From matters of integrity to cultural transformation: higher education in the era of neoliberalism

Published in Tracey Bretag (editor), Handbook of Academic Integrity (Singapore: Springer, 2016), pp. 929-941

Daniel Lee Kleinman

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Tatsuya Suda, formerly a professor of computer science at the University of California-Irvine, was sentenced in February of 2014 to three years of probation and ordered to pay $400,000 after being convicted of taking secret research payments from Japanese companies while employed as a professor. Some twenty-five years earlier Betty Dong, a researcher at the University of California-San Francisco, was blocked from publishing research funded by Boots Pharmaceutical, ostensibly because Dong's results revealed that one of the company's thyroid medicines was no more effective than three cheaper, competing drugs.

For nearly a half century (see, e.g., Radder 2010; Slaughter and Leslie 1997; Slaughter and Rhoades 2004; Washburn 2006), readers, analysts, and policymakers have been captivated by stories of industry-funded faculty behaving unethically and firms suppressing research results that could adversely affect their profits. The former amount to lapses in individuals' integrity in the face of corporate temptation, while the latter can be viewed as cases of corporate violations of integrity in the light of threats to profit. But while we should not ignore egregious violations of academic norms ostensibly induced by university-industry relations (UIRs), such cases are relatively rare, and attention to such uncommon events can leads us to ignore broader changes in academic culture and practice, which may point to a deeper reorientation of higher education.

We are living at a period in which universities from London and Paris and Los Angeles to Seoul are under increasing pressure to show their direct and explicit economic value, that they can provide clear economic benefit. At the same time, many universities are called on to adopt business world practices and commercial values. Market metrics, like consumer demand, are often brought into university settings as strategic guides. In this context, the extra-economic virtues of higher education are under threat. This essay explores the broad influence of industry culture and practice on academia and provides a framework for how we might think about such impacts. While most of the examples in the pages that follow come from the United States, instances from around the globe suggest that the influence of business culture on the character of higher education is not unique to the United States. In the current environment, our greatest worry should be the progressive loss of non-economic or extra-commercial values that have long played an important role in guiding public higher education, not individual level cases of violations of norms of academic integrity.


With the advent of the biotechnology revolution in the United States beginning in the late 1970s and the 1980s, commentators began to express apprehension that a once-isolated ivory tower had been breached. Analysts and advocates pointed to at least four specific concerns. First, they worried that university-industry relations would undermine researcher autonomy. As the American Association of University Professors put it in 1983: "University scientists may be pressured into taking work on research problems that do not interest them by a university eager to acquire a profitable patented, or to please or attract a corporate associate" (American Association of University Professors 1983:21a). Here, we face the problem of deep-pocketed firms shaping academic scientists' research agendas. Second, they were troubled by what they believed would be an increase in secrecy among scholars in an environment that is supposed to be characterized by openness and the free flow of ideas and research materials. More generally, analysts and critics expressed concerns about broad threats to academic freedom. As Hart noted in 1989, a commercial orientation toward academic research can create "a secretive and repressive atmosphere" (Hart 1989:28). Third, analysts feared that the spread of university-industry relations would weaken faculty commitment to the public interest and would lessen the number of faculty positioned to provide disinterested and unbiased evaluation for biotechnology (Krimsky 1984). Finally, a number of writers and activists suggested that scientists who profit from their research through industry funding wouldintroduce biases into their research results (Shenk 1999).

The anxieties expressed by writers and advocates in the early days of the biotechnology industry were not entirely without foundation. Michael Blumenthal and his colleagues "asked biotechnology faculty [in the United States] the extent to which their choice of research topics had been affected by the likelihood that the results would have commercial application. "They found that "Faculty members with industry support were more than four times as likely as faculty without industry funds (30 versus 7%, P < 0.001) to report that such considerations had influenced their choices to some extent or to a great extent" (1986: 1364). Additionally, their data revealed that industry-supported professors were also four times more likely than their colleagues who did not receive corporate funding to indicate that their research had resulted in trade secrets (1986: 1364). The results by Curry and Kenney reinforced the findings of Blumenthal and his colleagues. Their survey respondents suggested that commercial considerations affected the research projects of almost half of industry-funded researchers. At the same time, Curry and Kenney found that more than twenty-five percent of faculty who did not receive support from business acknowledged that commercial factors influenced their project decisions (1990:52).

