by Ali Shehzad Zaidi
To confuse education with training and the transmission of information, and to conceive of the Universe as tire instrument by which we become prosperous and powerful is to guarantee, insofar as an educational system can affect the outcome, the collapse of civilization.
-Robert Maynard Hutchins, former president, University of Chicago
The current deregulatory climate has allowed corporations to remake institutions, both public and private, in their own image and higher education has not been spared. A new initiative at the University of Rochester (UR), the "Renaissance Plan," diverts resources from the humanities and theoretical sciences in order to fund applied research that profits corporate sponsors. UR partnerships with such companies as Kodak and Xerox have turned the university into little more than a corporate annex.
Rochester is a company town, but its dependency on corporations has only impoverished it. A statement by the CEO of Kodak is enough to make front page news in the city's two Gannett dailies. A recent headline, "Crazy About Kodak," in the Times-Union of May 8, 1996, conveys their editorial stance. The University of Rochester is the city's major educational institution; and its Board of Trustees consists of executives who believe a university is a place that prepares students for the corporate workforce. The attrition of the humanities which began with the elimination of the sociology graduate programs, became a massacre with the arrival of Thomas Jackson as president of the university two years ago. Within months of his inauguration in the summer of 1994, Jackson began the first round of cuts at the request of UR trustees. The administration first closed the Asia Library protests had spared several years earlier. It then ended the half million dollar annual subsidy to the Memorial Art Gallery, and suspended graduate programs in anthropology. Moreover, it was soon clear from Jackson's pronouncements that a lot worse was in store.
In selling the Renaissance Plan to the university, community, Thomas Jackson, a bankruptcy lawyer by profession who refers to himself as "President and CEO" of the university, appropriated a humanist's lexicon in order to conceal a corporatist agenda. In the months preceding the unveiling of the plan, Jackson spoke of his "vision" for the university, invoking the notion of an "intellectual community." He also created the psychological climate for the cuts, alluding to the dire state of the university's finances, as well as the need to make hard choices in tough times. Jackson's new undergraduate curriculum, which he calls "the very essence of a liberal education," contains a feature which, according to Jackson, is a truly nifty and "elegant" idea, allowing students to devise "clusters," or planned sequences of courses. While in appearance this allows undergraduates to "choose" their plans of study, in reality students are obliged to choose between different packaging of the same corporatism, in a curriculum that has been stripped of much of its imaginative content, particularly those courses which engage in social and cultural analysis.
The state of financial exigency that the administration invokes to justify the gutting of such courses simply does not exist. UR's five-year funding raising drive, "Campaign for the '90s," which concluded on June 30, 1996, garnered S421 million, which is $46 million above its goal. During Jackson's first year in office, when the first round of cuts began, the size of the endowment grew from $624 million in June 1994 to S686 million in June 1995, a fiscal year in which universities earned the highest return on their endowments since 19 8 6. A New York Times article that appeared the day after the release of the Renaissance Plan states, "University officials insisted that the plan was not undertaken in an atmosphere of financial crisis but was the result of a yearlong study."' Two days later, an editorial in the Democrat and Chronicle quoted Jackson as saving that finances were not a primary reason for the changes.' Only three days earlier, Dean Aslin had informed the faculty, in a rationale statement on the plan, that the university could not sustain its current balance of revenues and expenditures.
"The Rochester Renaissance Plan," was so called because it represents in the words of President Jackson, "a virtual rebirth of the university." The plan, citing the need to focus on undergraduate education, hit humanities while downsizing philosophy and history. The plan also targeted those science departments out of favor with corporate interests, reducing environmental science and mechanical engineering, while eliminating altogether the graduate chemical engineering program, in which Kodak, having moved into digital imaging, was no longer interested. In a serious miscalculation, since it brought national attention, the administration also eliminated the graduate mathematics program. Over a hundred scientists and mathematicians and at least half a dozen Nobel laureates wrote letters to the administration protesting the move. The Renaissance Plan in the words of President Jackson, will through increased funding, "increasingly complement the distinctions" of the professional schools that give UR much of its prestige. Among them is the Simon School of Business which even before the cuts already granted more degrees than all the graduate programs in the College of Arts and Sciences combined.
None of the administration's euphemisms aroused as much indignation and merriment as the use of the term "renaissance" to describe the new UR agenda. One of the first reactions came from history professor William Hauser:
The Renaissance was the revival of classical art, literature and learning that originated in 14th century Italy. It was a renewal of the humanities, vet the 'Rochester Renaissance" targets the humanities for the most severe cuts. As a historian, the cuts to my department hurt the most, but other humanistic disciplines suffer as well. Comparative literature, philosophy, anthropology-as much a humanities discipline as a social science, mathematics,--arguably more a humanity (formal reasoning) than a science, and linguistics--the social science of language, all suffer cuts. Technical and scientific programs are also affected: chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and earth and environmental science. But this "renaissance plan" hurts the humanities the most.
Hauser places mathematics within a humanistic tradition, a classification that suggests why it was the department that was the hardest hit by the Renaissance Plan. While the administration claims that the plan eliminates more positions in the sciences than in the humanities, at issue was the kind, rather than the number, of science positions eliminated. A study prepared by Thomas Gibson, a professor of anthropology, notes that while the humanities and the theoretical sciences have lost about twice as many faculty as the laboratory sciences, the disproportion is even greater when one considers that there are twice as many courses with enrollments greater than ten students in the former category than in the later.
(This text is only a selection. For the complete essay please see our journal)