Education, business and work

hjmartin (hatch@RICHMOND.INFI.NET)
Wed, 16 Oct 1996 16:57:28 -0400

What is the proper role of business in education? First, I think that the
finger/wazoo image is crude and prejudicial, so I will not use it. Second,
all who regularly read _Science_, as I do, must remember that it is not only
the humanities and social sciences but also the experimental and applied
physical sciences that are increasingly uncomfortable with the business
model of education. Tension in the physical sciences often arises out of
research budget cuts (both a smaller pie and more competition) and the need
to seek partnerships (a euphemism for 'saved the department's budget from
disaster') to do research and exploit discoveries. Stories and reports that
appear in _Science_ time and again (sorry, I do not have references) report
that university-based researchers and (gasp!) administrators worry that
becoming dependent on industry money for research will have negative
effects. Among the effects, at least ones I can recall are:
1. industry will dictate the problems researchers can pursue
2. industry will insist that results are proprietary property and that
secrecy must be maintained (this affects all aspects of work, from what one
is allowed by contract to discuss with colleagues to what one is allowed to
3. industry is not interested in basic research but supports work that will
contribute to short-term profits
I do not who real and pressing these worries are, but since their mirror
images challenge favorite ideas scientists have about what they do (science
is free, science is open to inspection, science observes and explains what
is basic), my guess is that, like doctors who object to the managed-care
model in medicine for what it does to their prerogatives to practice an
unfettered medicine, the scientists are worried about falling under the yoke
(you're paid for now), facing bottom lines (produce or else we'll cut you
off), and losing the autonomy to learn and research what they please. The
argument that those who are uncomfortable taking industry money should not
take it falls flat for the reason that there may be no other place to turn
to and that salaries are often paid from grants (no grant, no job).

Do anthropologists on this list face problems like these? That is, are
research topics circumscribed by the dictates of an outside agency that
agree to pay for project X but not project Y? Do people face pressures _not_
to publish specific results? Or to talk about them at professional
meetings? I would like to know, and the answers might reveal something
about the differences between social sciences and physical ones.

Wade Tarzia wrote about the astounding idea (it crops up all over) that
colleges should design curriculums around what businesses say they need.
Ron points out that colleges (many? most?) are poor and that b-schools are
often in the cat-bird's seat.

John McCreery sees in this an opportunity for reflexive anthropology. I
concur. What do you say, anthropologists? Which one of you is going to
write a best-seller about business and the academy?


Jim Martin
Richmond, VA
(804) 740-0170 (H)
(804) 786-5188 (O)