The financial crises of the first two decades of the 21st century has forced innovation on universities. Forced to compete for decreasing numbers of students less able to afford increasing costs of traditional education and more likely to encounter university education instrumentally a factor in strategic entry into labor markets, universities have proceeded with profound changes the effects of which will not be apparent to most for years to come. (A great student perspective on the crisis of university education may be accessed here).
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)
Most of these changes have been well veiled by a combination of well developed rhetoric of passivity ("we can only respond to the market" rhetoric, whose falsity is only augmented by the profound effect on markets that responses produce especially by the largest university players) and by restructuring that increasingly re characterizes most important aspects of university operations as administrative and financial and thus beyond the reach of the traditional governance mechanics of academic governance. These changes have found ready acceptance and the culture of university governance has been affected so that faculty, trustees, administrators and students have begun to understand the university as cultural object in ways that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.
At middle tier universities the changes have been evidenced in a number of ways. One of the most interesting is what has been euphemistically pushed by senior administrators as "pedagogical efficacy" (see here). In the form of a movement toward "engaged scholarship" some aspects of this drive involve the active complicity of well placed faculty. The ways in which influential faculty have rushed to rework their academic cultures to more comfortably conform within new markets driven operational cultures at universities provides a useful basis for understanding the nature and direction of changes to the "business" of the academy. In the process of being "helpful", these faculty efforts that mean to change the culture of the academic enterprise, may transform the nature of the academic enterprise, from an autonomous production model driven by its own objectives to one that becomes a secondary element of wage labor markets and the enterprises that drive them. This essay considers whether recent movements to compel academic conformity to so-called "engaged scholarship" might provide a good example of the profound and perhaps profoundly disturbing example of faculty complicity in movements from education to training models, models in which the academic enterprise may lose its autonomy and thus transformed, more explicitly serve other masters.