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University administrators increasingly in the driver’s seat
Over the last two decades, universities and other post-secondary institutions in Canada have seen a striking rise in corporate presence on campus.
With decreased government funding, students are expected to bear the brunt of the cost while corporation-style management is adopted nationwide. These administrations seek to further corporate interests by recruiting from the private sector rather than investing in academic staff. This increase in corporatization can then influence the management structures of the universities themselves.
“A university is supposed to be there for a broad range of experiences, from anthropology to sociology to business to computer programming, and if people who don’t have that loyalty, that dedication to a broad range of intellectual and creative endeavours, aren’t in charge, then the danger is they remake it and … turn it into a business, and it’s not,” said Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) president Brenda Austin-Smith.
CAUT is just one organization that has been critical of the increasing corporatization of post-secondary education. According to a January 2019 report by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the reliance on private money and the growth of university management positions relative to academic faculty “end up compromising the provision of publicly funded education.”
Claire Polster, a sociology professor at the University of Regina, agrees that administrations have increasingly become more corporatized. “Universities are public institutions, so for any single constituency to get this proportion of control over the university — and especially an external constituency — is problematic,” she said. “As universities operate as businesses, they use more managerial practices so that it’s more administrators making the decisions — and other groups are left out.”
A public or private institution?
Today, public sources account for less than half of funding in post-secondary education. In 1985, governments funded 81 per cent of university operating revenues. Thirty years later, this number was almost halved to 49 per cent.
“Governments have been redefining education,” said James Turk, the director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson. “They’re saying it’s a private good and therefore the persons going to university should pay for it, so that’s where the corporate mentality has sort of come from.”
While most private money comes from students in the form of tuition and fees, there has also been the need for industry donors and the private sector to help run institutions. Funding for operations revenues from these private sources rose from 2.7 per cent to nearly 10 per cent from 1985 to 2015, according to the CUPE report.
“Donors and the private sector … have values that are very different from university values,” said Turk. These values range from strings-attached investments in specific disciplines — usually STEM — to promoting business and money-making interests.
Investing more in corporate influence
While students pay more tuition, the cost of administration increases as well. At the University of Toronto, president Meric Gertler made 39.8 per cent more from 2013 to 2017. He was still out-earned by William Moriarty, University of Toronto Asset Management Corp. CEO, who made nearly $1.5 million in 2016 overseeing the organization.
With North American universities, said Turk, “you have a large administrative structure that doesn’t come from the university world or the academic world, and is used to the traditional corporate structure (to bring) that kind of traditional corporate mentality.”
External governance also dominates. According to a 2018 analysis by PressProgress, 33.5 per cent of board members at Ontario’s 18 biggest universities are corporate executives. Students, faculty, staff and senate members — those who directly represent the university — come in second place, taking up 30.3 per cent of total seats.
“A higher proportion (of corporate executives) means they may exert disproportionate influence over university values and rules relative to other groups,” said Polster.
Investing less in academics
The number of precarious faculty positions rises, too, as universities adopt a corporate mindset. More than half of undergraduate university courses in Ontario are now being taught by contract faculty, while half of all post-secondary workers in Ontario do not have job stability.
“If you have precarious workers, it’s harder for them to take a stand if you’re afraid that your contract is not going to be renewed,” said Austin-Smith. “If you criticize your institution then you’re less likely to speak up — and many have spoken up, but you can be intimidated.”
And there’s more at stake with shorter-term contract workers: the impact that it has on students.
“It’s not only monetary costs but also opportunity costs,” said Polster. “When you have more of a managerial mentality which leads to things like more precarious faculty, that can be costly to students in terms of an impoverishment of the quality of their education.”
Other critics, like Turk, agree. “University’s role in society is to educate students and advance knowledge — and that should be its only priority.”