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Forum 24:

The Great Mistake: How Private-Sector Models Damage Public Universities and How They Can Recover

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Held Monday, February 8, 2016

Forum Summary

Christopher Newfield is professor of literature and American Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His main current areas of research are innovation theory and Critical University Studies, a field that he helped to found. Chris’ books include Mapping Multiculturalism (edited with Avery Gordon), The Emerson Effect: Individualism and Submission in America (Chicago, 1996), Ivy and Industry: Business and the Making of the American University, 1880-1980 (Duke, 2003), and Unmaking the Public University: The Forty Year Assault on the Middle Class (Harvard, 2008). His writing also covers American political psychology, race relations, science studies, the future of solar energy, and humanities-based approaches to economics. He teaches courses on Detective Fiction, California Noir, Innovation Studies, Critical Theory, the Future of Higher Education, and English Majoring After College, among others. He blogs on higher education funding and policy at Remaking the University, the Huffington Post, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Professor Newfield will discuss how nearly all public universities now accept the conventional wisdom that the era of public funding is over. This is thought to mean that universities must commercialize, marketize, financialize, and economize. This “new normal” has polarized observers: most senior officials assert that higher tuition, continuous fundraising, corporate partnerships, and sports enterprise support the public mission; faculty critics say the university will then no longer support independent thought. But both positions assume that private-sector changes will make universities more efficient. On this point, both positions are wrong: private sector “reforms” are not the cure for the college cost disease, for they are the college cost disease. This lecture offers an overview of how privatizing public colleges has made them more expensive for students while lowering their educational value, and will outline more-productive policy directions.