Whenever I watch the news on a national or global level, I constantly see the effects of corporatism and capitalism all over the world, more often than not with negative consequences. The most heinous crime facing our world today deals with the wealthiest bribing politicians to create policies that benefit only the wealthiest, but that only scratches the surface of how such extremist capitalism has affected the entire world. I have only recently begun to realize, however, that such corruption happens just as much on a more local and personal level as well. Governments of individual states and cities and even universities are susceptible to such corruption as well. American universities have become so privatized that I do not think that even public universities are entirely “public” either.
Take, for example, my home institution, the University of Oregon. While one would think that the University of Oregon would be one of the biggest public state universities in the state, this is in fact far from the truth:
Tuition alone does not cover the cost of a UO education, even when combined with state support. In fact, less than 10 percent of the university’s budget comes from tax dollars—a figure that continues to decline. (http://giving.uoregon.edu/why-give)
As much as I believe that our educational system needs massive reform at the fundamental level, this figure only adds insult to injury as it is indicative of the amount of public support for higher education and how much it has cost the United States. I thought that number was only appropriate for the budget of private universities; that amount is so low that I would not be surprised if some private universities receive a higher percentage of government funding than public universities. To add even more insult to injury, the way we fund our education greatly impacts other major issues facing our world, but recent history has shown that private funding actually damages our ability to solve or even face these problems. The majority of students at the University of Oregon support banning the sale of bottled water because of the waste bottled plastic is producing to our health and water resources, one of the main arguments that has led to the Climate Justice League’s ”Take Back The Tap” campaign, which hopes to do just that.
The campaign would have been successful if it were not for the fact that the Pepsi Company is one of the biggest corporate donors to the university. Of course, Pepsi would not have given so much money to the university without wanting something in return, in this case, the sale of bottled water and drinks for their own profit. Although it is nice to see that a few universities have already banned the sale of bottled water, change from the few is certainly not enough to tackle the crises that face our world.
The ability for companies to lobby major institutions is one of the biggest examples of legalized bribery at its worst; after all, profit is the defining principle of capitalism, and it sickens me. Who thought that letting corporations dictate what goes on at a public university would be a good idea? And to think that the university itself even brags about having these private and corporate donations and even a corporate partnership program to give back to the corporations!
Giving to the UO isn’t just an excellent philanthropic opportunity. It’s an excellent investment. Every dollar invested in the UO leads to a ten dollar economic return. (http://corporate.uoregon.edu/philanthropy.php)
While investing in the university may not be as profitable as investing in the US government, it is still a great investment for businesses nevertheless. The problem is even bigger when one sees that Pepsi is only one of many corporations that “donate” (or rather, “invest”) at least $25,000 per year to the University of Oregon. Other notable companies on the list is Comcast, which provides basic cable television to every single dorm room in the university; Nike, one of many sponsors to and provides sports equipment for UO athletics (although it partly makes sense since Nike was founded at the University of Oregon); and most importantly, several major American banks (U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, etc.) who want to make a profit off of students through financial tricks and wanting to keep the cost of attendance high for obvious reasons.
What irritates me more, however, is why we have to pay for education in the first place. While some could argue that we could reduce the “cost” of higher education through scholarships and whatnot, it creates an environment of competitiveness that is completely unnecessary, unproductive, and detrimental to learning, both for oneself and for society. Students become beggars to those dangling the precious money above our heads and suffer if they are not the ”best of the best” to begin with (i.e., everyone). In addition, approximately only five percent of the federal budget goes to education and an even smaller portion goes to colleges and universities, which is absurdly low. At the same time, over half of the budget is spent on “defense” spending alone, from which hundreds of billions of dollars is completely wasted. If there were less unnecessary spending at the federal level and more spending on higher education, this problem could have been avoided altogether. I would be free to study whatever I want to study with little or no cost.
I think this alone has shown plenty enough to describe a bigger picture where the desire for profit brings with it certain consequences. While I do not agree with capitalism and even though private universities can fund themselves however they wish, reducing the influence of money in the public sphere is a step in the right direction, and that first step for change is what the world, and not just education, needs now.