Football capitalism: students competitively recruited out of high schools by universities solely to play ball; corporate sponsorship of university sports and athletics department staff; lucrative university and corporate contracts covering athletic facilities and stadiums, logos and branding, media coverage, travel, etc.; channeling of university profits into expanding athletics at the expense of other departments and the mission of the university; using or directing athletics-generated profits to underwrite other university programs through a political process; selling or leasing university athletic resources and space to corporate and private bidders; awarding game tickets, stadium space, university housing and other university resources to corporate and private bidders; partnering with hotel and resort chains, construction companies, airlines and bus companies and other companies to support and expand university athletics; using alumni and alumni centers for aggressive athletics-driven fundraising; hiring spouses or children of faculty into no-show or little-show jobs in athletics departments to subsidize low faculty salaries; practically exempting athletics departments from financial, regulatory and contractual oversight; paying coaches and athletics department staff over-market salaries; disregarding the needs and rights of student athletes and not providing them with quality educations; over-funding some university teams while under-funding others; giving some student athletes special exposure and privileges while not fully supporting others.
I am not saying that Oregon State University does all of these things. I am saying that I suspect that the behind-the-scenes managing bureaucracy of OSU has its historic roots in the peculiar logic, economy and politics of university athletics and that this bureaucracy is tempted to cross the line and engage in the activities listed above. Fallible human beings cross such lines every day.
I am also not saying that OSU athletics is inherently at fault. If 18th century English literature could be turned into a cash cow and used to support other projects and push a political and economic agenda which would benefit the bureaucracy they would jump on it. I don’t believe that OSU is unique; it just happens to be close by and in the news.
Let’s look at the OSU bureaucracy. There is the University President and various vice presidents, there are department heads and managers and there are people who work with infrastructure, student support, alumni, planning and fundraising and wealth management. There are faculty and staff and human resources people. There are also people who liaison with other universities, with state agencies and with the legislature.There has been a developing trend at OSU away from teaching faculty and towards non-teaching faculty. Many of these people do research, but many also work as department managers at relatively high salaries. The people they manage—OSU staff—fall into several categories. Physical plant staff and unskilled staff positions have been decreasing in number, but not in workload, while the numbers of so-called “semi-professional” staff have seen slight increases. OSU staff is not properly a part of the OSU bureaucracy because they have little or no decision-making power, little job security over time and little or no immediate political impact on the direction or mission of the university.
The OSU bureaucracy I have been speaking of seems to feel and understand a shared identity, a kind of class consciousness. Many of the most prominent bureaucratic actors attended the same colleges and universities or worked in them at one point or another. They were fraternity brothers or sorority sisters. They have ties to the same, or similar, corporations and legal firms. Their resumes look and sound remarkably similar. Some work behind the scenes to insure a certain direction for the university and the success of those efforts. Others are front-line supervisors overseeing as few as three workers in some departments or a similar number of supervisors. They feel a strong sense of accountability to one another. Conversely, they do not seem to feel accountable to others.
Every bureaucracy has as its origins an economic and political base. I’m arguing here that money from OSU’s athletics department funded at least a part of this bureaucracy in the past and gave it a certain political coloring. They could support limited privatization of state services, some educational funding packages, a unified university system to the extent that it directly benefited them, a vision of the mission of the university which linked OSU to agribusiness and the timber industries and the hometown or homegrown politicians who supported them. Their presence at OSU has meant stability.
The union and the civil rights and progressive movements at OSU have won some concessions from this bureaucracy but each battle has been hard fought. The campus cultural centers are a visible sign of our efforts. The very existence of a union representing classified workers at OSU is another sign. The destruction of the small “people’s park” on campus a few years back signaled an attempt by the bureaucracy to rid itself of us.
The slow but steady rise or recuperation of the zoology, wildlife sciences, plant pathology, forestry, pharmacy, agricultural and engineering departments at OSU is being built from a different economic and political base. These are departments which more directly serve private industry and its competitive needs. Moreover, this rise or recuperation comes at a time when public-private partnerships are being used to loot state and federal resources nationwide and give certain industries advantages in the global marketplace.
The logic of these forces demands that universities like OSU centralize finances and administration under business centers, become fully accessible to corporations and fully responsive to the globalized marketplace, adopt competitive internal mechanisms or markets and pare down to the bone in order to compete internally and externally. There is no room in this model for separate university departments or for a unified state educational system, or for university-run athletics or for a looking-backwards and inward-looking bureaucracy. And so it is that four cultural centers at OSU may be relegated to a “cultural street option” designed by an out-of-state architectural firm run as part of a public-private partnership and then be quietly chloroformed if we relax our vigilance and pressure.