Students must resist the corporatization of Hopkins

As many students in the Hopkins community might be aware of by now, President Daniels and the University administration have been busily engaged in an extensive fundraising campaign called Rising to the Challenge. Begun in early 2010, the initiative aims to raise over 4.5 billion dollars to help fund numerous educational and scholarship programs across the several schools and campuses in the university system. By far the largest fundraising operation in our school’s history, Rising to Challenge recently passed the half way mark to its ultimate goal; with over 160,000 donors contributing thus far, it seems very likely that school officials will reach the 4.5 billion figure by their stated date of Spring 2017.

Hopkins belongs in a very unique category amongst peer institutions because of its extremely intense focus on research at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. In fact, our school received just over 1.8 billion dollars in 2012 in the form of government grants from various federal organizations like Department of Defense and National ScIence Foundation. However, as a result of the recent cuts in national fiscal spending, the University has had to rely less and less on these federal dollars, to the tunes of tens of millions in lost grants—most notably, from the National Institute of Health. To offset these lost federal funds as well as to build on our endowment, the University has opted to turn towards an aggressive solicitation of private donor money.

But with this massive inflow of cash from private donors, there arise several key questions: Who are the individuals—or groups— contributing such large gifts, what do the donors expect in return, and to what extent is the University willing to fulfill those desires?In their November 13 press release, the University disclosed that of the 160,000 or so donors, 28 had decided to contribute gifts exceeding 10 million dollars. Even though this is an extremely large amount of money, nowhere on their campaign website nor in the numerous published articles are the identities of these generous individuals disclosed. This should be a very worrying fact.

As most will agree, a monetary gift of 10 million dollars is not mere pocket change. Furthermore, such a hefty donation carries more than a minuscule say in how it is ultimately spent. Although the campaign’s stated goals include virtuous aims such as “identify[ing] innovative solutions to global health problems” and “bolster[ing] support for faculty and students,” past events have shown that there are sometimes much more meddlesome intentions on the minds of donors. For example, in 1996, Yale alum and Texas billionaire Lee Bass made a 20 million dollar contribution to his alma mater with the slight contingency that the donation be used to create a new ‘Western Civilization’ curriculum, whose professors he would be responsible for selecting. Do Hopkins’ munificent philanthropists seek similar input in return? The question has yet to be answered.

Concurrent with this unprecedented fundraising campaign has been the rumblings of cutbacks in the social sciences and humanities programs through the reduction of full-time tenure professors and PhD candidates, as well administrative overreach in tenure decisions within the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. With a growing emphasis in higher education on academic disciplines that are able to produce intellectual products immediately usable by industry and corporations, the foundational subjects essential to a vibrant university atmosphere have been ever more scrutinized for possible budgetary trimming.

One of the most established traditions in the university has been the ability of the academic council – composed of faculty from the various departments – to decide who is offered tenure. But at Hopkins this historical custom has recently been under the greater discretion of the President and his administrative faculty, at the expense of University professors who are much more attuned to the academic merit of potential tenure candidates. The dangers of allowing school officials who are in constant contact with external agents to possess heavy influence over which professors are permitted to continue their teaching and research are self-evident. What if the particular tenure candidate is engaged in contentious research whose findings pose significant problems for a rich donor? In an age where academic freedom in the university setting is under unprecedented attack from powerful corporate and private interests, the further erosion of this integral principle leaves very little room for critical debate to occur.

But by far the most ominous strategy that Hopkins is looking to implement is the reduction of full-time tenure professors and the increase in non-tenured associate professors. The current percentage of full-time tenure professors in each department is around 80% of faculty, but under the ‘Deans Strategic Plan’, the University will seek to lower this number to an abysmal 50%. Doing so would allow the increased hiring of non-tenured faculty who demand much less pay, in turn superficially increasing the ratio of professors to undergraduates. While this subterfuge might entice future students to attend the University, its effects on the overall teaching quality are utterly frightening. Furthermore, the kind of groundbreaking and controversial research from marquee professors that Hopkins is renown for will be inhibited; many of the new temporary professors will shy away from publishing material that could ultimately hurt their chances of landing the all-illusive tenure position.

Alongside the planned decrease in full-time tenure faculty is a similar scheme to reduce the number of accepted PhD students. Although the University seeks to increase the stipends paid to these smaller incoming cohorts by 30% to 30,000 dollars per year, this rise does not apply to the current graduate population. So as the already heavy workload of TAs increase each year while the overall graduate population decreases, those unfortunate PhDs who were present when the change went into effect will not see a commensurate rise in their compensation. While the University contends that such a policy would improve the competitiveness of the graduate programs by attracting more talented students, there is a conspicuous dearth of empirical evidence to support the claim.

The general thrust of the ‘Dean’s Strategic Plan’ focuses on concentrating ever more decision-making power in the hands of the President and the Dean’s office, while rescinding the traditional prerogatives of the academic departments. This centralization of power within the expansive bureaucratic web intends to wrestle control away from the professors and faculty who are most in touch with the research, teaching, and learning occurring on campus. Instead, the key choices will be made in a top down fashion that provides little room for input from the individuals who will be most affected by those decisions: students and professors.

Luckily, there is a growing consensus among the targeted departments that such unilateral policies undermine the essence of higher education and must be thoroughly resisted. In support of this resistance, it is crucially imperative that the undergraduate student body at Hopkins — which is forsaken as apathetic by the University administration— also voice their opinion on these monumental policy changes taking place.

Though these coercive structural shifts will be more difficult to defeat than the hidden intersession fee that the administration attempted to push through earlier this semester, collective action amongst the entire student body is our best hope of curtailing these adverse changes.

Sarallah is a sophomore majoring in Math and Political Science.

9 Responses to "Students must resist the corporatization of Hopkins"

  1. Mark B.   December 6, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Senior now and can say over my 4 years the school is looking more and more like a business. Students education and future success come second to profits

  2. Geoff   December 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Why is a decrease in the number of tenured professors “utterly frightening” for the quality of education?

    Non-tenured professors are often more motivated than tenured professors to be effective educators, because their job security is on the line. They actually have to be a good teacher. Whereas a tenured professor already has his/her job security. If his students give him terrible marks… who cares. He’s tenured.

    To the point of how fewer tenured faculty members will inhibit the “groundbreaking and controversial research from marquee professors that Hopkins is renown for”. I agree on the “controversial” research part. But as for the “groundbreaking” research… non-tenured professors would love to publish groundbreaking research as much as tenured professors would. That’s how they ensure their job security. Similar to their ability to provide a quality education- if anything researchers without tenure would be even more motivated to publish something great and thereby convince Hopkins to keep them around and eventually get tenured.

    • Alexander   December 17, 2013 at 10:28 pm


      Of course non-tenured professors are motivated and work hard. So are tenured professors. You’re delusional if you think that tenured professors are lazy or complacent because of their job security; if anything, the fact that they have tenure is a testament to just how much hard work they have put into their discipline.

      The reason this model is no good is because Hopkins is choosing to participate in the nation-wide trend of reducing real jobs and replacing them with part-time positions that offer no benefits, lower salaries, no healthcare, and little job security, just because they can. This plan would also replace graduate TAs, who have security through their stipends, with lecturers and adjuncts, who work by the hour and have no security.

      Essentially, they are doing this to cut costs, not to benefit undergrads.

      They are doing this to cut costs even though they have given no evidence to show that cutting costs is necessary. If I had to guess, I’d say they are swimming in money (thanks to Bloomberg) and could absolutely afford to hire more tenure-track professors, but it might mean cutting their bloated administrator salaries which they still refuse to publish.

  3. Asstassoc Full   December 6, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    Slight correction: Assistant professors are on the tenure-track, usually get promoted to associate when receiving tenure, then than promoted to full with additional achievement.

    Assistant = non-tenured, but eligible for tenure after a probationary period (usually 5-6 years);
    Associate = recently tenured, mid-career faculty;
    Full (aka “senior”) = tenured, mid-to-late-career faculty.

    The jump from assistant to associate is a pretty regular timeline; the jump from associate to full can vary widely.

    The shift in the Dean’s plan is toward assistant professors who would still be on the tenure-track. The shift in percentages is *not* in the direction of non-tenure-track (or “adjunct”) faculty.

    Hiring full professors means attracting faculty who have earned tenure and promotion at other institutions.

    • IC   December 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      Who decides if the assistant gets to “jump” to associate and if the associate becomes tenured?
      Wouldn’t this inequality between professors cause any friction or problems in the departments?
      Wouldn’t this hiring of assistant or associate be problematic for grad students who prefer to work with a tenured professor? I know a PhD student (from another university) who worked with an associate professor who wasn’t eventually kept by her department and went through a nightmare trying to find someone else to work with. Her problems are still going on..

  4. CT   December 7, 2013 at 4:54 am

    I would just like to say that this is the most well-written article I have read on the JHU newsletter website. Fantastic job.

  5. Nel   December 7, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    from an undergrads view the biggest fault I have with the school is they NEVER tell us about the planned changes. it feels like we always find about things after the fact. The intersession fee wasn’t even that much money but the thing that pissed me off was they didn’t tell us about it before hand.
    i also spoke to my TA after reading this and he said the dean didn’t even tell the grads about the potential changes. i guess someone from the inside revealed the big secret and then everyone found out. i hope there not trying to pull something like this off again.
    awesome opinion, please write more for the newsletter!

  6. aussieKiwi   December 7, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    Serious transparency issues at this school. My friends back home find it absurd that we pay 60K a year to go to university and dont care when they keep raising it every year.

  7. MGomez   December 18, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Great! MIght you consider writing a let to ed to this piece in the NYT re continued corporatization of JHU…


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