The modern university was born out of humanism’s rejection of the feudal worldview where education was reserved for the children of aristocrats and the plentiful poor were, by cosmic design, uneducated pawns of the powerful. But political systems are like ties. What was old becomes new again. Our nation, weary of the work that would be required for humanism’s dream, has returned to a new form of feudalism where the power of kings and queens is replaced by the wealth of a new aristocracy, and thrones have been replaced by the board rooms of those imaginary royal persons we call “corporations.’
It was Jefferson who said that democracy rises and falls with public education, and it was the website of the conservative magazine Forbes which has said there is a “stealth campaign” to privatize public education.
The University of Texas has undertaken a study of the possibility of privatizing such services as housing, food and parking. The same model was applied to Texas A&M where a similar group of business people showed how money could be saved by privatizing services. Workers were guaranteed that they would be able to keep their same jobs under the new private ownership for at least two years. As a formality, they would be asked to re-apply for their jobs, but the deal was presented as a win/win for everyone. When the smoke cleared, only 600 of the 1,647 employees were kept on and local businesses were replaced by cheaper resources from elsewhere.
It is not accurate to say the corporation lied to A&M, or that they are now lying to UT. Corporations cannot lie because they have no concept of truth. Corporations have neither hearts nor minds. They are persons only in an attenuated legal sense. Corporations are not democratic, but feudal, in structure. They are actually much worse than the old feudalism because Kings and Queens were human and so might show mercy from time to time. Corporate capitalism is a bloodless soulless abstraction where no one is allowed to intervene for such nonmarket issues as the welfare of human beings.
Corporate capitalism is like a tick that can only sense blood and has no concern from whom that life essence is drawn.
When “public” universities are bought by “private” interests, there will be an unavoidable conflict of interest. Either the private owners will be asked to lose money for the public good, or the “public good” will be defined by those corporate entities whose only charter is to make money for shareholders. Inevitably, professors will spend more and more time doing research that brings profit to corporate sources of funding, and less and less time actually educating students. Before long, corporate sponsors will point out that food services and housing are beneath market levels and so prices will rise to be competitive with private institutions. As a result of being unable to meet market levels of spending, poorer students will return to their feudal role as uneducated pawns of the wealthy.
Let us trace out where this train will inevitably lead. In many ways, the tracks have already been lain, and universities are already a painted harem for corporate interests. As you watch the privatizing of the public realm, please know you are watching the democracy being sold at a yard sale. Also know that you must choose between two these two visions of the human condition, the humanist dream of a democratic egalitarian humankind, or the new feudalism that believes some were born to lead and others born to serve.
(This piece is an elaboration of a talk I gave yesterday at UT for Save Our Community Coalition. Details of the A&M privatization were drawn from the Texas State Employees Union website.)