chapter  15
8 Pages

The entrepreneurial university: or, why the university is no longer a public space (if it ever was)

ByDon Mitchell

Clark Kerr, the great president of the University of California system, once (perhaps apocryphally) remarked that a university president had three main jobs: providing football for the alumni, parking for the faculty, and sex for the undergrads. Those were the days. The job has gotten a lot harder, even as a president’s responsibilities have narrowed. Now, as any president will note, there is only one job: chasing money. Chasing money has always been important to universities, but before money was chased so that football, parking, and sex (and maybe scholarship) could thrive. Now the polarity is reversed. Football, parking, and sex (and maybe scholarship) continue to thrive on college campuses (perhaps more than ever), but now only to the degree that each brings in the cash. This reversal of polarity is not apocryphal; it’s epochal. It is an epochal shift that builds on two others. From the founding of the “modern”

university in Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century until – perhaps – the early-to mid-1960s (about the time Clark Kerr was laying out his vision for the “multiversity”),1 the business of universities was nation-building. Universities were sites for the production not only of national culture (through the humanities disciplines), but also for learning to regulate national populations (in the burgeoning social sciences), and creating nationally based sciences (organized through national scientific societies). As Bill Readings detailed in his book The University in Ruins, however, the “postmodern” university no longer had nation-building as its guiding ideology.2 Rather, in the wake of the global upheavals of the post-World War II period, colleges became what Readings called “universities of excellence”: they had no other raison d’etre than “excellence” itself. Of course, “excellence” is an empty term, and Readings’ point was that under this banner room was made for all kinds of things: corporate-led science; radical social science; abstruse theory. While there might be fights over whether this or that body of knowledge was politically legitimate, or whether this or that way of knowing was morally or socially corrupting, all that really

mattered – the metric upon which such disputes were resolved – was whether the body of knowledge in question was somehow “excellent” or not. And what mattered even more was that each university was more excellent than the next (proven through not only the records of footballs teams, the closeness of parking, or the quantity and quality of the sex, but also the number of articles and books published, grants received, and “schools” founded). But at least since the fiscal crises of the 1970s, another trend has been at work. The

truest proof of excellence – cold, hard cash – has become dominant. The bigger the endowment, the more numerous the grants, the flashier the donations, the better the university. And money proves itself: more money always now makes more excellence possible. In this world, money doesn’t just shape excellence (or just allow for it); it determines it. Money is not pursued so that scholarship may be advanced; scholarship is now advanced so that money may be pursued. The most interesting fact of this state of affairs is this: it means that in universities there is now room for just about anything. Marxist geographers occupy offices next door to professors committed to deepening the neoliberal destruction of social welfare; military scientists share buildings with anti-nuke physicists; chemists thoroughly beholden to the pharmaceutical companies sip cocktails at the president’s house with English profs thoroughly beholden to the relativity of all knowledge. As long as each is excellent, and can prove this excellence not only with publications or applications from aspiring grad students, but especially with grants, gifts, or consulting contracts, then, and only then, is each welcome. The only ground for exclusion is the failure to prove excellence monetarily. The openness of this kind of university is not, in itself, a bad thing. But what is at

its root is. What is at its root is a growing cult of entrepreneurship.3 Universities are in the business of chasing money, and (to focus on the place I know best) one of Syracuse University’s big catches in recent years was a $3 million grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to establish a “Syracuse Campus-Community Entrepreneurship Initiative,” designed to assure that each of us at the university and in the surrounding city now become “entrepreneurial.” It is taken as good and proper that we all become entrepreneurial professors, entrepreneurial students, entrepreneurial secretaries and entrepreneurial janitors; members of the community are, with this grant, expected to become entrepreneurial activists. Even artists are now expected to be more fully entrepreneurial. The encouragement comes in the form of “Enitiative” seed grants, mostly in $12,000 increments. Each grant requires an explanation of how the use of the money will not only encourage entrepreneurialism, but advance and deepen its ethos – how it will “infuse entrepreneurship across the curriculum; create meaningful and productive campus-community connections; encourage entrepreneurship research across disciplines; [and] stimulate our region with the power and energy of entrepreneurship,” according to the enitiative website.4

