We return to campus to find the latest evidence of the Building Brown binge, the fresh paint and scaffolding like broken bottles shattered across the floor — evidence of an administrative addiction out of control.
The $40 million Creative Arts Center shows off its new facade overlooking the $10 million sidewalk that crosses Olive Street to pass under the $95 million Life Sciences building. The OMAC parking lot has been cleared as it awaits a $47 million athletic center. Thayer Street squeezes around the $42 million gutting and refitting of Metcalf Lab. A similar renovation proceeds downtown at the new $45 million dollar home for Alpert Medical School.
And then there's our new $21 million campus center, open so soon only because the administration discovered last year that it had overcharged students for tuition by $2 million and decided to waste the serendipitous surplus on hastening construction. (At the very least the University could name the building for us unwitting student philanthropists, but the Stephen Robert '62 Campus Center it remains.)
Meanwhile, administrators shout over the construction noise to assure us that this is an age of austerity at Brown. "The pain" of recessionary retrenchment, our president writes, "must begin at the top." But even though her post-Goldman Sachs income must feel downright proletarian, the truth is that University Hall has been immune, refusing to compromise any of its prized alliterative capital campaigns.
Instead, student tuition is up five percent this year. Ninety employees have been fired over the last 18 months. It took a sustained campaign by workers and student allies in the face of the University's budgetary brinksmanship just to preserve a living wage and health care for Dining Services staff last year. Library staff have not been so lucky.
Unambiguously, the recession-era University budget has been balanced entirely on the backs of students and staff. This is the kind of behavior we would expect from a profit-maximizing corporation on a cost-cutting spree, not from a non-profit educational institution operating in the public interest. It's hard to imagine our Brown, proud and protective of the vitality of its civic community, casting its own into the unemployment pool and siphoning ever more cash from its students' families, especially since the administration is so obviously aware of the extent of the recession's impact on all of us.
Worse still, last year's tuition surplus and the administration's ultimate concessions to Dining Services workers prove that the University tries to take from us more than it needs. Brown — again, an ostensibly non-profit institution — sets its prices not as low as it can manage, but as high as it can get away with. It treats its employees not as well as it can sustain, but as poorly as it can without pissing us off to the point of protest.
Stripping away the last pretenses to service and a non-profit mission, the truth is that our university is commercializing, replacing public interest with profit interest. The national phenomenon of university corporatization — the cause of the moment for professors around the country and the subject of countless books documenting the extent of the problem — has at long last arrived at Brown. President Simmons has ascended to her place among the most prominent of a new generation of university administrators who are looking ever more executive than academic.
The consequences of corporatization are not limited to the University's mistreatment of its students and staff in the quest for profit. There is, of course, the oft-bemoaned prioritization of research over teaching, and the correlated emphasis on science to the detriment of the humanities. But then there is the reduction of tenured professorships in favor of adjunct positions, inducing competition into the faculty at the price of academic freedom and faculty-student relationships. There is the spread of aggressive high-risk investment strategies, and there is the growing intimacy between universities and private industry, raising unavoidable ethical issues and conflicts-of-interest for research, investments and teaching that threaten our academic independence.
At many universities, corporate culture has become so entrenched that resisting it would be an unwinnable battle. But we are lucky enough to be at Brown in the middle of the fight over the University's commercial future. We have only just arrived at the juncture between service and profit, between community and callousness, between university-college and research institution, between our unique identity and Ivy League homogeneity — between Brown University and Brown, Inc.
In Brown University we find the things that drew us all here — the quality of undergraduate teaching, the institutional respect for community members, the willingness, even in the Ivy League, to do things a little bit differently. In Brown, Inc. we find only a profit motive. Our university is worth fighting for. Brown, Inc. won't even be ours to defend.
Simon Liebling '12 is from New Jersey. He can be reached at simon.liebling (at) gmail.com.