The Public Good and Corporate Goodies: A Genealogical Snapshot

Curator's Note

In "Higher Education is More Than a Corporate Logo," Henry Giroux takes a startled look at the current state of academia, noting that: "Anyone who spends anytime on a college campus these days cannot miss how higher education is changing. Strapped for money and increasingly defined in the language of corporate culture, many universities seem less interested in higher learning than in becoming licensed storefronts for brand name corporations--selling off space, buildings, and endowed chairs to rich corporate donors." Giroux's complaint is hardly a solitary one. Increasingly, this vision of an impending merger of the corporate and academic spheres seems dishearteningly inevitable. Academic freedom and critical inquiry are up for grabs in this new world of public goods and corporate goodies. My video offering, however, argues for a slightly different narrative. As a librarian at one of the Google Books institutions, I can personally and professionally attest to corporate saturation in academia. But as we see in this clip from the 1955 University of Michigan announcement for the polio vaccine trails, such saturation is hardly new. Here we find that the lines separating corporate sponsorship and academic research are (always already / always already were) as constructed and porous as those separating a sound stage from a classroom. This intersectionality of the corporate and the academic, in other words, has been with us for quite a long time. Whether this is good, bad or other remains a matter of scholarly (and, of course, entrepreneurial) debate. But, as we see here, the barbarian is not at the ivy gate -- he is on the grounds. BMOC.


This is a great video, especially because it embodies what Vannevar Bush warned of in his 1945 report "Science the Endless Frontier," that colleges and universities need to return to exploration instead of simply applied research: "The traditional sources of support for medical research, largely endowment income, foundation grants, and private donations, are diminishing, and there is no immediate prospect of a change in this trend. Meanwhile, research costs have steadily risen. More elaborate and expensive equipment is required, supplies are more costly, and the wages of assistants are higher. Industry is only to a limited extent a source of funds for basic medical research. It is clear that if we are to maintain the progress in medicine which has marked the last 25 years, the Government should extend financial support to basic medical research in the medical schools and in the universities, through grants both for research and for fellowships." ( Despite Bush's warnings, funding for education has dropped steadily since 1945 and continues to do so, and even military contracts are dropping or changing given new rules for security. Big corporate and big government have been here for many years, and there presence will only grow. I hope videos like this one can speak to an audience so ready to watch YouTube and explain what will be lost if more funding for education isn't alloted from all sources. If nothing else, at least it documents the history of academic work serving the public good in spite of limited governmental funds.

The saturation of Academia in the Corporation is certainly an alarming idea -- one, as was pointed out, that is not news. However, keeping in mind the ridiculous budget shortfalls of the state universities in Florida, corporate sponsorship may provide a much-needed, but wholly gag-inducing, stimulus to the state pocketbook. It has already happened at the University of Florida, where the College of Pharmacy has a compounding lab "donated" by CVS. Going into the lab, a place meant for student pharmacists to hone their skills in the art/science of medicinal compounding, one would think they were actually in a CVS drugstore. The artwork of said corporation is everywhere, as if to say, "we gave you a much-needed resource, but we're going to shoplift the identity of your institution in the process." Things like this happen when state governments are poor funders and refuse to make administrative changes to foster growth and improvement in its academic institutions. The Corporation swoops in with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of capital and "makes everything all better."

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