Monday, May 02, 2005

Columbia Spectator - STAFF EDITORIAL: Columbia, Inc.

Columbia Spectator

Universities are different from companies
May 02, 2005

In the not-too-distant future, Columbia might become the next Enron. Okay, maybe Columbia’s administrators will be less cartoonishly evil than those neo-robber barons, but the reckless disregard for the truth the University has displayed over the past semester demonstrates that it has adopted some of the worst features of the institution it more and more seems to emulate: the corporation.

This semester, documents obtained by Spectator revealed that Columbia, despite making noncommittal noises to the contrary, paid the Empire State Development Corporation $300,000 to explore the possibility of using eminent domain in Manhattanville. Technically, Columbia’s administrators did not lie. As they pointed out, lying requires actually saying something. But their duplicity stands in stark contrast to the earnest liberalism to which they claim to adhere. Community members are enraged at what they rightly see as hypocrisy.

Graduate students have encountered the same dishonesty that Columbia used with Manhattanville residents. Over the past year, Provost Alan Brinkley repeatedly assured students and the outside world that, even though the administration opposed unionization, graduate students were free to strike without fear of retribution. A memo published last week by The Nation says otherwise. Released with Brinkley’s signature, the memo outlines several avenues of punishment for administrators to pursue in order to discourage future strikes. Again, Brinkley did not technically lie. He now notes that punitive measures were only discussed, not acted upon. But, if the administration never planned to punish strikers, they would not have had to discuss punishment.

Defenders of the administration claim that in order to accomplish its goals, Columbia has to practice realpolitik. In other words, they claim that for Columbia to become the type of university it aspires to be, it has to betray the principles it has dedicated itself to advancing.

It has become progressively easier for Columbia to betray these principles, because Columbia has progressively become a different type of institution. Instead of dedicating itself to educating students, Columbia has become ever more devoted to making money. The University’s increasing reliance on adjunct and graduate student labor reveals that its real top priority is processing students through a diploma mill as efficiently and cheaply as possible. Instead of seeking to expand honestly and with the consent of the community, which could be done for the right price, Columbia has tried to expand on the cheap through eminent domain. Every time financial interests have conflicted with principles, financial interests have won.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If students take action, we can change this. If the University wants to act like a corporation, we, the people who pay its bills, should treat it like one. It’s time to let the board know that they have some really pissed-off shareholders

No comments: