Saturday, February 23, 2008

Knocked by the market mechanisms

I almost laughed when Amazon knocked at my inbox with this ad:
We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated "University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education" by Jennifer Washburn have also purchased "Strategic Financial Challenges: New Directions for Higher Education" by Lucie Lapovsky. For this reason, you might like to know that "Strategic Financial Challenges: New Directions for Higher Education" will be released on March 7, 2008. You can pre-order yours by following the link below.

Hey, I’m not interested in being strategic about financial challenges, I thought. Yet, I was tempted to take a look, but the Amazon page for that book didn’t reveal much. I went to another book by Lapovsky - Roles and Responsibilities of the Chief Financial Officer: New Directions for Higher Education - and read its description:

With demands for improved quality, increasing competition for state and federal funds, and the challenges of integrating technology into the curriculum, higher education faces greater economic uncertainties than ever before. The chief financial officer (CFO) of any higher education institution stands squarely in the middle of this maelstrom. This issue of New Directions for Higher Education offers CFOs proven strategies for balancing the operating and capital budgets, maximizing net enrollment revenues, containing costs, planning for the resource needs of technology, identifying and managing risks, and investing the endowment wisely. The contributors discuss how CFOs can build positive relationships with key players in the campus’s financial planning and budget, including admissions and financial aid staff, state legislatures, and the board investment committee.

Gosh, I’m happy not being a CFO! What kind of job is this? Let’s make a cause for crisis psychology for traumatised CFOs having hard times building “positive relationships with key players in the campus” when the faculty withdraw when market mechanisms threaten to knock-out academic expertise in university governance.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Knowledge as a public good implies Open-access

In the post "Access and Taxes" to a new interesting blog Knowledge Rules, John Willinski, a Stanford professor of education, discusses open-access policy and its potential impact on the public use of knowledge. Willinski is concerned with both the public service question and current changes in scholarly communication when the universities are in a position to direct endowment earnings toward greatly increasing access to the very body of knowledge they produce:
"Access to this body of knowledge could mean anyone could add high-quality, easily accessible references to such public services as Wikipedia and MIT’s highly celebrated Open Course Ware with its course syllabus and instructional materials. It would alter the balance between sound and questionable information online, and serve, in this way, the larger world of interested scholars and dedicated amateurs, concerned parents and social activists, high school teachers and other professionals, policy-makers and, yes, lobbyists. Does free access to research and scholarship sound too far-fetched, [...] ?"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rethinking the University after Bologna

On December 12-13 2008 the University Centre Saint-Ignatius Antwerp (UCSIA) organizes a two-day international conference in Antwerp, Belgium:

Rethinking the university after Bologna:
new concepts and practices beyond tradition and the market

The conference will address several issues. First it wants to examine why we should look for alternatives at all. To do that, it identifies problems not only just in the entrepreneurial model, but also in the ‘old’ or traditional model it replaces. Second it then wants to look for new ways of organizing, practicing and conceptualizing university life. It will look for alternatives in different directions: new practices inside the university as well as practices outside the institution and practices at the borders, which may inspire university institutions.
In the framework of this conference, UCSIA holds a general call for papers/workshops. We accept paper/workshop proposals on the following topics:
· What are the possible dysfunctions of both the traditional models and the entrepreneurial alternative of universities?
· Why should we look for alternative models of higher education and research?
· What are the side effects of the entrepreneurial university?
· What are the consequences of commercialising higher education?
· Are there trade offs between accountability and academic freedom?
· What are the alternatives for non-institutionalised universities?
· What is the future for new open source movements, open access systems and open educational resources?
· How promising are new organisational alternatives for higher education and academic research?

Proposals should be submitted in English the latest by April 15th 2008 to sara . mels @ ua . ac . be 

More information (cfp, programme etc), see conference website:*UCSIA2&n=61857&ct=60273

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Denmark – a spearhead of political research management

A chain of legislation, minimized economy and chains of contractual obligations has provided the government with powerful tools by which to steer the Universities. On the top of it Danish politicians has legislated against freedom of research…
by Jørgen Øllgaard

