avatar
Corporate College


By Believe or not, there exists a group of homeschooling parents who teach their kids at home because they believe that the public schools have been destroyed by corporations.

The food is corporate junk.

The street clothes and sportswear are covered with corporate logos.

The curriculum is often sponsored by corporate predators. (The winner of a spelling bee sponsored by the local high school’s principal last week won a choice of prizes from Wendy’s, McDonald’s or Dairy Queen. Can you spell diabesity?)

Even the music increasingly is corporate-inspired crapola, driven largely by payola.

And the morality of the schools is the morality of the marketplace.

But even the most ardent anti-corporate homeschooling parents often give up the fight when it comes to college.

At 18, little Johnny has had enough of being at home.

And it’s time to send him off to –

College.

We can only guess at the extent of the corruption of academia by the corporate predators.

But if we are to believe what we read in journalist Jennifer Washburn’s new book, then academia is in it deep.

The title of Washburn’s book tells it all — University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education (Basic Books, 2005).
(Disclosure: an old research piece of ours is mentioned in the book.)

If you listen to right-wing radio, or watch Fox News — as we do — then you might be under the impression that universities are dominated by left-wing professors, liberals and cranks.

If you don’t, you might believe that universities are independent non-profits dedicated to education and research.

Not true, Washburn says.

Traditionally, universities were not governed by market forces and were largely independent of commercial interests.

But over the past 25 years, universities are acting less like universities and more like corporations.

Biology professors consult for or hold equity in firms that manufacture the drugs they are studying, while often accepting fees to join corporate advisory boards.

Sometimes the professors hold the patents on drugs or other products being tested.

Editors of peer-reviewed journals often complain that they can’t find professors who don’t have commercial ties to write independent reviews of drugs.

In 2003, Stanford University signed a $225 million, 10-year contract to study global climate change, which allows Exxon and other corporate sponsors to select which research projects will receive funding, Washburn reports.

Funding bias in science, economic and policy research is becoming a grave problem.

Numerous studies now show that when research is industry funded it is more likely to reach conclusions that favor the sponsor’s commercial interests.

Sometimes, the corporation tries to muscle the more independent of researchers.

Take these examples from Washburn’s book:

Syngenta, the company that manufacturers atrazine, one of the most widely used weed killers in the United States, attempted to silence Tyrone B. Hayes, a biologist at UC Berkeley after he conducted research showing that exposure to this chemical, in very small doses, caused frogs to develop both female and male sex organs. The company hired scientists at another university to discredit his research, and tried to convince the Environmental Protection Agency to disregard his findings.

In another case, the Immune Research Corporation hit an AIDS researcher at UC San Francisco with a $7 million lawsuit after his research concluded that the company’s drug was no more effective than a sugar pill.

Another UC biology professor, Ignacio Chapela, was denied tenure allegedly because he was a vocal critic of a November 1998 deal between UC and Novartis.

Here’s the story, according to Washburn: Novartis gave UC Berkeley $25 million over five years for basic research in the Department of Plant and Microbiology.

In exchange, Berkeley gave Novartis first rights to negotiate licenses on roughly one third of the department’s discoveries. It also gave the company two of five seats on the department’s research committee — which determined how the money was to be spent.

In the fall of 2001, Chapela, perhaps naive, published an article in Nature reporting that foreign DNA material from genetically modified plants was showing up in native varieties of corn in Mexico.

Chapela’s paper was immediately attacked by the Berkeley/Novartis’ plant department.

When Chapela came up for tenure, the College of Natural Sciences voted 32-to-1 in his favor, but that vote was overturned by the university’s budget committee. Chapela is now in litigation against the university.

Washburn says there is little doubt that Chapela was denied tenure because his paper displeased his corporate masters at Berkeley.

Washburn gives many such examples in her book.

And as she tours the country to promote her book, professors are calling her to report other similar stories.

But the damage has been done.

Universities have lost sight of their public mission.

And the extent of the corruption will not be known until the federal government demands complete and total disclosure of all ties between public professors — those at public universities and those living off of federal research grants — and private corporations.

A couple of years ago, we visited a friend in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Our friend, who is a recent graduate of the University of Nebraska, toured us the university campus.

We stopped in front of the Cornhuskers football stadium and looked up.

Our friend pointed to the big red “N” atop the stadium, and asked two homeschooled children we were traveling with — do you know what the “N”
stands for?

“What?” the homeschoolers asked.

“Knowledge,” our friend replied. (He’s a comedian.)

The corporate university takes us for a bunch of idiots.

They want us to believe that it’s all about the bottom line — that it always has been about the bottom line.

But Washburn asks — what ever happened to knowledge for knowledge’s sake?

Read her book and find out.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, <http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com>. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, <http://www.multinationalmonitor.org>. Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

This article is posted at:
<http://lists.essential.org/pipermail/corp-focus/2005/000203.html>

Leave a comment