Shrunken Heads: The Humanities
under the Corporate Model

Patricia P. Brodsky
1. Everyone who has been paying attention knows that the
humanities, once the heart of the university, have been devalued
in the United States.  Thus, they are often the first victims of
downsizing, tight budgets, or profit-driven schemes.  The
humanities can serve as a kind of mine canary: when poison gas
builds up in academia, they are usually the first to feel its
effects, but the other disciplines won't be far behind.  When the
humanities are handicapped and threatened by the corporate
agenda, the whole academic endeavor as we know it is at risk.

2. What academia is now facing the health care industry has
already undergone.  Physicians are under pressure to make
diagnoses and recommend treatments on the basis of profitability,
not medical need.  Doctors are forced into an assembly-line mode
and a speed-up.  Decisions are made by managers under orders from
the insurance companies that, increasingly, own the hospitals and
facilities.  Quality and choice have declined as prices have
risen.  Now there is talk of following the HMO's with the
EMO--Education Maintenance Organizations.  And the privatization
of education is on the agenda of global trade organizations (WTO,
FTAA, IMF, World Bank etc).

3. Education is being "redefined" around us, but we are not
genuinely part of that process.  On the contrary, we are its
victims.  Make no mistake--the corporate university is not about
providing an education.  It is about image and PR, about
corporate funding, grants, business partnerships, profit, and
control.  Anything that interferes with these goals will be
reshaped, reduced, or eliminated.  Targeted for elimination are
the rights of faculty to choose their own teaching methodologies,
to set academic standards, and to control the curriculum. 
Students' choices will diminish and, in the long run, tuition
will continue to rise.  And freedom of speech in the classroom
and in research will become an endangered species.  The redefined
university will have very little resemblance to that interconnected community that has evolved over hundreds of years.

4. Faculty and students have common interests and a common ground
on which to unite in the face of these threats.  Margaret Quan of
the California Part-Time Faculty Association said it clearly:
"our working conditions are the students' learning conditions." 
An underpaid and overworked faculty that sees its function
perverted and its discipline condemned as useless, that is kept
busy and defensive jumping through senseless bureaucratic hoops,
is not going to be able to focus on teaching and serving the
academic community.

5. Corporate "redefinition" is also about reallocation--the
redistribution of resources to predetermined "growth areas."  The
disciplines targeted for growth are not chosen by the academic
community but by managers, consultants, and outside investors. 
Traditional programs not deemed profitable are starved for
support, while the latest corporate fads are promoted and
provided with funds for new positions, infrastructure, and
publicity.  It is generally the humanities--literature,
languages, philosophy, history--as well as the visual arts and
basic sciences, that get the axe, for these subjects are not high
on the scale of value in a society which emphasizes size, speed,
and profitability.

6. Several events typically accompany the move toward
corporatization.  According to an AAUP brochure on the corporate
model, "education is a commodity packaged to fit customer demand,
priced to suit the market, and designed for efficient delivery. 
Corporate funding increasingly determines the scope and direction
of academic research....  Scientific discoveries and creative
works alike are judged in market terms." 

7. As the corporate model takes hold, "pressure mounts for
academe to conform to measurements that don't assess quality. 
Faculty careers are increasingly defined by the rules of the
marketplace and by greater competition for publicly supported
resources."  The so-called "Blueprint for the Future," a
far-reaching plan currently being promulgated at UMKC, mandates
"a marked increase in overall faculty quality as demonstrated by
increased extramural funding (30-50% above the current base
within the next six years)" (emphasis added).  But outside
funding opportunities are notoriously unequal among various
fields, e.g. computer technology, business, and the health
sciences as opposed to the humanities and "unprofitable" types of
basic science.  Thus the equating of outside funding with
"faculty quality" is not only false, it is also a formula for
punishing the humanities and a dangerous move toward
privatization of the University.

8. The AAUP brochure goes on, the "exploitation of contingent
labor fosters a production-line attitude toward teaching...; the
content in core courses is made uniform so that it can be
delivered more efficiently..."  It is also important to recognize
that the creation of an overworked and under-paid contingent
teaching faculty lacking the protections of job security and
academic freedom not only makes profits through exploitation 
but also has a political purpose, to bring the faculty and its
functions more tightly under administrative and corporate

9. Finally, the AAUP brochure addresses the question of distance
education, or the "virtual university," which "defines teaching
as managing information .... [and] offer[s] a watered-down
educational experience."  Let me give you an example of the
experience of one humanities department with the combined forces
of the market and of an administration determined to impose the
virtual model upon it. 