The University is the foundation stone of democracy. Ideally, it is an institution wholly independent of political and economic interests, whose scholars strive to uncover scientific truths in accordance with their professional and objective convictions. Scholars should be free to voice criticism, to play the Devil’s Advocate, to speak out against those in power without risking their livelihoods.
None of this is the case in Denmark, the only country to have legislated against freedom of research. While the Danish University Law (§ 17, subsection 2) states that the choice of scientific method remains at the hands of the individual scholar, he or she is by no means necessarily sovereign in selecting the research topic, this being the case only where scholars have not been directed to carry out other research or perform contractual tasks. Moreover, research must be carried out within the research-strategic framework of the department. Line managers are thus able to freely dictate the kinds of research work scholars are to undertake. Clearly, this has little to do with freedom.
In practice, little ever surfaces about such dictates, mainly because scholars are reticent about voicing dissent in public for fear of jeopardising career opportunities. Basically, scholars simply tend to adjust after negotiation. Arguments along the lines of staff doing wise to stick to departmental research strategies defined at managerial level are usually quite effective. This is a form of discreet research management, fostered by strategies financially supported by government and implemented partly in the form of so-called ‘public authority tasks’ which universities now are obliged to carry out for government.
The so-called ’merger law’ of 2007 for Danish - the ‘Fusion-university law’ - is a remarkable demonstration of the managerial wishes of government. With an attention to detail quite unprecedented internationally, universities are now regulated harshly and have little freedom to manoeuvre. The legislation should not be seen in isolation from a whole series of initiatives: the merger law, developmental contracts, accrediting procedures and public authority tasks all are part of a chain of contractual obligations combining together to provide government with powerful tools by which to manage the scholarly activities of universities.
Denmark is in that way a European spearhead regarding political research management and a horror-scenario for others – and no doubt that there are research politicians and administrators in other countries that would like to copy the Danish model. In Europe, Danish politicians are those most likely to use university research as an instrument to support national industry and governmental bodies (and regarding the Barcelona & Lisbon objectives, which state that European universities need to improve innovation, business partnerships and so on in order to compete with the US and Asia). It is a small country with a well organized welfare-state, that allows politicians to steer research policy down to the last detail. In that way the Danish system has adapted some of the thinking of the east-communist 5-year-plans. The Danish politicians have the structure and the instruments to control university activities strategically with a hard hand – and do use it.

The 5 characteristics of the Danish system:

1. The universities’ system of government has been established by detailed legislation: Top-down control with supreme power in the hands of appointed managers and no contributory influence for faculty, who no longer have the power to elect department heads.
Seen in an international context, the recent Danish University Act is a remarkable piece of legislation in terms of the number of legal dictates, its facilitation of centralised management and the minimal degree of collegiate influence it accords to faculty. The Act introduced “politicised” executive boards with external majorities and external chairmen, as well as appointed vice-chancellors and faculty and department heads. The board is approved by itself; it appoints vice-chancellors, who appoints deans who appoint heads of department.
In Denmark, power is concentrated solely in the hands of the board and the vice-chancellor. The traditional supreme governing body, the Senate (konsistorium) has been abolished and replaced by what is termed an “Academic Council”, which has no power in any matter of significance. Whether or not economic or strategic priorities are to be put to the Council is purely a matter for the discretion of the vice-chancellor and heads of faculty, but the Council itself has no formal or practical influence. This kind of concentration of power is wholly particular to the Danish system, Academia being firmly established in other countries (apart from certain restrictions in the Netherlands and Canada) by way of ‘collegiate academic contributory influence’ involving genuine instruments of power, ‘collegiate organs’ being accorded decisive authority in decision-making processes.
At the same time, the index reveals that Danish academics have little or no influence on the appointment of department heads (this is also the case in Spain, Portugal and Romania).
(In comparison the Danish conditions are the worst in views of academic freedom and influence, if one uses UNESCO-criteria as Terence Karran's report "Academic Freedom in Europe: A Preliminary Comparative Analysis" (2007, in Higher Education Policy 20: 289–313 [pdf]).

2. Contract policy: Universities are legally obliged to enter into contract with the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Technology as regards establishing strategic objectives, success criteria, research priorities, study programmes, etc.
Denmark is clearly out on its own insofar as universities now are obliged by law to enter into ‘achievement contracts’ with government allowing state powers to directly impose upon universities strategic objectives, success criteria, research policies, study programmes, teaching courses and so on. This kind of politicisation has no parallel in the UK, Sweden or Norway (again, for some countries this is left unspecified).