The concerns raised by analysts and activists in the 1980s have been repeatedly echoed since the turn of the millennium. In her 2006 book, University, Inc., Jennifer Washburn documents the "corporate stranglehold on academic science" (xviii). Writing in 2004, Sheldon Krimskyargues "that commercial links in the biomedical sciences have been predatory and destructive of scientific objectivity and openness" (x). And former Harvard University President Derek Bok expresses similar worries in his 2004 volume, Universities in the Marketplace.

Discussion of the means to confront the dangers of university-industry research relations has not waned since the publication of the work of Washburn, Krimsky, and Bok. In a 2008 commentary in Minnesota Medicine, Dale Hammerschmidt repeats concerns made some 30 years earlier, noting: "There are two basic dangers in interpreting industry-sponsored research on health care: first, failing to recognize the inherent biases in such studies and, second, discounting the value of such research because of concern about those biases" (Hammerschmidt 2008). And a report sponsored by the US National Academy of Sciences published in 2009 summarized precisely the concerns raised in the heyday of the biotechnology revolution: that university-industry relations could create conflicts of interest, restrict the flow of information, and lead to skewed pro-industry research findings (Lo and Field 2009).

These phenomena - matters of individual and corporate integrity in the face of changing incentives in academic research - are not unimportant. In some sectors of higher education, university-industry relations have a substantial influence on research practice. According to Lo and Field (2009), in biomedicine as many as 67% of academic programs in US institutions may have relationships with industry. While, of course, an array of factors can lead to restrictions on the flow of information in materials (see Campbell, et al 2002), Lo and Field note that scientists' commercial interests can lead to such restrictions and that clinical trials with industry ties are more likely than those without such connections to produce findings favorable to industry. At the same time, this kind of support is restricted to a limited slice of higher education (most especially clinical and translational researchers), and as analysts and policymakers have shown repeatedly, mechanisms can be put in place that can minimize the most flagrant violations of norms of academic integrity resulting from university-industry relations. Thus, many universities now require researchers to complete forms documenting their connections with firms and have policies explicitly limiting the period of time research results can remain under wraps. In sum, while there are real concerns for academic integrity raised by formal connections between universities and firms, they already receive substantial attention, and the indirect influences of the commercial world on academia typically do not make the news or draw the attention of policymakers. By contrast, calls for universities to serve one central function-facilitating economic development-and the spread of business codes and practices into higher education pose fundamental threats to the idea that universities should serve extra-economic (some call these public good) roles, and in the face of slow economic growth andsevere fiscal challenges preserving a place for tertiaryeducation independent of the economy and business is a substantial challenge even for highly placed leaders who support this position.

Changes in Culture, Causes for Concern

If we believe universities should serve a role distinct from firms and the market, we should be concerned by developments that suggest a merging of the functions of universities and industry. We should be troubled, furthermore, if universities become mere adjuncts or handmaids for industry. From this perspective, universities should serve functions that neither companies nor markets can. Thus, it will never be profitable to educate students for a life of citizenship and with broad work-world-relevant, but not occupation-specific, capacities. Basic research may lead to profitable applications but not in a timeframe that firms would typically find acceptable. Market mechanisms will not support the development of niche crops or drugs developed for small markets, and the private sector will never be an insulated environment for social critique, analyses necessary to inform public debate and assure accountability of governments and companies. These are not questions of individual research or corporate integrity, but of what values or principles higher education should embody.

