'US universities disturbingly over-commercialized' says new book

September 27, 2007

Universities and colleges in the United States have become "disturbingly" commercialised, according to a new analysis edited by an academic at the University of Bath, UK.

Higher Education: Open for Business, edited by Christian Gilde, says that commerce has become too closely involved in academic research, classroom activities and college sports.

In his introduction to the work, which has nine papers from eight authors, Mr Gilde, of the Marketing Group in the University's School of Management, says: "Some campuses seem to have abandoned ethical standard in the quest for corporate dollars.

"It is disturbing to see that today's cafeteria conversation do not center around topics such as Shakespeare or international affairs.

"Due to the overcommercialization of higher education, college and university students sadly start paying attention to issues such as the following: are we a Gateway or a Dell campus" Are we a Coca-Cola or a Pepsi campus" Are we a Nike or an Adidas campus""

Mr Gilde said that "commercialism has gotten too close to certain aspects of academia" and he believed this was a "dangerous development".

"If universities morph, more and more, from knowledge seekers into profit seekers, we are faced with a development that will change the landscape of higher education."

In her paper, The Market of Higher Education, Professor Elizabeth Miller, of Boston College, says that there are 4,326 colleges and universities in the US, with 17.7 million students.

"Students are affected by commercialization in a number of ways," she says. "First, they are constantly exposed to advertising and marketing messages. These messages appear on billboards and flyers posted around the campus, the school newspaper, on products in the campus store, and in the dining halls.

"Students may also be exposed to marketing messages through on-campus promotions, direct mail, examples in their text books, and recruiters.

"Second, students are affected by commercialization through a narrowing of choice options. For example, if a university has a beverage contract with Coca-Cola, it may be difficult to find other beverages on campus." However, funding from commercialisation had given universities the chance to improve campuses, she said.

In her paper, The Impact of Commercialism on the Classroom, Dr Catherine O'Neill, of New Mexico State University, says that some endowed professorships are sponsored by corporations, foundations and governments outside the US. More than 100 'free enterprise' chairs have been put in place by conservative right wing donors "causing a lack of balance in the way the concept of 'free enterprise' is taught on American campuses.

"At George Mason University's law school, tenured professors were pushed out of their positions and replaced by extreme conservatives. The changes were prompted by corporate sponsors who wanted new courses and 'new directions' in faculty research."

In his introduction, Mr Gilde says that the authors hope the book "creates awareness" of the problem of commercialisation in tertiary education "and helps present and future generations of students, parents and educators to make more rational decision" when choosing a career or a college or university.
The book is printed by Lexington Books.

Mr Gilde is working together with Eve Spangler, of Boston College, and Dr O'Neill on another book, which examines the theoretical and methodological links between marketing and the other social sciences.

University of Bath

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