Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog

The American University System

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on February 11, 2010

I’d like to thank the blogs Global Higher Education and University Politics for this link from the Huffington Post, How American Universities Became Hedge Funds.

While the aim of the original article is to describe financial changes in the American university system and the damage they did to education, it contains a great deal of information about how American universities are organized. I was particularly intrigued by this description of academic labour.

The twin engines of increased debt and an emphasis on research have fueled a third new market force, which is the academic free agent system. In order for universities to remain highly ranked, they feel that they must compete for the best faculty, and the best faculty are often defined by how much other schools are wiling to pay them. In the UC system, for example, there is an official salary scale, but over 85% of the faculty are now off the scale, and this means that many of them have negotiated private deals with a dean. Not only does this system turn everyone into competitive individualists, but it also circumvents the peer review process that is supposed to be at the heart of the modern democratic university (emphasise mine).

Taiwan is increasingly moving toward placing university faculty in something more like a free market. Officials from the Ministry of Education have spoken at my school describing their envy of the University of California system. It is ironic then that the Huffington’s article positions the UC system as the paradigmatic example of this marketized education system.

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