Educating for Employment

Post secondary education has always involved preparation for employment. In some varieties of institution and in some countries, this is truer than in others. Still, educators have long and consistently thought that tertiary education is for more than job preparation. In the United States, prominent education leaders, such asformer Harvard president Derek Bok, have stressed the importance of citizenship education in universities. Bok notes that civic responsibility must be learned, and he goes so far as to suggest required courses in the way democracy works and country-specific courses on state institutions, political philosophy, basic economics, and national and world affairs (2006). Beyond the importance of civic education as part of a comprehensive university experience, analysts have found that narrowly occupational education is less likely than broader training to prepare students for a changing economy. Thus, in their research, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksafound that liberal arts majors had more substantial gains over time than students in non-liberal arts majors in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills (2006). These are the skills that employers believe are important for successful work performance in a diverse array of jobs (Kleinman forthcoming) and seem likely to be associated with jobs that create greater job satisfaction than more narrowly focused, regimented employment.

But despite the arguments presented by educators and the evidence provided by researchers, in an environment of limited economic growth and widespread calls for lower taxes, politicians persist in arguing for narrow occupationally-oriented university education. Thus, US Florida Governor Rick Scott asserted:

If I'm going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I'm going to take that money to create jobs…. So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state…. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don't think so (quoted in Kleinman forthcoming).

Along similar lines, North Carolina's Governor, Pat McCrory argued that "If you want to take gender studies that's fine. Go to a private school, and take it…. But I don't want to subsidize that if that's not going to get someone a job" (quoted in Kleinman forthcoming).

While both Scott and McCrory are political conservatives, US President Barak Obama has made similar arguments. In a 2014 speech he quipped: "I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree." And this statement is consistent with his effort to develop a "College Scorecard," which, among other things, would measure the value of higher education institutions in terms of immediate post-graduation employment and salaries (Field 2013).

This is not to suggest that we should not be concerned about threats to academic integrity when, for example, businesses suppress publication in the interest of profit or when academic scientists view research findings through a lens of future economic gain. But while in some quarters of some institutions, the impact of formal contracts between industry and academic scientists may be substantial, overall these relations (and the threats they pose to academic integrity) still do not dominate the academic landscape in the US or elsewhere. On the other hand, every student who goes to university expects to receive an education and the shape of that education profoundly affects how these people subsequently behave as citizens as well as their experience of the world of work-the kinds of work of which they will be capable and the satisfactions they receive from that work. Markets and companies cannot provide education, and producing narrowly job-ready graduates, as many political leaders across the globe call for, does a long-term disservice to the students and to national economies, which end up without people educated in ways that allow them to adjust to and take advantage of rapidly changing economic situations. Ironically, many in business understand this and disagree with the short-term perspective of many politicians (see Kleinman forthcoming).

Universities as Economic Development Engines

While many analysts worry about the egregious violations of academic norms - cases of individual and corporatebehavior inconsistent with widely shared notions of integrity - that accompany formal university-industry research relations and highlight relatively rare cases of fraud, misconduct, and misrepresentation, universities across the globe are expanding existing or developing new institutions that place higher education at the center of private sector and government economic development strategies (see Berman 2013; Shaffer and Wright 2010). Research parks, which first emerged many years ago, are growing in prominence, and university offices to facilitate professorial entrepreneurial activities are gaining visibility. Western Michigan University's research park and incubator houses some 22 bioscience start-ups as well as array of other businesses, and the University hopes to build a second research park. North Carolina State, a long-time center for university-industry collaboration, only five years ago was in the midst of developing an entirely new research park on its Raleigh campus (Shaffer and Wright 2010). And more recently the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced the start of its Discovery to Product (D2P) program. D2P, supported by some five and a half million dollars from the university and other sources, is an effort to more effectively cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship among faculty and students, and better support the formation of new companies, while systematically expanding the number of innovations that reach the market through startups or licensing arrangements with established companies" (Devitt 2013).

