In general at four-year institutions, faculty are not rewarded (very much) for focusing on undergraduate instruction but on research. However, to counter this orientation as well as the quoted survey result in the title of this post, the authors suggest that faculty embrace research to fulfill a “quasi-religious commitment” (see below).
This effectively shifts blame for the commercialization of higher education away from any faculty influenced by financial incentives and onto administration/industry/govt. (which lack a “moral imperative”).
The dichotomy is a bit precious: workers/laborers must often search for (and find) spiritual meaning in what they do. The problem is not that some faculty hear a “calling” but that this frame narrative – similar to the transhistorical/educator-centered discourse that informs Realist’s (et al.’s) writing – works to etherealize the faculty (and the “true” university), their financial concerns and, by extension, the financial concerns of their students. Etherealization does not radically confront commercialization: instead, it mostly maintains the status quo.
(A second consideration: one could suppose that the commercialization of research at four-year institutions is analogous to certain aspects of CCC’s Reinvention and ask if undergraduate instruction suffers of benefits from the application of a market framework/economics discourse. As it turns out, according to the authors, the answer is rather mixed.)
From Chapter One – “College Cultures and Student Learning”
“[I]n recent decades the allure of external funding for research has been greatly enhanced by the growth of commercial opportunities associated with research activities in higher education. Federal government legislation, such as the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, allowed colleges and universities to patent discovers that had been developed with federal research support and facilitated the growth of university collaborations ‘with the private sector in the development of the commercialization of new technologies.’ Colleges and universities – institutions that, according to Derek Bok, share with compulsive gamblers the trait that ‘there is never enough money to satisfy their desires’ – eagerly embraced these new opportunities to acquire new sources of funding. Universities also engaged in these emerging corporate ventures to acquire the symbolic resources that the collaborations conferred. Sociologists Walter Powell and Jason Owen-Smith have astutely observed that ‘the commercialization of university-based knowledge signals the university’s role as a driver of the economy. Such a lofty status has much more legitimacy and cachet, and makes it possible for universities, especially public universities, to boast their success in creating employment opportunities.’”
“And if there is any doubt that college professors are less likely than other individuals to focus on material incentives, recent surveys of students and faculty have found that faculty are more likely that students to report that being well off financially is an essential or a very important goal to them. We do not believe, however, that financial incentives are primarily responsible for faculty commitment to research. Rather, we believe that given the transformation of higher education, one of the few remaining moral bases for academic life is a quasi-religious commitment to embracing research as a ‘vocational calling.’ As Anthony Kronman recently observed, ‘the equation of scholarly specialization with duty and honor . . . makes the development of one’s place in the division of intellectual labor a spiritually meaningful goal and not just an economic or organizational necessity.’ For many faculty, commitment to their own individual research programs is thus understood not as an act of self-aggrandizement or personal selfishness, but rather as a moral imperative that one must pursue and struggle to achieve regardless of institutional obstacles.”