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July 01, 2005

Follow the Money?
John Freemuth

It seems as if we are all following the money these days. Dave's "Revenue Enhancement: Good v. Evil" post got me to thinking. What we might be talking about here is the collapse of the public sphere, through the growing use of corporate/market influenced models of appropriate organizational action and governance.

Take the modern public university as an example. Today, the number one priority, I think, is funding. Thus if one is simply a run-of-the-mill academic like myself, I am most rewarded, most praised, and generally just a great guy, if I bring in funded research. The larger the dollar amount, the better. Good teaching, traditional scholarship, public service that makes a difference...who the hell cares. Show me the money. Or so it goes.

I honestly think, to use a hypothetical here, if the Goodgodalmighty Peanut Butter company gave a university 15 million dollars to fund a peanut butter policy center, then guess what would become a top priority of the university...why peanut butter policy of course! Even if it wasn't mentioned in the strategic plan. The reason for this, of course, is because state legislatures are not funding higher education (read the Forest Service in here and you get the point for Congress) at levels as in the past. The other reason is overhead/indirect capture that can be siphoned off to fill whatever is currently on the "leadership/vision" agenda of the current (they often don't stay long)university president.

This trend has profound implications for universities, and thus for agencies like the Forest Service, who will still rely on us for the next generation of employees. If the trend does not have some sort of checks and balances written into it, it is not hard to imagine a class system developing in universities, and an eventually collapse of disciplines that provide, at least, a critical approach to thinking about the world. The link to the Forest Service should be obvious. Nothing is preordained here, but the chase for fees (I am not opposed to fees) and sponsorship can greatly distort what is, for all its flaws, an agency that does having a public regarding mission.

Posted by John Freemuth on July 1, 2005 at 05:22 PM | Permalink


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