Canadian Journal of Sociology Online November - December 2000

click on ISBN to order book through Indigo

Neil Tudiver.
Universities for Sale: Resisting Corporate Control over Canadian Higher Education.

A CAUT Series Title; Toronto: James Lorimer and Company Ltd., 1999; pp xiv + 248; $Cdn 19.95 paper. (1550286900).

The CAUT is to be commended for co-publishing a new series in which Universities for Sale is the first title. A second title has been published in 2000, The Corporate Campus, a collection of essays edited by James L. Turk. The “CAUT Series” has no further descriptive name, but these first two offerings leave little doubt about its character and the Association’s keen interest in the subject matter. Tudiver’s study is a most timely one: the universities’ embrace of corporatism and commercialization which are central features of his analysis does appear to be becoming closer with each passing day. His plea to halt these forces might, in fact, be in danger of being overtaken by events. His point is that it is still not too late for democratic and public spirited values to prevail in higher education. He certainly makes an excellent case as to why it is desirable that they should, but his suggestions for how the tide is to be resisted do not inspire the greatest confidence in their potential success. The difficulties of resistance, however, are perfectly understandable given the history of the conduct of higher education in Canada and the manner in which various sets of actors from the world of politics, business, the civil service, granting agencies, and universities (administrators, governors, faculty, students) have or have not consorted together over the past five or six decades. Herewith lies one of the book’s particular strengths: it is historically well grounded and well informed, giving the reader a good wide base in terms of which to understand the most recent developments and incidents in university/corporate/government relations. For despite the mildly provocative title, this book is a serious attempt to piece together the historical and institutional strands that have gone to make up the universities as research and educational patchworks for the new century. Tudiver draws out the main strands and reflects on their significance and heritage from about the 1950s onwards, ending with a “what is to be done?” chapter for the 21st century. There are heroes (faculty unions) and villains (greedy corporations and all too compliant university administrators) in Tudiver’s account of the march to the corporate university, but he is properly aware that the story is very complicated and involves a series of ongoing dynamic relationships (of faculty, administrators, and the various players ‘outside’ the universities) which intersect and influence each other in different ways at different times. In other words, this is no simplistic view that might lay blame for the erosion of university autonomy at the hands of, for example, corporate interests alone. The more realistic view clearly is that universities are subject to all kinds of forces which prevail in the wider society and which are, indeed, reflected and embodied in the universities themselves. Hence the way university administrators, faculty and students conduct themselves, and with what attitudes towards their roles and responsibilities, is shaped by forces which are prevalent in society generally. If the culture of universities has become dominated by corporatism, individualism, opportunism, managerialism, value-for-money, and “accountability” rather than public interest, communitarianism, the search for fundamental knowledge and critical thinking, as Tudiver would no doubt agree, then it is only to be expected that it would do so in order to survive in and be congruent with a society which itself is dominated by such characteristics.

All of this suggests that ‘resistance’ to these trends is no simple matter for it means resisting actions and attitudes which are quite well entrenched in a living culture, and in which people may have much invested (and by no means just in a financial sense). Tudiver advocates resistance, however, fearing the inexorable march of the forces which he sees as antithetical to the truly valuable assets of responsible and democratic universities. “If current trends continue, public education will become a branch of private industry. Research critical of the status quo will disappear. Basic research and advances in general knowledge will suffer from a steady decline in funding .... Research targeted towards giving investors a return on their money will replace broadly-based scholarship” (p. 194). For Tudiver, the best hope of confronting the problems of these trends rests with faculty members, especially through their collective efforts as unions of faculty members. The ‘institutional independence’ which is maintained by the practices of tenure and academic freedom is a principle for universities whose maintenance is vital. Faculty unions are the pre-eminent champions here. The very essence of the university requires “debate, criticism and unfettered inquiry.” If these are allowed to slip away, the greatest value of the universities for society has gone. This must not be allowed to happen. Professors who “may be motivated by self-interest over threats to pay, tenure and academic freedom” are nevertheless confronting” the essential question of the university’s future - whether it will remain an independent force that contributes broadly to society, or instead be sold to the highest bidder” (p. 196).

The book is well produced, written in a lively style with a number of useful statistical compilations which show such things as the growth in university and university expansion since the 1900s, public expenditure on universities and other income sources, faculty numbers, and strikes and lockouts since the Laval strike of 1976. There is a very useful bibliography. Finally, an attraction is the manner in which Tudiver enlivens his account with descriptions drawn in particular from his own institution, the University of Manitoba, where he is a professor of Social Work and a staunch union supporter. His claim that faculty unions always have the potential to assert the real value of universities is brought to life, for example, by his first-hand description of the salutary effects of the strike at his university in 1995. Strikes are about the self interests of a particular group of employees, but, as so many in academe by now have found, they are also wonderful opportunities for faculty members to discover their common objectives and to be energized by a real sense of camaraderie. Invariably the basis for commonality is found to be the need to have academic work (of teaching and research) properly valued. For this, there must be an ongoing commitment, both within and without the university, to the virtues of academic freedom and unfettered enquiry. The more any constituents of universities become embroiled with organizations or individuals whose connections with university work have even a slender string attached, the greater is the risk that so fragile a freedom is mortally endangered. Neil Tudiver makes this point very well.

Graham Morgan
Dalhousie University
November 2000
© CJS Online