3. After a fusion of Universities there are now 8 Universities altogether. In the same manoeuvre Government research institutes were merged with the universities as per January 1 2007, committing the universities to carry out ‘commissioned research’ tasks. The Minister is furthermore empowered to impose upon universities particular assignments such as the preparation of scientific reports or monitoring tasks concerning e.g. environment issues, food standards, etc.
Governmental bodies can impose upon universities government research tasks, so-called “public authority tasks”/commissioned research for government ministries and related institutions. Moreover, the Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation can direct universities to carry out commissions for government ministries in cases of ‘particular public importance’, for example relating to the environment, food, agriculture and fisheries and so on.
Danish universities have become ‘fusion universities’, forced to fusion with former Commissioned Research-bodies and so operate in fields sometimes ‘politicised’. The assimilation of government research to universities will likely result in the dismantling of free research principles, universities being directly or indirectly obliged to perform commissioned research for public authorities. Even if these kinds of ‘special assignments’ may be confined to a limited number of research units, this obviously does little to alter the fact that university faculty will have be called upon to carry them out, a fact which cannot but negatively affect free research. Traditionally, such work does not fall under the auspices of the independent university - Danish universities are losing their independence of government and the political system, leaving their definition as universities entirely in jeopardy.

4. Restricted freedom of research (choice) for the individual: The Academics has no freedom of choosing subject, but has freedom of ‘theory and method’. This limitation is sophisticated as academics can be directed by department heads to perform certain research activities, and therefore not be able to choose research field by themselves.
It is also limited in another way, as where the head has not instructed such imposition, the researcher choice are limited to “freely conduct scientific research within the bounds of the research-strategic framework laid out by the University”, the latter being specified in the Achievement Contract drawn up with the Ministry. This means that if a university has not mentioned a researchers specific field in its strategic framework, the head of department can prohibit activity in alternative fields.
(To be fair, the public has no knowledge of conflicts on the limitations until now; no researcher dares to make it public as whistleblowing will make your position to the head and leadership impossible. When you for instance hear about conflicts as a journalist, the involved researcher don’t want you to write about it).

5. All the other initiatives are supported by a large redistribution of research money. The governmental plan is to ‘invite to competition’, which in liberal terms means that there has to be more sound competition between institutions and researchers - and in political terms means that the politicians can delegate the research money, where they want them to go. The basic grants for the universities have (roughly) been frozen at the same level for years. The pools for free research without specific conditions or terms (under the Free Research Council) has declined. In the same time pools for strategic research or innovation has increased more than 50 percent the last 5 years. Collaboration with private partners or industry is rewarded. This means the politicians have selected specific research themes in science, medicine or technology. And this means that the researchers have to run for the money in specific fields – which is a sophisticated way of disciplining the scientific world.

Behind these moves lies a concerted strategy to turn Danish universities into national instruments of business and government.
It is a big mistake to minimalize these drastic reforms to a result of the evil hand of an ultra-rightwinged government (of Anders Fogh Rasmussen). What is paradoxical is that the most vociferous protests have come from executive board chairmen (typically former captains of industry). They were seemingly appointed under the impression that they were to be operating with certain degrees of freedom, whereas in actual fact the politicians have simply increased the political-administrative control. Protests from rank-and-file academics are few and far between: critics, who are typically anonymous, claim they have been “bullied into silence” (which make journalism on the subject very difficult, I can tell from personal experience).
In parliamentary terms what is interesting is that on all these drastic reform measures there is wide consensus in the Parliament (Folketinget), only the smaller leftwing parties having remained sceptical. The Social Democrats aggrees, they are busy trying to employ a soft-line, Blair-like profile. For the Social Democrats, research policy has always been about technology policy, technical innovation and creation of new (industrial) jobs as prime motors of economic growth. And they are highly cognisant of the fact that a high-profile ‘support academic freedom’ platform is hardly going to bring in the votes from the broad population.

(See international comparison:

Jørgen Øllgaard ( is a sociologist and journalist. He is editor of FORSKERforum (, the monthly magazine for employees at Danish Universities.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Resisting the University (Conference at University of British Columbia, March 3-7, 2008)


Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada is hosting a Week of Resistance! We'll be discussing the privatization and commodification of education with an anti-military, anti-gentrification and direct-action bent! Join us if you're a student activist, a wanna-be student activist or simply intrigued by student activism and open to learn more about it! This conference is open to everyone as the issues explored are consequential for society at large.

email to get involved.

bookface group:

12-2 p.m. -- Opening Ceremony:
Keynote: DAVID NOBLE - “From Whining to Winning: Winning the Battle with the University—Dummy Corporations and all!”
David Noble is one of Canada’s most famous professor-activists. He’s currently a history professor at York University. He’s flying all the way out here to share his experiences fighting the Corporate University – and winning!

5-7 p.m. -- "Military-free UBC" panel
SDS Tacoma, UVIC anti-military recruiters and more discussing anti-military strategies on campus and what you can do about it!

