The commercialization of higher education and its damaging effect on academic ethics has been a concerning observation for decades. It hasn’t gone unexplored in books and freelance journalist Jennifer Brown’s University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education (Basic Books, 2006) is a book that details some of the important links in this affair.
Brown ventures into the shady deals struck between university and private businesses whereby the businesses got the authentication of scientific research and thus approval of the authorities for commercial sale of products in exchange for certain benefits to select groups of people in the universities providing the research. The casualties in these university-industry deals were academic integrity and transparency. As the book reveals, higher education was increasingly turned into business since the late ’70s through the increasing influence of industry over the academic institutions.
The book presents a number of such cases from the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 to the controversial Novartis-Berkeley agreement of 1998 and onward—all forming what could be called the academic-industrial complex. The author shows by example of these cases how deeply the true spirit of education and innovation was compromised by the money poured into the business of higher education and more particularly into certain scientific fields of research. Brown offers some suggestions for restoring academic integrity and also the damaged confidence in higher education’s core values.
University Inc. is far from a perfect book and leaves a lot of ground uncovered, particularly in the research areas of the big vaccine industry that grew exponentially over the decades and stands on research that has been the subject of a huge debate. The same can be said of environmental research as in the global warming/climate change controversy. Another important area missing in the book’s discussion is the impact of international students flooding the colleges and universities in the developed west, bringing money to these institutions but causing the compromise of their academic standards. The last few chapters of the book are less interesting to read as compared to the first chapters that focus more sharply on the university-industry nexus.
Despite the book’s shortcomings, it is an important work to read and can serve as a starter to further explore the deeply corrupt world of higher education of which little is revealed in the mainstream media.