Market Forces and the College Classroom: Losing Sovereignty

By Michael Stein, Christopher Scribner, and David Brown

This essay’s focus is local and anecdotal. Using concrete examples from our own university we consider incremental changes, driven largely by concerns over external assessment and accreditation, that have altered the sovereignty professors once had in the classroom. At the same time, this turn of events is clearly more than local, and the anecdotes we offer are hardly confined to our institution alone. Thus, prior to “entering the college classroom,” we must give consideration to market forces and such attendant issues as competition, standardization, bureaucracy, mass production, and technology. Although globalization did not create these forces, it has accelerated and exacerbated them. These forces have greatly modified traditional workplaces. Traditional industries such as print journalism are a clear example. It is assumed that people who do not adjust to these changes will be isolated and eventually left behind. Market “discipline” is now seen as a solution to a variety of problems. Proponents claim that competition can be the best and fairest distributor of goods and services. A by-product of such thinking has been the commodification of many things not previously thought of in such terms. Health care in the United States is one example. Increasingly, so is education.

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