of interest in scientific research, or profit-making
ventures in education, and then you try to draw some lines.
KW: Who should be ultimately responsible for ensuring
the academic integrity of each educational institution?
: At present, the responsibility lies very heavily in
the hands of the president or the top very few officials at
the university. And I believe that that is unwise, because
the president is under enormous pressure to raise money.
He or she is often judged on howmuch money they raise.
And as a result, without some greater support from other
constituencies in upholding the essential values of the
institution, I fear that this process of erosion is bound to take
place—just as it has in athletics.
So I believe there is a role for the trustees to play, not
just in paying attention to howmuch money we’re raising,
but by paying a lot of attention to how we’re doing it: not
by getting into the micromanaging details of each research
contract, but by making sure that there’s a careful review of
corporate research to make sure that there are appropriate
guidelines for secrecy and conflict of interest, and by doing
their best to make sure that key officials, like the technology
transfer officers, know that they will be rewarded as much for
retaining values as they will for earning money.
I think, if anything, even more important is the
engagement of the faculty. There’s a very dangerous tendency
at work now to say that the faculty is sort of an obstruction—
that in today’s fast-moving economy, universities cannot
tolerate the delays and obfuscations of faculty, and that the
creative administration has to be agile and move quickly and
therefore needs more authority, and the faculty should be kept
out of these things. I think that’s fatal.
KW: As you point out, the president has a very
important role here. As these financial pressures come to
bear on universities, do you think that we are now entering
an era in which we’re hiring presidents more for their
business savvy than for their understanding of academics?
: Absolutely. And I think to some extent it’s inevitable:
Universities are much bigger and more complicated
institutions than they were, and therefore administrative skill
is more important than it was.
Presidents are being hired for their fundraising abilities.
And I understand why: The need to raise funds is very great.
But I do think it represents a real danger, because presidents
The more you think
about it, the more
you see that turning
education into a
commercial product
with advertising
does have subtle
costs connected to
it that probably are
best avoided.
Presidents are
being hired for their
fundraising abilities.
And I understand why:
The need to raise
funds is very great.