This orientation does not stop at the borders of the United States. European universities are developing or bolstering similar organizational units and countries from the Netherlands to Great Britain are building on efforts initiated in the United States. The Cambridge Science Park was founded by the University of Cambridge's Trinity College in 1970, and in 2005 the park opened an Innovation Centre to support start-up businesses. In Australia, where commercial entities affiliated with university campuses are common, the Innovation Campus was developed by the University of Wollongong. According to the Campus' website, it aims "to provide an environment for commercial and research entities to co-locate with University of Wollongong teams and establish successful, productive partnerships." It seeks, further, to introduce and integrate "commercial acumen into University research activities" ( China too has a number of university-affiliated science parks. Plans for the Peking University Science Park began in 1992 with the aim of creating a place for "the commercialization and industrialization of high-tech achievements and an arena for the development of enterprises" (Jun 2010).

The increasing stress of universities on their roles in economic development is part of what Elizabeth Popp Berman sees as a trend toward "economic rationalization," the process of viewing more and more elements of human activity as contributors to the economy (2014). In this context, the array of what universities do is increasingly justified in terms of their contributions to the economy. Indeed, US university leaders sometimes highlight improvements in their institutions' economic development roles as signal achievements and spend less rhetorical energy defending their universities' non-market contributions. While universities have always been connected to the economy, the push to brandish institutions' images as economic development engines may conceivably mean that initiatives that do not contribute directly to economic development will be ignored or go unfunded or unappreciated. In response to the initiation of D2P at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one faculty member worried that the university would be less supportive of developing non-profit organizations than it might have otherwise been. That professor noted that "All across the protected space of the research university - where intellectual freedom is supposed to outweigh instrumental pressures of budgets and sales - it is often through the channels of such non-profit activism that art is brought to the public sphere, that evidence is mustered for public debate, and that 'market failures' are addressed for the most vulnerable and voiceless of our populations." What will the growth of institutions like D2P mean for drama and polemic, for "visionary leaps of imagination and empathetic examples of compassion that are rendered not in formulas or bits, but in words and sounds and images"? (Downey 2013).

Scott Frickel, David Hess and others take this concern in a different direction (Frickel, et al 2010). They worry about "undone science." Frickel and his colleagues define undone science as research "left unfunded, incomplete, or generally ignored but that social movements or civil society organizations often identify as worthy of more research" (2010: 444). Their work largely attends to the mechanisms that lead to research of value to less powerful social groups not being supported or undertaken, and they are especially concerned about the aspirations of social movements, but their essential point of relevance to this chapter is that "the institutional contexts of researchincluding different sets of political and economic pressures, normative expectations, resource concentrations, and sizes and configurations of research networks…" shape what research is done and undone (Frickel et al 2010: 467). Some university leaders already view economic development as their first priority. Some faculty tenure committees already consider the successful acquisition of intellectual property favorably, and at a time when many universities are under financial stress, incentives for developing business start-ups are already common. As the incentives for undertaking university research increasingly align with "economic rationalization," it will become less likely that research with no obvious market value will be supported. In this context, what firms will support academic research on the mode of operation of prospective drugs for which the market will be very small? To what extent will university agricultural sciences be encouraged to undertake the development of seed lines of use to subsistence farmers in the global south? How likely is it that researchers will be recognized at their universities for research undertaken on behalf of community groups seeking assistance understanding of chemical exposure from a nearby factory?

Direct funding from companies - a phenomenon some analysts see as a threat to academic integrity - is not required to shape research agendas in higher education. In the face of fiscal crises, academic leaders promote market-facing units within their institutions and articulate a rhetoric of economic development. The result is likely to be that scholarship with less obvious or smaller benefit in the public sector, and research that promises social benefit by non-market criteria will either remain undone or underappreciated. Again, here, the concern is less about individuals and corporations acting in ways inconsistent with integrity and more about how structures, systems, or cultures shape the practices of researchers and how shifts in the organization and incentives driving higher education are likely to increasingly crowd out unprofitable and non-market oriented academic activities.


