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Park '12: Corporatization and a pirate ship metaphor

Corporate profiteers run our university.

Most administrators will never admit this because their economic and social status is rooted in Brown's increasingly corporate path. Many students don't see it or don't care, blissfully happy with our privileged lives here and the lives we are promised after — blissful customers ready to become blissful corporate workers. But if you ask almost anyone who has worked here for more than a decade — facilities or dining or library workers, tenured professors and even certain administrators — they'll tell you things are changing at Brown, and not for the better.

There's been much talk about the fabled "Brown, Inc." It seems to me that before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to establish the conversation. Corporatization must be thought of as the increasing evacuation of Brown's public service mission — written into our charter — in favor of profit interests. In a global context, this has been called "neoliberalism" or "Empire." I would ask that we remember this public service mission relates just as much to students as it does to every community Brown affects. These communities, whether consisting of our workers or the businesses in which we invest, are increasingly graded like bottom-line profits and less and less like people. Even some students are happy to think of Brown as a business and to compare its students to consumers, as if education was a product, not a process. Are elementary and secondary schools — public or private — merely businesses, too? Just as health care in our country is a privilege and not a right, so too is higher education becoming an increasingly costly privilege.

When administrators, Corporation members and students talk about endowment losses, tuition or financial aid increases, or how we compare to our "peer schools"; when they use words or phrases like "efficiency," "centralization" and "budget cuts"; when the e-mails from the Career Development Center are most frequently about investment banks — what we are dealing with is the corporatization of Brown.

And if anybody can justify the existence of the new Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, or why it was worth $40 million — nearly half of last year's budget shortfall of $95 million that led to 66 people losing their jobs (not to mention the 139 "voluntary" retirements), or the 31 more that lost their jobs the year before — I would be amazed. Forty million dollars would've helped the $81.5 million going this year towards financial aid — a program that Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98 described as "increasingly expensive to sustain" at a once a year public forum of Brown's budgetary committee, the University Resource Committee, this past fall. Everyone jumps to point out that money set aside for construction comes from targeted gifts — failing to recognize the role that targeted fundraising like the Campaign for Academic Enrichment plays in the targets funded.

It's worth noting that of the Campaign's $1.61 billion raised only $6.2 million were set aside for "the Alumni of Color Initiative," a special initiative split between raising money for endowed scholarships, the annual fund, "Third World Transition Programs" and academic programs.

It would be reductionist to claim that responsibility is not a complex question. For the moment, let's keep it simple. I am not Marxist-Leninist, I'm not even a socialist — but I'm going to quote Lenin on this one — "Who stands to gain?"

Who benefits from the opacity and unaccountability with which this University operates? The same people who operate veiled — the president who rarely meets with her students, the investment office whose location is kept off its website and won't permit students to visit — I know from experience — and the Corporation which seals its minutes for 25 years. Is it any surprise that our highest governing body includes people like Steven Rattner '74 P'10 P13, who recently settled $6.2 million dollars for "peddling influence" in the securities industry and is being sued by the State of New York for $26 million more? Or Steven Cohen P'08, whose hedge fund SAC capital is at the center of a major insider trading investigation? Forgive me if I'm not thrilled that last year they welcomed to their ranks Brian Moynihan '81, CEO of Bank of America — a company of whose role in the current financial crisis one would need to be an ostrich to be unaware of.

I'm sure neither those people, nor other Corporation members nor the financial firms they are associated with had anything to do with Brown's $740 million hit to the endowment — that would be preposterous.

I see things like this: If Brown were a ship, it would be in shambles, thanks to the reckless command of power-drunk pirates. Those of us who care need to start seriously considering mutiny.

 

Julian Park '12 is an MCM concentrator from Vashon Island, Wash. He can be contacted at Julian_Park@brown.edu.


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