12-2 p.m. -- "Labour and Corporatization of Campus" panel
The issue of rising sessesional instructors, the connection between labor and race and the CocaCola bastards on campus will be addressed all in one sitting!
Presenters: Petra Ganzenmueller (sessional instructor—CAUT); Larry Ngoma (CUPE and issues of racism); Stefanie Ratjen, AMS VP external elect (tuition fee increases); Steven Klein, SDS (history of Coca-cola contracts on campus).

More to Come!

12-2 p.m. -- "Unschooling Oppression" panel
Alternative models of education will be explored!
Presenters: Representatives from colour school, Indigenous free school, Windsor House, Bruce Baum.

5-7 p.m. --"Deconstructing ‘Progress’: Housing, Gentrification and Olympic Resistance" panel
No to the gentrification of the University/City!
Presenters: Gord Hill (No 2010 coalition), professor Chris Shaw (2010 Watch), Margaret Orlowski (Students for a Democratic Society), and Tom Malenfant (Anti-Poverty Committee)

12-2 p.m. – “Demystifying the Power Structure at UBC” panel + Lunch
Ever wondered what the fuck the AMS, BoG, Student Council, Resource Groups, GSS, AUS, and billions of other acronyms stand for? This is a student-directed workshop aimed at unmasking the power structure at UBC! Shit you actually need to know if you are a UBC student.
Lunch Will be Served!

5-7 p.m. -- “History of Activism at the University" panel
Come listen to UBC and SFU activists from the APEC period and before! Let’s integrate the older narratives with the new ones and make the interconnections. Awesome workshop for any current or wanna-be activist!

12-2 p.m. March in solidarity for International Women's day!

3-5 p.m. -- Closing Keynote: DENIS RANCOURT – “Anarchism in Academia Now!”
Radical professors are needed to indoctrinate progressive students. Anarchist professors are needed to make sanity. If they’re not trying to stop you, then you’re not making a difference.
Denis G. Rancourt is a physics professor, environmental researcher, activist, and anarchist teaching at the University of Toronto.

7-11pm -- RHIZOME CAFé (317 East Broadway)
Fundraiser, celebration of student art, music and resistance; entrance by donation

Full list of panel speakers and more activities on the way!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Canadian "Academostars"

The Globe and Mail (Canada's national newspaper) ran a long feature in today's edition on the "academostars" in Canadian universities, titled "We Will Rock U". The article describes the rock star-like attention a few academics are garnering and the millions of dollars that Canadian universities are paying out to lure these academostars (and the profits they generate) to their campuses.

The corporate university atmosphere blends nicely with the entrepreneurial approach of most academostars, which is bad for higher education in public interest. Jim Turk of the Canadian Association of University teachers says in the article: “Increasingly, the federal government is acting in a manner consistent with the private-sector approach." Turk points to the 2,000 Canada Research Chairs endowed by Ottawa at a cost of $300-million a year to help universities arrest the brain drain of their top academics and attract big names to Canada from the rest of the world: “Only 20 per cent of the chairs are in the social sciences and humanities, even though half of our students study in those areas and half of our faculty teach there.”

Thomas Homer-Dixon, a political scientist who wrote about the academic star system in The Ingenuity Gap—and has now become a (reluctant?) academostar, having recently been poached from his post as George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at U of Toronto to help create Balsillie School of International Affairs at the U of Waterloo (drawing on a $33-million donation from BlackBerry pioneer James Balsillie)—believes the phenomenon is "a reflection of the Americanization of the Canadian academic world. "

But it's not really "Americanization" at all, even though "academostars" started making headlines in The New York Times way back in 1997 and The Minnesota Review famously devoted its 2001 volume to the topic. Rather, as Canadians are sometimes wont to do, they characterize a disagreeable phenomena into an American cultural export when, in fact, it is a global economic trend that just happens to have swept the US prior to moving north of the border.

[Another example of this confusion in education is the test-driven bureaucratic accountability movement in elementary and secondary schools, which transformed US schools into test prep factories as the result of neoliberal thinking applied to education policy. As the testing craze invades the Canada, many people see it as an "American" pheonomenon, rather than a global economic phenomenon. And it's important to note that this same accountability movement is creeping into North American colleges and universities.]

The problem, of course, is that the when academostars (or accountability movements) are misunderstood as mere cultural phenomenon rather than the outcome of the neoliberalism applied to the education sector, critical analyses are likely like to miss the mark.

The complete article from The Globe and Mail can be accessed here.