If the motivations for teaching and learning must increasingly be presented in market value terms and a widespread commitment to economic development by university leaders has the potential to lead to a narrowing of the research undertaken in universities and the kinds of support faculty provide to not-for-profit entities, some analysts have also expressed concern about the adoption of business-type administrative practices in academic settings (see, e.g., Tuchman 2009; Shore and Wright 2000). In this context, some recent developments are troubling, but not all. Here, one can distinguish between practices that can allow universities to fulfill broadly non-market public purposes and those that have the intended or unintended consequences of weakening the capacity of universities to do what markets and companies cannot or will not.

Strategic planning is a practice that has prompted some concern (see Kleinman and Osley-Thomas 2014), but is not especially worryingin these terms. Indeed, one can imagine that engaging in strategic planning could enable universities to better realize a particular non-economic rationalization mission. Strategic planning came into prominence in US higher education in the 1980s (Birnbaum 2000: 67). An analysis of the rhetoric around its use in US universities (Kleinman and Osley-Thomas 2013) suggests there is not a single definition of the technique and in practice it is sufficiently flexible to serve a wide range of missions. It certainly does not appear to demand adoption of corporate norms or a market orientation. It poses little obvious threat to academic integrity.

In contrast to strategic planning, budget practices that are currently being experimented with in higher education can potentially alter the orientation of the universities that utilize them. Until recently, in many US universities, incremental or legacy budgeting was widespread. Here, allocations to units within a given institution are based on provision granted in previous years. While this can certainly weaken incentives to innovate and can allow programs that have lost value to continue to function, this system also likely means that units within universities that were viewed as valuable in an era before economic rationalization would have some stability. Thus, small humanities programs potentially initiated with the genesis of a given institution and well-established initiatives intended to foster collaboration between university faculty and staff and community organizationswould likely be safe under such a model. By contrast, activity-based budgeting, a system used in a number of US and Canadian universities, grants funds to university units that provide the greatest return on investment. Here, one could imagine a program in, for example, digital game development that attracted large numbers of students be given resources to grow, while a low demand Classics program would be shut down (cf. Osley-Thomas 2014). Responsibility centered management (RCM), a system that gives units the revenues they generate, could have an effect similar to activity-based budgeting. First adopted in the US by universities in the 1970s, RCM has been widely adopted by public and private universities in the US in recent years (University of Oregon. n.d.).

Elizabeth Popp Berman argues that an essential part of "economic rationalization" is the inclination to measure the array of university activities. And, indeed, the spread of an audit culture appears to be a central component of the restructuring of higher education in Britain and elsewhere. Unfortunately, as Berman notes

it is really hard to create good metrics, particularly about something as complex as innovation or education. The tendency, naturally enough, is to fall back on the easy metrics: percent of students who have jobs six months after graduation. Student-teacher ratios. Number of startup companies spun off. Number of citations to articles. Impact factors of articles (2014: 16).

And the inclination to rely on inadequate measures is likely to impoverish higher education all-the-while making our universities appear more rational, more business-like and more accountable. Thus, tenure decisions for faculty can sometimes be based on simple counts-number of publications and journal prestige as represented by such measures as impact factors. These metrics benefit certain kinds of fields and certain kinds of scholars. Scholars in niche fields where the research that might lead to a single article could take years of fieldwork will be hurt, if new metrics are implemented in unnuanced ways. Researchers who publish in newly emerging innovative open access journals could be sanctioned. And, of course, where dollars received to fund research are a tenure assessment metric, one could imagine scientists seeking the easiestfunding sources, rather than those most appropriate for them, and turning to industry and industry-oriented research when that is the variety of work readily supported.

