Money Changes Face of Higher Ed
Historian Highlights 90s-Style Challenges to Academic Institutions
By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
Chancellor's Professor of History David Hollinger took on these issues Aug. 30, in a UC History Series lecture, "Money and Academic Freedom 50 Years After the Loyalty Oath: Berkeley and its Peers Amid the Force Fields of Capital."
Describing his talk jokingly as "an exit interview for an outgoing budget chair, in the form of a soliloquy," Hollinger said his term on that Academic Senate body had informed his understanding of the issue.
He contrasted state-directed threats to academic autonomy during the McCarthy Era, with more subtle economic pressures that he believes are the challenge today.
"The issue of the political autonomy of universities," he said, "is now situated in the force fields of capital, where profit functions like gravity [and] where knowledge takes the form of property...."
"A Delicate Project"
To illustrate his thesis, Hollinger cited a 1971 memorandum from Virginia lawyer Lewis Powell to the National Chamber of Commerce. Made public by journalist Jack Anderson when Powell was later nominated to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, the top-secret memo outlined a plan for undermining the social authority of American universities, which Powell viewed as bastions of liberal sentiment and influence.
"Powell had a take on academic freedom very different from HUAC [House UnAmerican Affairs Committee]," Hollinger said. Calling his proposal "a delicate project that would backfire if done crudely," Powell called for the discrete deployment of money and connections in order to accomplish his goals -- without running afoul of academic freedom.
The future of traditional research universities is also being challenged, he said, by reduced state funding, emerging "virtual universities," and the increased legal and technological capacity of private enterprise.
Faculty Salary Inequities
In the face of such pressures, "an effective defense of the university," Hollinger proposed, "requires solidarity across disciplines."
But is that solidarity undermined, he asked, by the wide disparities in faculty salaries between the disciplines, which now are accepted practice in academia? If faculty identify less with each other, will they identify more with outside interests?
The values of the marketplace have gradually eroded the important tradition of institution-wide salary equity, Hollinger said. "Salary data show that the gap is closing between what universities value and what is valued in the commercial marketplace."
An assistant professor of business -- who can also make considerable additional income through private consulting on the side -- may be hired at $100,000, while a new hire in math is offered $45,000. Hollinger noted that similar inequities also apply to staffing levels.
"Faculties are honestly divided" on this issue, Hollinger said. "Some regard faculty equity as anachronistic."
Defenders of the university must also pay attention to agreements being struck between academic institutions and private enterprise.
The College of Natural Resources' recent agreement with Novartis, Hollinger said, "is especially instructive regarding the central academic value of free inquiry -- which it may increase, in some cases. Restrictions by the State of California [on the use of public funds] are sometimes more problematic."
"Not everyone is convinced that the terms of the Novartis agreement are in the best interests of the university and science," Hollinger noted.
Yet Novartis' "main legacy" may prove to be strict guidelines for evaluating future deals in terms of the protection of free inquiry, he said. During its review of the agreement, the Senate Research Policy Committee developed "a check list of things to ask about such agreements in the future." As a result, said Hollinger, "we now have a more rigorous system in place."
A lead-up event to campus's October commemoration of the McCarthy Era Loyalty Oath, the lecture was sponsored by the Center for Studies in Higher Education and the Academic Freedom Committee of the Berkeley Academic Senate.