10. Distance education used to mean the transmission of courses
over many miles, serving a student audience that can't take
regular courses on campus.  In today's practice, however,
distance education applies to both on- and off-campus
instruction.  It is merely the separation of teacher and student,
the absence of face-to-face communication, or the physical
absence of a teacher.  Students can take courses, for example, in
their dorm rooms or in computer labs.  This model exists not to
improve education or even convenience but to create an education
market with a cheapened product.  The market squeezes enormous
profits out of exploited teachers (who become deprofessionalized
clerical workers), students (who become captive consumers), and
the public, whose taxes pay for the high cost of electronic
technology.  Quality control in instruction is sacrificed to the
bottom line.  The profits go to the corporations who design and
sell the software, hardware, standardized exams, updates, and so
on, and to a few well-placed administrators.

11. The failed experiment I am going to describe took place in
the Language Resource Center at UMKC.  It fits the description of
distance education because it involved the physical absence of a
teacher, and its purpose was to rake in profits with a
substandard product and minimal labor costs.  Had it continued,
its long-term result would have been to hollow out the Foreign
Language Department and turn it into an academic Quik Trip.  In
the place of professionals teaching the languages, literatures,
and cultures of a dozen countries, we would have become a row of
shrunken heads, the contents of our courses sucked out, our
discipline reduced to rubble, and our students blithely ignorant
of really existing foreign languages and cultures.

12. UMKC College and Departmental rules state that a course may
be given as an experimental offering a limited number of times,
but then must either be withdrawn from the schedule or sent to
departmental and college curriculum committees for approval. 
This procedure allows for experimentation by the faculty along
with quality control.  It ensures that successful courses become
institutionalized while those that were unsuccessful, for
whatever reason, are not perpetuated.  Several years ago the Dean
of Arts & Sciences at that time asked the Department of Foreign
Languages and Literatures to offer a series of beginning language
courses developed by someone outside the department.  These
German and Spanish courses were to be taught by computer in the
Language Laboratory, rather than by a teacher in a traditional
classroom.  The Department agreed to do so, under the limited
"experimental" number.

13. The word spread rapidly that the new courses were an easy way
to get ten hours' credit and enrollments spiralled.  But the Dean
hired only one instructor per language.  In German the numbers
were small and the teacher went out of her way to help the
students prevail in spite of the flawed methodology.  However, at
one point enrollment in first and second semester Spanish
together reached 500 students, with one part-time faculty member
in charge.  There was obviously no personal contact, no teaching,
and minimal learning.  All the "instructor" did was record the
results of the computer-graded exams and assign grades. 

14. In addition, the Department faculty discovered that the
so-called computer-delivered courses had numerous flaws in
themselves.  They had originally been developed for audiotapes
and a workbook, and their creator had merely transferred the
pictures and sound to computer software.  The method employed was
totally passive.  Students didn't speak at all and rarely wrote. 
They looked at pictures and listened to voices say words and
sentences.  Nor were any grammatical concepts presented. 
Exercises were not interactive, nor did they take advantage of
any other possibilities offered by computer technology.  The only
plus for the students was that they didn't have to show up for
class at regularly scheduled times.

15. The problems worsened when students attempted to transfer
from these courses into the mainstream curriculum at the third
semester level, for they had learned virtually nothing.  This
caused havoc for instructors in the third semester courses as
well as hardship for the students.  Their graduation dates
sometimes had to be delayed, and they were justifiably angry at
having wasted their time and money.  It also necessitated our
teaching additional remedial courses so that the students could
fulfill their requirement.

16. From the Dean's point of view it was a great set-up.  The
students paid regular full tuition for each five-hour lab course,
but he had to pay only two part-time salaries to two
instructors.  But it was clear to us that this scam was
undermining academic standards while filling the College coffers,
short-changing the students, exploiting the instructors, and
threatening to ruin our good name.

