UC System – The Business

“Many of our, if I can put it this way, businesses are in good shape. We’re doing very well there. Our hospitals are full, our medical business, our medical research, the patient care. So, we have this core problem: Who is going to pay the salary of the English department? We have to have it. Who’s going to pay it in sociology, in the humanities? And that’s where we’re running into trouble.”

Mark G. Yudof, President, University of California

transcript here

Intriguingly, one finds almost no information on the net about the UC Center for Nanoscience Innovation for Defense, except the now-vanished page recounting its foundation back in 2002, preserved at archive.org, and a mention of its continuing existence by the National Nanotechnology Initiative — which is one of the many federal centers coordinating the development of so-called “dual-use” technologies with civilian and military applications. Maybe I’m paranoid, or maybe just anti-militarist, but whenever I look into the ways that higher education in the United States is being transformed into a functional innovation system for those profitable businesses that Yudof talks about, it’s the Defense Department funding that catches my eye.

A few years ago I wrote an article on flexibilization, corporatization and militarization in the universities of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. What the investigation revealed was an education system that had become the perfect lamp and mirror of neoliberal management. When Bob Samuels remarks, in a very succinct and useful article, that “research universities like UCLA now spend less than 5% of their total budget on undergraduate instruction,” the questions worth asking are: Where does the rest of the money go, and where does it actually come from in the first place? Why are the administrators so keen to drastically reduce the size of English and Sociology departments? What kind of research is being supported by students’ overpriced tuition? And how did formerly public universities reach the point where their agenda is set by a corporate accountant’s logic grafted onto the priorities of the national security state?

These are some of the questions that we’re going to raise at the upcoming Continental Drift sessions at the Public School in LA, on Feb 27-28, just in advance of the next UC walkout on March 4.

* * *

–> For more insights into the management of the UC business, consider these podcasts and articles on UC Regent Richard Blum — upstanding citizen, construction and real-estate magnate, owner of the $7 billion Blum Capital Partners private equity firm and husband of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. Thanks to Daniel Tucker for sending the podcast:

Richard Blum, Alpha Regent

Richard Blum: The Man Behind California’s “Developing Economy”

Disaster Capitalist University

2 Responses to “UC System – The Business”

  1. Jon Says:

    Mr. Holmes,
    A complete answer to these questions would have take us back to Vannevar Bush and the establishment of the National Science foundation, as well as on a number of historical tangents. However, these articles may at least provide some context, and at best reveal some of the ways these decisions are rationalized:

    The American research university system as America’s de facto technology policy. Science and Public Policy, Vol 28, Number 1, Feb 2001

    The growth of patenting and licensing by U.S. universities: an assessment of the effects of the Bayh-Dole act of 1980. Research Policy 30 (2001)

    The Emergence of a Competitiveness Research and Development Policy Coalition and the Commercialization of Academic Science and Technology. Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 21, No. 3. (Summer, 1996), pp. 303-339

    Best of luck at UC.

    –> Brilliant comment, thanks very much. I am well aware of these dimensions of US economic development, and at the same time, very interested to read each of these three articles. All the best, Brian

  2. sportsbabel Says:

    Hi Brian,

    I also wonder what role top-flight sports teams play in the mix you are beginning to outline above.


    UCLA, Duke and North Carolina, three universities you mention in your post, have basketball teams collectively valued at $58 million by Forbes, which does not include the vast social capital that allows, perhaps, for such little resource allocation to flow elsewhere to undergrad programming.

    Anyways, perhaps a small piece to a complex puzzle…?

    –> Thanks for the contribution. Many of the commentators on corruption at the universities point to the cost of sports teams, which are supposed to bring in money through advertising revenue and millionaire donations but very often are a big drain on resources. I have read claims that in some cases they are subsidized by tuition. It is definitely a piece of the puzzle and it has to do with the power to capture the imagination and the senses. Ciao, BH

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