Economics/Class Relations

Columbia University Has Lost Its Way

It’s interesting how universities have become predatory capitalist corporations in terms of their business model, but Stalinist/fascist/fundamentalist regimes in terms of ideological conformity.

By Katherine Frank, The Nation

The Ivy League institution’s approach to the contract negotiations with its grad student workers reveals how it has evolved into a predatory business.

When Columbia University celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2003, President Lee Bollinger honored Columbia’s history and special place in society as “one of the leading institutions of higher learning in the world.” He noted that a university’s purpose in cultivating “democratic personalities” in our students and the wider society is grounded in “a spirited curiosity coupled with a caring about others (the essence of what we call humanism).” A great university, he observed, serves as a humanistic counterpoint to “more often cited interests in property and power, around which we organize the economic and political systems.”

Today, it is hard to deny that Columbia has lost its way.

The recently concluded negotiations between Columbia University and its graduate students/workers, ending a months-long strike by PhD students, serves as an object lesson in how the modern, private university no longer embodies the higher calling touted by Bollinger. Columbia’s approach to the contract negotiations with the grad students reveals how it has evolved into a kind of predatory business, more like a real-estate holding venture than an institutional actor whose original letter of patent positioned it outside of, and perhaps in opposition to, market-based, for-profit norms and values.


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