Friday, September 8, 2017

'Edupreneurs,' Corporate Universities and Pluralism in Economics

I posted recently on the increasing influence of corporate money in academia, specifically the new Marriner Eccles center funded by the Koch brothers at the University of Utah. The piece by David V. Johnson in the Baffler on this subject is worth reading. As he notes, the new breed of private money goes beyond what they used to do in the past, trying to directly influence what kind of research, the curriculum and what ideas should be disseminated, and, indirectly who should be hired and retained. This is all the more problematic in the context of the retreat of public funding and the rise of the the corporate university, which implies that increasingly money equals voice in academia.

Johnson says that:
private funding that burrows within the very body of public institutions, the better to influence related departments and curricula across the university.
In other words, the edupreneurs sell academic acceptability and prestige for ideas that might have a more difficult time entering the curricula, and getting people published and tenured. The change started in the 80s, but it has accelerated, and the Kochs are a good example of that. As he noted:
All told, the Charles Koch Foundation has invested some $200 million in higher education activities since 1980, with more than $140 million of that money allocated since 2005, funding over fifty free-market research centers and institutes at universities. And these beachheads of private campus cash have become lush islands of ideological purity
One of the examples discussed is a center that is an offshoot, in a sense, of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which was at the heart of the discussion of James Buchanan and the Kochs in Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains (reviewed here by Heather Boushey). I'm not particularly interested in the details, but what I think is relevant is that the push for free market fundamentalism is seen as a quest for "spreading what he called 'diversity of thought' at universities across the land." You would think that Economics Departments in the US are dominated by Marxists or other types of Radicals. In all fairness, there are only four graduate heterodox programs in the US and a few Liberal Arts Schools that still have heterodox economists.

If anything it seems that it's more likely that studying economics, in US universities, would make you more conservative (The New York Times said Republican citing the same study) and favorable to free markets. And others suggest that it can make you more selfish. Don't get me wrong, I'm for diversity of views, pluralism if you prefer the term, but pro-market views are well represented in academia.

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