17. The Departmental curriculum committee determined that the
"experimental courses" were a failure, and voted unanimously to
pull the plug.  We would no longer offer them, and if they were
given under other auspices, we would not grant foreign language
credit for them.  The Dean then told us we didn't know how to
teach.  He instructed staff at Registration to continue to allow
students to enroll.  Academic advisors were told to steer
students into the courses. 

18. We then made multiple announcements to the campus community
that we were disassociating ourselves from these courses.  When
it became clear that we would not teach them, the Dean attempted
to keep them alive by offering them through PACE (Program in
Adult Continuing Education) and as 400 level (senior) psychology
courses.  For several years they appeared in the catalogue as
"The psychology of learning Spanish."

19. Without language requirement credit, however, enrollment soon
dropped.   But it was only when the Dean stepped down, in the
summer of 2000, that this nightmare finally ended.  In the
meantime our department has hired a full-time linguist whose
responsibilties include researching cutting edge technologies to
support language teaching.  The Department's position remains,
first, that though technology can be a useful and creative aid to
teaching and learning, it can never be the sole method used in a
class, or an end in itself replacing face-to-face instruction. 
And second, that course content and methodology must remain in
the hands of professionally trained faculty who actually teach
the courses.  The AAUP Policy Documents and Reports, the volume
that outlines the principles accepted by most American colleges
and universities, states it very succinctly: "The faculty has
primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum,
subject matter and methods of instruction..." (183).

20. The case of the UMKC Foreign Language Department represented
a serious threat to professional control of curriculum,
educational standards, and faculty autonomy.  An administrator
imposed a methodology chosen by himself on a department which
rejected it as fatally flawed.  Displaying a complete disregard
for the integrity of an academic discipline--not surprisingly one
in the humanities--he tried to bully the faculty into
compliance.  He engaged in false advertising, claiming the
courses would provide skills that the method was incapable of
delivering.  The  motive was clearly "the bottom line."  The
astronomical enrollments had no relation to learning and
teaching, but they did provide a burgeoning source of income for
the Dean's budget. 

21. If outsiders, whether administrators or corporations, seize
control of what and how we teach, we will have lost the main
battle in the war over education.  The UMKC experience shows how
quickly the function of professionals can be usurped by a
profit-driven agenda and human beings can be replaced by
software.  Unless faculty insist on their intellectual property
rights in binding agreements with the administration, online
courses will become the property of the institution, and
eventually teachers themselves will become largely redundant. 
Only a small staff--probably ill-paid part-timers--will be needed
to produce new courses, up-date old ones, and communicate with
students by e-mail, if at all.  Our experience of one instructor
"responsible" for 500 students is a warning of what the corporate
agenda has in store for all of us.

22. A danger of a different sort was discussed in a recent
article in Mother Jones (Eyal Press & Jennifer Washburn,
"Digital Diplomas," Jan.-Feb. 2001).  The authors point out the
social inequities inherent in the spread of virtual or distance
education according to the corporate model.  "Distance learning,"
they write, "could split higher education into 'brick
universities' that provide traditional degrees for those who can
afford them and 'click universities,' that offer a form of
glorified vocational training for everyone else."  They cite a
Professor of English at Georgetown, who says, "I see it as a
class issue....  Who is going to end up in these distance-
learning classes?  Single moms, working parents--the very 
people who most desperately need social contact as part of
their educational experience."  Two other professors cited warn
that "mass universities will deploy distance learning to deliver
low-cost content ... necessary to turn working-class students
into performers for low- and mid-level jobs in the global
economy" (37).

23. Jane Buck, President of the National AAUP, reminds us of our
professional responsibilities.  "We aren't always right when we
speak out, but we're always wrong when we don't."  If we in the
Humanities, indeed faculty in all disciplines, don't speak out
and keep speaking out, we may all end up as a row of shrunken
heads, decorating the walls of the corporate university.

Patricia P. Brodsky ( is Professor of
Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Missouri, Kansas
City and Secretary of the AAUP chapter at UMKC.  This essay was
first published in The Faculty Advocate 2.2 (December 2001),
newsletter of the AAUP chapter at UMKC (online and appears in Workplace
by permission of The Faculty Advocate.












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