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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 1999

Fall Conference Exposes Commercialism Trend

Ursula Franklin cautioned the 150 participants at CAUT's October conference, "Universities and Colleges in the Public Interest," that commercialization is moving Canada's post-secondary educational system away from a commitment to public usefulness and away from its primary purpose "to equip the young with the knowledge, skills, insights and critical abilities to cope with the future."

Franklin, a Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto, also expressed concern that basic and applied research are being steered inappropriately by private interests that undermine the integrity of the research and the researcher.

Following Franklin's keynote address, Janice Newson described commercialization as being "primarily about changing the university from a 'public-serving' to a 'private-serving' mission that limits the quest for knowledge and prepares students for a pre-ordained future. Wayne Renke offered participants a critical look at the terms of the conference's subtitle, "Stopping the Commercial Takeover of Post-Secondary Education," and suggested we have the structures to deal with the challenges. "It is our responsibility to use them," Renke concluded.

CAUT president Bill Graham reported that universities and colleges are increasingly entering into secret agreements with corporate donors in response to government funding cutbacks. Citing examples of agreements between the University of Toronto and Nortel, Barrick Gold, the Rotman Foundation, and Bell-Emergis, Graham remarked these agreements compromise the integrity of the institution, attempt to steer scholarship and teaching, and undermine collegial governance structures.

Ann Clark, Nancy Olivieri, and Michèle Brill-Edwards reported how corporate interests are inappropriately influencing medical and agricultural research.

Another theme was the corporate attempt to use universities and colleges as sites to market private goods and services. Speakers pointed out many forms -- from exclusive agreements with suppliers, to advertising in hallways and on washroom walls, to financial rewards for faculty mentioning product names in lectures.

David Noble and Langdon Winner addressed a third form of commercialization -- the attempt to use new technologies to turn teaching into a commodity. Winner's ironic sales pitch for the Edu-Sham corporation's new APM (Automated Professor Machine) drew a standing ovation.

The final theme -- the imposition of a corporate model on the management of the universities and colleges -- was discussed by Bill Bruneau, Maureen Shaw, and the Canadian Federation of Students National Chairperson Michael Conlon.

Marjorie Griffin Cohen warned participants that Canada's ability to maintain and enhance its public educational system was in jeopardy because of upcoming international trade discussions in the World Trade Organization. She noted there is pressure to bring education under the auspices of the General Agreement on Trade in Services that is being renegotiated over the next three years.

Jean-Paul Lainé, from the University of Rouen; Sir David Weatherall, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford; and Denise Angers, vice-president of the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d'université, were members of a panel that addressed the issue of commercialization of education and research in France, England and Quebec respectively.

From challenges to solutions, Paul Axelrod and Claire Polster talked about how universities and colleges can reclaim their public purpose.

In workshops than ran throughout the conference, participants developed an action list of what local, provincial and national associations can do as well as ideas for initiatives by individual academic staff members to defend their profession and their public institutions.

Within the next four months, the conference papers and the workshop action lists will be published in the second volume of the new CAUT Series Title published by James Lorimer & Company. "In the meantime, locals that want copies of the workshop action lists should contact us directly," said CAUT executive director Jim Turk.

The final plenary adopted a conference statement that reaffirmed a commitment to post-secondary education that serves the public interest and opposed any restrictions on the creation or dissemination of knowledge.

CAUT would be pleased to assist local associations that would like to sponsor conferences on commercialization at their own institutions.