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Early this afternoon, the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia voted to reinstate ousted President Teresa Sullivan in a unanimous vote.  Sullivan stepped down on June 10th citing "philosophical differences" with members of the board over austerity measures to restructure its curriculum around online courses.  According to The Huffington Post, the board, led by Rector Helen Dragas, felt that the university should be run more like a business than an academic institution.   Her reinstatement comes as a result of the overwhelming support from students, academic deans, and tenured faculty.

Sullivan had been on the job for less than two years when leaders of the Board of Visitors began working in secret to build a case against her. Her critics, especially Dragas, disliked her method of building network support and allies, and instead wanted her to "enact change, not pave the way for it".  However, her critics underestimated the level of support she would garner.  Dorrie Fontaine, dean of the Nursing school, said "“She has a real relationship-based, relationship-centered presidency and she puts primacy on listening and getting to know people."

What happened at the University of Virginia this month is not new. Tal Brewer, chairperson of UVA's Philosophy department, says there is a shift in the appreciation for the business mind to 'bring clarity, organization, and efficiency to any institution' in the ranks of higher education. Something he thinks is a mistake.

In a time when corporate sponsors and wealthy donors influence political outcomes through enormous campaign contributions, the same influence is affecting public education and research around the country.
In 1862, land-grant universities were established to offer the common citizen access to higher education, and pursuing research that helps farmers improve their fields. Today, however, these public universities are serving more private interests. Hundreds of millions of dollars are now flowing from corporate agribusiness into the land-grant university to sponsor buildings, endow professorships and pay for research. One such land-grant university, South Dakota State, is headed by a man who sits on Monsanto’s board of directors

In a 2009 article from collegiatetimes.com,

This recent increase in the commercialization of education can be attributed to a number of factors, particularly the rise of consumerism, a diminution in public support for education, and the demand for accountability, as well as an inevitable decline in public funding as the country's economy suffers.
In an effort to follow a more business-like model for funding public higher education, corporatization may lead to money-saving techniques that sacrifice the quality of education by hiring temporary, non-tenured professors (i.e., smaller salaries) rather than certified professors.  Additionally, when universities rely too much on corporate funding, unethical practices in research may arise as in the case of Nancy Olivieri, a doctor doing research for a university on certain drugs when a discovery was made concerning potentially fatal side effects of a drug she tested. Because of the funding corporation's financial interest in this particular drug, Olivieri was pressured to conceal her discoveries. When she refused, she was fired from the university.

Rebecca Clay, of the American Psychological Assocation, says that "for students, faculty and the public in general, these changes bring both concerns and potential benefits. While proponents applaud the enhanced efficiency and opportunities to benefit those beyond the ivory tower's walls, others worry that institutions of higher learning risk losing their very soul: students committed to learning, professors committed to educating and researchers committed to following their intellectual passions rather than corporate agendas."

The reality of the rise in corporatization of higher public education is that declining financial aid for higher education requires schools to raise money elsewhere in addition to increased efficiency or cost cutting. Universities must explore all possible corporate collaborations to determine the most beneficial before getting involved with any business. This means increased involvement by both professors and students in deciding which partnerships best represent faculty interest and academic strength.  No university should compromise learning in the name of corporatizing.

Originally posted to VeloVixen on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 03:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by Virginia Kos.

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