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Interim President Jeff Ettinger inside Morrill Hall on Sept. 20, 2023. Ettinger gets deep with the Daily: “It’s bittersweet.”
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Published April 22, 2024

‘Rethinking’ conference tackles corporatization issues with universities

Graduate students and professors from around the country gathered to talk.

Rising tuition, low wages and privatized services at universities are becoming more typical, and some students and professors aren’t happy about it.

About 50 graduate students and professors from around the country gathered this weekend to “rethink” the structure of universities, which they argue have become more like corporations rather than educational institutions.

Organized mostly by graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts, the three-day event was meant to encourage conversation among people concerned with the direction universities are taking, Morgan Adamson, one of the organizers, said.

“This is a conversation about the University’s place in contemporary society and its role in our lives,” she said. “We want to think about making it a more democratic place.”

Amy Pason, a communication studies graduate student, explained corporatization as “any type of business practices that follow a corporate model.”

“It’s getting the most work out for the least amount of money,” she said. “When those principles are applied to a university, it becomes a problem. It undermines education.”

Running the University like a business, they argue, results in problems like rising tuition and low wages for non-tenured professors.

“The institution is not working in the interest of its participants,” Adamson said. “But certain people will say it is a good thing and will argue until they’re blue in the face.”

Adamson said the idea is only profitable for some – notably, those at the top of the corporate ladder.

“To model after a corporation is not going to be positive other than for the people at the top,” she said. “The administrators, not the students.”

Dr. Elizabeth Kissling, a professor at Eastern Washington University, spoke about branding campaigns and treating education like a product.

“Universities have to advertise in some way, but they look for a quick, easy slogan, like ‘Just Do It,’ ” she said at the end of her presentation. “We’re not Nike. We’re not selling shoes.”

But, Kissling added, the idea is to bring in students, so if branding accomplishes that, “that’s the silver lining.”

Michael Andregg, an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas, thought the conference was a success.

“I’m very excited by the effort and the fact that we’re working on the issues,” he said. “These issues are at the heart and soul of universities.”

The solution, however, is hard to come by, Kissling said.

“It’s an ideological solution. It’s changing the way we think about education,” she said. “It’s bigger than an ad campaign or a legislative session.”

While the conference was public, Adamson said many students either don’t care or don’t feel that they can make a difference.

“Students of this University actually have an immense amount of power in certain ways,” she said. “It’s your life and your money and the world you’re inheriting.”

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