A number of countries have experimented with narrowly conceived research metrics, but the British system, referred to as the Research Excellence Framework, has probably received the greatest amount of attention. While seeking to promote rigor and originality and to be fair, the framework has been widely criticized. Among other things, the stress on impact outside of higher education is likely, some suggest, to weaken academic freedom. More specifically, the framework weights the contributions of books and articles equally, devaluing fields that require extensive periods before the publication of scholarship and tend to produce books, rather than articles (Kahn-Harris 2011). Of course, these are fields that are distant from the market (Slaughter and Rhoades 2004), most particularly the humanities, but also the social sciences. Beyond these issues, a recent study by Ismael Rafols and his co-authors (2012) suggests that the journal-based ranking scheme currently used to evaluate U.K. business and management schools discourages interdisciplinary research. This is especially ironic at a time when advocates of business-university collaboration stress the value of interdisciplinary research (Kleinman, Feinstein, and Downey 2013).

In sum, while not all possible business or business-like administrative practices undermine the capacity of universities to do what markets and firms cannot or will not, certainly some have the potential to have this effect. It seems extremely likely that budgeting approaches, increasingly experimented with in North America, may lead to the undervaluing of teaching in, and doing research on, subjects with little market value. Similarly, the varieties of scholarly impacts widely adhered to on both sides of the Atlantic have the potential to weaken research fields that are distant from the market.


There is certainly cause for concern when companies seek to prevent publication of research that contradicts their interests or when they restrict the free flow of information and research materials, and there is little doubt that, especially in times of research budget limitations, corporate largesse can shape the research agendas of academic scientists. Butthe biggest problems faced by universities in the early 21st century are not the product of corporate malfeasance (and thus threats to corporate or individual integrity) or even straightforward efforts of companies to realize their own interests in relationships with universities and academic scientists. More worrying is the ways in which universities are being encouraged to narrow the education they provide in response to pressures, especially from politicians, to produce market-ready college graduates. Also troubling is how the broader political and economic environments - government cuts to higher education funding and the need to appear valuable to economically weary citizens - are pushing universities to single-mindedly develop units that aid university faculty to engage in market-relevant activities. Finally, also concerning are new budget models and measurement practices that are likely, depending on how they are implemented, to encourage faculty to respond to market and market-like incentives, potentially at the expense of less market-relevant activities.

In and of themselves, the changes to academic culture and practice considered here are not necessarily problematic, but they come with substantial (opportunity) costs. Universities must do what businesses cannot or will not do and what markets do not valorize. Universities should educatestudents broadly to prepare them for varied employment, job satisfaction, and citizenship, and institutions of higher education must aid citizens with efforts from building social movements to supporting investigative journalism. Universities should also enrich social and cultural discussion. As universities adopt commercial codes and practices and economic and political pressures pushthem closer and closer to the market, they are less likely to engage in the activities that make them distinctive.

What does this say about academic integrity? Integrity is defined by an established set of values. There are likely no normative systems in which falsifying or suppressing data is acceptable. But if scholars act in ways consistent with systems of research funding or metrics, few would say that that are violating academic integrity. The bigger question is: what kind of values would we like higher education to embody? In this context, the essential argument of this essay is that universities should do what markets cannot. Systems must be in place that lead to the preservation of and incentivize education and research practices that are not profitable, but that have the potential to serve broad societal ends. Of course, we should root out egregious violations of academic norms, but the path to policies and practices to protect universities from individual cases of such behavior are fairly straightforward. Less clear is how we can preserve the extra-economic value of higher educationin the face of slow economic growth and fiscal constraint. We must think creatively about how to maintain the distinctive role of universities in our society in the face of pressures pushing higher education to serve an increasingly narrow economic function.


The author would like to thank Flora Berklein and Robert Osley-Thomas for their research assistance and Flora Berklein, Brian Martin, and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on earlier versions of this chapter. Research on which this chapter is based was supported by funding from the US National Science Foundation (SES-1026516 and SES-1149466, National Research Foundation of Korea Grant (NRF-2013S1A3A2053087), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (provided by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation). The views expressed in this chapter are the author's alone.


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