The term entrepreneur is never really defined, basking instead in a cult-like and unquestioned aura. Behind the vacuousness of the language lies a project. In announcing the grant,

here is what the CEO of the Kauffman Foundation said: [Syracuse University, along with the other new Kauffman Campuses] “will empower all students on campus to

access the skills, orientation, and networks that can lead to greater individual opportunities… [and] to the creation of jobs, innovation and prosperity for America.”5 Note the language: it is the individual at stake here, clearly living in an always competitive environment, in which prosperity must necessarily come at the expense of others. Some proof of this assertion comes in the requirements of the “Enitiative” grants themselves. Every grant requires a five-to-one financial match. In order to secure $12,000, an applicant must secure elsewhere $60,000. This is as true of communitybased recipients (a community group or a small, non-profit gallery) as it is of university programs. Those of us who apply for and receive grants to support community-based or activist projects are faced with two choices. Either we can seek out such matching funds from the super-strapped foundations in our area, necessarily elbowing out other worthy applicants in the name of “sparking innovation” (as the “Enitiative” people like to say), but really in a race to prove who is the most worthy of the worthy. The matching-grant requirement in fact concentrates wealth, rather than encouraging its rational and equitable distribution. Or, therefore, the more likely second choice is to do what the directors of the “Enitiative” project encourage us to do: lie. In the case of our Community Geography Project, in order to get a grand a month to support a little corps of interns to make maps and run analyses for community organizations, we make up the most fantastical stories about other sources of income. We claim that these interns use a ridiculous amount of computer time and money in our Integrated Spatial Data Analysis Lab; we pretend that the salary of the Community Geographer goes mostly to her overseeing these interns; we claim that I spend hours every month working directly on internship projects, and that our departmental administrative staff is devoted, in fair measure, to its success (they’re not: they’re doing the jobs they are paid by the university to do). None of this is true. No-one who oversees the “Enitiative” program really believes it is true. All of us know that if we are going to prevail in this competition (and we want to, because we think we can use the money for good), such white lies are a small price to pay. They are the means by which we elbow out the competition. Our individual project triumphs in the “competitive environment” that Kauffman claims is a fact of contemporary life, but which instead it is central in producing and deepening. But, though a big grant, this is small beer. In 2007, Syracuse University secured a

$30 million, 10-year commitment from JPMorgan Chase to open a financial services technology training center, an effort the Corporate Responsibility Newswire calls “innovative,” and that Syracuse Chancellor Nancy Cantor describes as a “comprehensive university-industry collaboration between JPMorgan Chase and Syracuse University [that] provides one of those rare opportunities to pool intellectual capital to make an immediate difference in industry, higher education and our region.” The reason this is such a welcome contribution, according to news reports, is because (of course) “JPMorgan Chase and Syracuse University each have a tradition of excellence in New York that dates back to the 1800s.”6 Through this “partnership,” however, that so-called tradition of excellence now has two main purposes: deepening the instrumentality of students’ education (as well as their exploitation), and the direct transfer of university-produced knowledge (knowledge paid for by state subsidies,

student tuition, endowment funds, other research grants, etc.) to a corporate third party at a ridiculously cheap price.7 One of the primary aims of the program is to allow JPMorgan Chase employees and executives to work “side-by-side with the University to change the way technology and business students are trained, making them well prepared to enter the workforce after graduation.”8 Students are now to be trained, and only trained, as good workers; not educated, not invited and expected to learn to think critically, not encouraged to explore ideas. Instruction will not necessarily be by regular members of the Syracuse faculty (with its at least minimal guarantees of academic freedom, and its still extant, if not always thriving, commitment to critical inquiry), but especially by “JPMorgan Chase professionals who will lecture, co-teach, evaluate student projects, and work along side [sic] students in a variety of curricular and co-curricular venues.” Fifteen Syracuse professors have committed themselves to this usurpation of their role and traditional powers and are now working with “30 JPMorgan Chase & Co. technology experts” to develop a new Chase-oriented curriculum.9 As part of the curriculum, Chase “experts” draw on student labor to conduct “applied research projects,”10 the proprietary nature of which is unclear (both Chase and the University remain silent on this and the issue has not been raised in the press). Students in the program are placed on a fast-track to JPMorgan Chase credit-based internships (but not internships in other companies or venues), which they can substitute for other graduation requirements, and which are only “in some cases” paid.11