Missouri and the Corporate University

have written a splendid piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education that provides further perspective on the recent events at the University of Missouri, most specifically their connection with broader disturbing trends in higher education.  The entire piece deserves a reading, but here are some pertinent excerpts:

Timothy Wolfe should never have been president of the University of Missouri. He was a computer-company executive with no advanced degrees or experience in academic administration. Like so many other unrepresentative, politically appointed boards, Missouri’s Board of Curators chose a private-sector manager to run a public university. Wolfe had virtually no experience with students or scholars.

If he had, one of his first major decisions as president in the spring of 2012 would not have been to shut down the University of Missouri Press. The internationally respected press had been in existence for 54 years and had published over 2,000 titles. These titles included the definitive edition of the collected works of Langston Hughes and the premier series of Mark Twain scholarship. No American writers have written more insightfully about race than these two sons of Missouri, but Wolfe was going to sell off the rights to these titles at garage-sale prices.

A few weeks later, the Board of Curators approved Wolfe’s decision to close the press, ostensibly to save its annual subsidy of about $400,000 (later estimated to be much less). At the same meeting, it announced Phase 1 of a $200-million plan to upgrade Mizzou’s sports facilities. . . .

We can see now that these events presaged what has happened in Columbia this fall. Public universities are public trusts, not private corporations. They are a public good in which we must all invest. We used to view them this way. Forty years ago, about two-thirds of their revenue came from state appropriations; that figure is now down to about a fifth. Administrators have tried to wring these lost revenues out of already strapped middle-class parents and their children through higher tuition and enormous student-loan burdens. In the meantime, the number of administrators has skyrocketed, and their compensation packages have swelled to private-sector levels.

On campus, tenure is attacked, teaching is shifted to poorly paid adjuncts and teaching assistants, and students are treated shabbily. Their demands for safe campuses, challenging classes, and basic respect are too often ignored. The privatization of public higher education led Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, who has since agreed to step down, to yank medical insurance away from graduate assistants, and it led President Wolfe to rush to meetings with big donors while ignoring the concerns of African-American students.

Fortunately, such bottom-line thinking has also led students, faculty, and staff to fight back. This fall Missouri provided us all with the brave example of student leaders (including athletes) who were willing to risk everything in order to make their university the place of learning it should be. . . .

If you go read the article, as you should, check out some of the comments, which, sad to say, provide further evidence that charges of racism are not exaggerated.

One thought on “Missouri and the Corporate University

  1. Pingback: Margaret Spellings’ For-Profit (and Discriminatory) Past | The Academe Blog

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.