Summary of University Inc.

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Jennifer Washburn’s investigation inside U.S. universities is disturbing. She paints a portrait of colleges that have forgotten their primary mission and societal role. That is upsetting enough for readers who cherish fond memories of free-thinking college days, but its implications reach far wider. She cites restraints on free inquiry and free speech that should alarm civil libertarians. Her reports of far-reaching attempts to generate profit through patents and technology transfers should concern businesspeople. The most perturbing element of Washburn’s analysis covers how drug and medical trials have changed, as their control has shifted from the impartial hand of traditional science to the vested authority of pharmaceutical companies. She even implies that anyone using a drug developed in such trials is at risk. The issues in higher education are so sweeping that, at times, Washburn’s treatment is more a foreboding sketch than a complete analysis. That aside, getAbstract recommends it to anyone interested in a well-articulated, strong point of view about higher education, or anyone who follows the issues involved in having a well-functioning civic society, including quality higher education.

About the Author

Jennifer Washburn is a journalist and a fellow at the New America Foundation. She is a former fellow at the Open Society Institute.



What Has Changed?

More than ever, you need a college degree to advance. However, at the very time when higher education is most needed, the quality and nature of that education, and of the institutions that provide it, is changing for the worse. This change is visible in the language that colleges use today; they “refer to students as consumers” and speak of branding themselves for the market.

Reframing education in the language of business makes some sense, because the ongoing transformation of American higher education started largely in response to a perceived economic crisis during the 1970s. The U.S. was falling behind in science and technology, and experts saw closer ties between education and industry as a remedy. However, this solution has taken a turn for the worse, or rather, several turns. Instead of making their research findings available to the public for everyone’s good, university researchers race to patent their discoveries and form private companies. This pits administration against faculty, and faculty against students, and it shifts academic priorities. Emphasis on private profit has helped drive tuition up far faster than inflation, and the focus...

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