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Public universities seeking to privatize themselves


From Pennsylvania to Oregon, the number of top public universities bidding to shake off government control keeps growing.

The universities want more control over tuition and academic programs as they become less dependent on public subsidies. Some state systems have resisted because, without their flagships, they lose premier faculty and students as well as clout in legislatures that set funding.

I would bet the administrators want more money, plain and simple. A few star professors might be for it; the rest of the faculty and the adjuncts will resist it. I would also bet that when a state university is privatized, good will won't be part of the price -- especially the century's worth of good will built up by the land grant colleges, whose mission was public service. I would also bet that the facilities transfer takes place at a knock-down rate. In other words, we have another case of neo-liberal looting.

Pennsylvania’s West Chester University, the fastest-growing of 14 state-owned campuses and the one with the highest SAT scores, could break away under legislation filed this year. Its departure would deepen a divide between independent ‘haves’ and tightly controlled ‘have nots’ plagued by [note lack of agency] dwindling funding and enrollment. Pennsylvania State University and three other public [oh?] institutions already operate autonomously.

"Plagued by"? Who's doing the plaguing? In fact, we're just seeing the neo-liberal playbook in action:

1) Target a public program by denying it funding;

2) When problems result, run a PR campaign blaming the public program;

3) Privatize it, and:

4) PROFIT!!!!!

This can take years to play out, as with charter schools or the UK's NHS. But the Powers That Be play the long game.

“We can do this better than they can,” said Robert Tomlinson, a West Chester trustee and Pennsylvania state senator who filed the bill in March. “We have a train wreck coming financially. We’ve got to do something.”

God forbid that "do something" should mean funding a public program with taxes!

The independence drive [nice framing!!!!] is analogous to the rise in K-12 education of charter schools, which are privately run public institutions. Like charters, breakaway universities want less red tape and more freedom to experiment with academic programs. Like charters, they fuel fears about the future of public systems and whether some institutions will be left behind to wither as competition intensifies.

It's more than "analogous." It's a well-conceived and well-executed strategy to loot public instiutions for private gain.

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mellon's picture
Submitted by mellon on

The poor but well educated developing countries hope to be able to have their contracting/services firms staff a lot or positions at US colleges and K12 schools soon, in exchange for letting US companies open new factories, and generally be entitled to treatment as a local supplier in those rapidly growing markets.

So every US public service employer's jobs are essentially bargaining chips which the trade agreements put into their so called "great game".

(Which isn't at all great for the people of the countries whose livelihoods are being effected)

The workers who come here for these five year contract jobs wont be able to stay afterwards, nor will they have any legal relationships with the schools, they will work for contracting firms in their home countries, be probably paid a fraction of what the Americans or Europeans who previously held those jobs were paid, and the contracting company will take the rest.

They will be paid at least minimum wage in the host country, if such a thing exists.

Will we have people with PhDs getting paid close to minimum wage in the US? All so some huge US company can open more factories elsewhere? I don't really know but I think that may happen. I need to learn more about this but its not so easy to find out the specifics since TISA, for example, is secret.

gizzardboy's picture
Submitted by gizzardboy on

Since the post started with "From Pennsylvania to Oregon...", and I live in Oregon, I was interested to see what was said about Oregon in this regard. I haven't followed this closely, but I believe that the University of Oregon is not going private. They are only going to have their own Board of Trustees, instead of one board for all the public universities in the state. Maybe someone closer to this can confirm or deny.

Submitted by lambert on

From the Bloomberg story:

The proposal in Pennsylvania, which backers hope will be the subject of a legislative hearing this year, mirrors other state efforts. Oregon last year passed a law after a lengthy campaign led by Philip Knight, the billionaire founder of Nike Inc., permitting the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Portland State University to become independent. Knight is a graduate and major donor to the University of Oregon.

Horrible. Cut the state funding, make them dependent on rich dudes, then the rich dudes peel away whatever they want. Just appalling.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

...doesn't surprise me in the least. Oregon's community colleges became the handmaiden of industry decades ago. Many teacher's reflected this, IME, with generally low quality of classroom/subject ability.

jo6pac's picture
Submitted by jo6pac on

this happening to the UC system in Calif. The system has been taken over by dick blum and friends and has slowly outsourced everything that was done in house. This has raised the price of education to the sky and still climbing. Then a course dick and friend's own the outsourced companies and employees went good bennies to pay your own way and lower wages.

dick blum is di-fi husband. Yep charter schools for everyone, what could go work.