university policy formation and capitalism

Do you know how nonprofit private univeristy policy is made? Well, the university administration gets a bunch of capitalists whom they think might gift the university with a substantial amount of money at some point convenient to the the capitalist (say, a chunk upon death). They ask the capitalists (and maybe a token clergy member) to sit on the university’s Board of Directors. They tell the capitalists that they can make university policies. Then the university administration types up and enforces the policies the potential donors come up with.

What happens when professors and students think that they have a stake in university policy decision making? Well, they might ask to have representatives included on the Board of Directors, as has happened at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN.

So my dad tells me that his capitalist friend Al DeBoer, who sits on the Hamline University Board of Directors, is against allowing faculty and students to place elected representatives on the Hamline University Board of Directors. To his credit, my dad tells me, Al did say he thought the faculty and the students have some good points. However, Al said, a student and a faculty member can’t sit on the Board of Directors and try to contribute to university policy because the students are our clients, and the professors are the employees of the Board of Directors.

My dad was a little outraged, although this pique remained unvoiced to his friend Al, for reasons of the power disparity in their relationship. What, my dad asked me, qualifies the people on the existing Board of Directors to be the ones making university policy? Nothing else than they have money, he answered. That is not a legitimate reason why they should have a monopoly on policy setting in a university. My dad digressed into how the student and faculty reps would probably have no power on the Board of Directors anyway.

But, I pointed out, at least if the student and faculty reps were on the Board, the capitalists on the Board wouldn’t be so insulated in their own magical kingdom. They would learn, for instance, that the professors are surprised to hear that the capitalists on the Board consider the faculty to be their personal employees.

This I find fascinating. I understand that American law is royally fucked, but how is it that a bunch of rich people recruited by institutional development administrators to sit on a nonprofit organization’s Board of Directors would have the privilege to set institutional policy, specifically exclusive of faculty and student stakeholders? How is it that a voluntary position based on potential to donate gifts in a nonprofit academic organization is legally equivalent to and considered representative of the entire institution? How do the rich guys effectively own the university by being on the voluntary Board? How do they as Board members specifically employ faculty members–that is how have the Board members bought the professors’ labor power? They didn’t invest any capital in the nonprofit. They can’t be expecting a return with interest on the production of the “university factory.” They’re only there because some administrator hopes that by giving them some decision making power at the university, they’ll fork over a hefty gift at some point. Is that really a good reason to give them exclusive policy-making power over an academic organization? Does it boil down to them possessing exclusive policy-setting privilege because they have ownership status in completely unrelated organizations characterized by the unitary goal of accumulating wealth–the corporate ones they actually invested in? Does their legal status as capitalists transfer across different kinds of institutions?

It seems pretty fucking outrageous to me. But if it’s true that ownership is effectively the legal status of a private, nonprofit, educational institution’s Board of Directors, that’s one reason why this country is corrupt and inept at anything other than plundering.

Also, it’s nothing less than a sign of their capitalist analytical and management incompetence that they reduce students to the unidimension “clients” and professors merely to “employees” in the context of a university (that is, an institution that is not a for-profit corporation).

Students are citizens, scholars, and stakeholders, not just clients or consumers. A client or customer is a statistic in cheeseburger sales.

Professors are citizens, scholars, professionals, workers, public intellectuals, researchers, academics, stakeholders. They are not merely the employees of some rich guys who should understand their places on the Board as highly “honorary”–in respect to their capital assets, not their unproven and unlikely academic decision-making expertise.

The university ought to be the last bastion against neoliberal reductionism of human life, and students and professors as stakeholding citizens and scholars should be represented on univeristy Boards of Directors in university policy formation.


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