Later this morning I will be speaking at UT on the issue of privatization and what that will mean for the workers and students. This is what I intend to say:
It was Jefferson who said that democracy rises and falls with public education, and so we must be very concerned when the moneyed aristocracy launches what some have called a “stealth campaign” to privatize services at the University of Texas.
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.
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. Have we now grown weary of the work required for the great dream of universal education? Have we now returned to another form of feudalism where the power of kings and queens is replaced by the wealth of a new aristocracy, and thrones have been replaced by the board rooms of those imaginary royal persons we call “corporations.’
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.
Please know that we must choose between these two visions of the human condition, the great dream of a democratic egalitarian humankind, or the fitful illusions of a new feudalism that believes some were born to lead and others born to serve. In many ways, the tracks have already been laid, and universities are already a painted harem for corporate interests. As we watch the privatizing of the public realm, we must realize that we are watching our democracy being sold at a yard sale. But also know that we are not helpless, let your voice be heard. This University belongs to all humankind, We will not allow it to be sold to the highest bidder.