November 20, 2009

From Gerald R. Lucas

Not a Business

In a meeting on campus the other day, someone said to me: “The college is a business.”

I responded: “No, it’s not. There might be business done in the college, but it is an institution of higher education.”

I know that many in this state—and perhaps around the country—are trying to sell this idea. Our current chancellor is from the private sector, for example. The University System of Georgia currently has a “customer service” initiative going on, and we occasionally get emails about how to make the university experience more friendly to our “customers.”

This is dangerous and, frankly, nauseating.

Business—at least how I see it practiced in the US—is all about closing off possibilities; it’s about drawing lines, securing boundaries. It’s about closed systems, elite hegemonies, keeping things status quo; business de-emphasizes the human in favor of the machine. Education is the opposite: it wants to open up possibilities. It’s about teaching students that they have choice and using their critical capacities in exercising that choice. It’s about being the best human beings that we can. These seem to be opposite goals.

The business folks wear the ties and get things done. Their main goal is money and the power that comes along with it. This is not the same for educators. If these were our goals, none of us would have chosen education as a career path.

Higher education is not a business. It is not. I will not fall for this myth, neither should anyone else.