As we segue toward September, UD offers three cautionary tales about recent efforts on the part of American universities to go corporate.
Yes, yes, I know - American universities already resemble corporations in a lot of ways. And if you're reading the current Doonesbury strips, you know that for-profit universities are nothing but corporations.
But these are tales about the suits at real universities getting a bit too-too, and provoking backlash. These tales remind us that while there are always people who want to give their campuses Goldman makeovers, there always seem to be other people who'd rather not have that happen, and those other people, when roused, can be surprisingly irritable.
I'm recounting these events because if you value your university, you need to be able to see this stuff coming. The stories I have in mind are:
1. The attempted takeover of the University of Georgia student newspaper.
2. The attempted ouster of the president of the University of Virginia.
3. The successful ouster of Harvard 's Lawrence Summers.
Last one first. Why is Harvard's current president a homespun traditional scholar who admonishes us against greed? Backlash. Harvard's faculty finally got pushed too far with the Summers interest-rate swaps, his moonlighting for the hedge fund industry, his handling of the Andre Shleifer affair, yada yada. They booted him, but not before he'd cost the university tens of millions of dollars and incalculable bad publicity.
The whole world was watching as the University of Virginia's president was summarily fired by the school's trustees -- some of them, like Summers, hedgies who failed to see why the Grounds couldn't be more like Glaxo. The whole world turned out to be pretty disgusted by the arrogance with which the suits tossed a recently hired university president. She was reinstated.
Most recently, an effort by trustees of the University of Georgia newspaper to make it an arm of the university's public relations office provoked a staff walkout and national outrage. The trustees apologized, and things now seem to be getting back to normal.
Sure, we're riveted to the ever-reliable sports scandals - Penn State, the academic fraud at Chapel Hill, and, I promise you, ever so much more as football season starts up - but just as important as the player agents and jock doc professors who staff our sports factories, and just as important as the hilariously conflicted entrepreneurs who staff some of our med schools, are the trustees and administrators who don't understand why universities can't be strictly bottom-line enterprises. Look out for them.