SUNYCON 2015: AKA SUNY’s Con Game


Nassau Community College
AAUP Advocacy Chapter

October 19, 2015

If you still aren’t yet convinced that SUNY has sold its soul to a business model of higher education, consider the recently announced SUNYCON 2015. Here is the official title of the conference: “Building a New Business Model for the Academy: Partnerships, Affiliations, Mergers, & Acquisitions.” The conference title’s language simply screams out with the rhetoric of corporate culture. Seriously, what else is suggested by buzz words like “mergers” and “acquisitions” except that those running a once hugely admired state system of higher education–that once prized academic rigor, scholarly objectivity, and the necessity of a highly educated populace to a healthy democracy—have been thoroughly taken in by the cultish thinking of the church of corporate America. We have reached the point in the history of higher education where the keynote address at a conference on reforming higher education is being delivered by the CEO of a grocery store chain (John Mackey, of Whole Foods Market). Just as troubling is the conference’s description. Listen to the unapologetic, ideological, corporate bias in this announcement: “Business as usual in higher education is over. The current business model centered on credit-hour tuition, high overhead costs, and outdated funding styles is being redefined by a flourishing online sector, rapidly changing student populations, and workforce demands. Rising costs of attendance, demands for efficiency, and increased attention to return on investment are forcing higher education to rethink its path forward” (emphasis added). Pay attention carefully to this language. SUNY is essentially arguing that higher education (notice SUNY doesn’t directly indict itself) has become a failed business enterprise: as such, SUNY needs to be rescued by the higher wisdom and expertise of corporate America. The arrogance here is kind of stunning. This statement assumes that higher education has always been premised on a “business model.”

All of this would be funny if SUNY’s plans were simply a dystopian fantasy set in a distant future well past all of our retirements. But sadly and alarmingly that is not the case. Governor Cuomo’s 2015 State of the State address made his biases clear: his vision of a community college’s central mission as job training (beware the rhetoric of “workforce education”) bastardizes a noble tradition—community colleges as the colleges of democracy. Instead of funding public education as if education were a human right, the fashionable alternative is “performance based” funding—another market-based panacea proposed by politicians afraid to tax (and offend) their hedge fund overlords. Or consider business/education councils, partnerships meant to bring the brilliance of corporate insight to community colleges and to enhance “workforce readiness.” Lost in all of the obeisance to the corporate sector are the fundamental reasons we teach: a love of learning; the joys of self-discovery; the furthering of economic justice; and the reduction of the truly gross inequalities that underlie this love affair with corporate culture.

Tim Strode, PhD
NCC AAUP, Executive Committee

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