FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Cultivating the ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’ at America’s Largest University

by Dr. LAWRENCE WITTNER

The State University of New York (SUNY) — 64 higher education campuses with nearly half a million students — is the largest university system in the United States. Therefore, when university administrators join the state’s governor in turning SUNY into a loyal servant of big business, that fact has significant ramifications.

The university’s new mission became increasingly evident in the spring of 2013, when Andrew Cuomo — New York’s pro-corporate Democratic governor — began barnstorming around the state, calling for a dramatic “culture shift” in the SUNY system. Faculty, he said, would have to “get interested and participate in entrepreneurial activities.” The situation was “delicate because academics are academics … But .. you’d be a better academic if you were actually entrepreneurial.”

Cuomo’s barnstorming tour was a key part of his high-powered drive to get the state legislature to pass Tax-Free New York, a scheme to provide 10 years of tax-free status to private businesses, their owners, and their employees that relocated to SUNY campuses, university communities, or a few private colleges. This corporate welfare plan, renamed “Start-Up New York,” was enacted by the legislature in June with great fanfare about economic development and job creation — although, at the time, New York State had already spent about $7 billion annually for economic development without any evidence that this funding produced anything useful.

Actually, Start-Up New York is only one component of a drive by the governor and SUNY’s bedazzled chancellor, Nancy L. Zimpher, to create a business-oriented university. Among other things, New York State’s new SUNY 2020 program provides for a $165 million Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex on the SUNY Albany campus and encourages the hiring of faculty on the basis of their ability to fund themselves through outside income. In addition, Cuomo established the SUNY Networks of Excellence, designed, as a SUNY Albany press release noted, “to foster entrepreneurialism and economic growth through public-private partnerships and give researchers the tools they need to bring their ideas to market.” The governor noted that this SUNY program would “draw new venture capital to invest in commercialization activities” and “will help bring our best ideas to market right here in New York State.”

The jewel in the crown, however, is SUNY’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. Developed and headed by Alain Kaloyeros — a wheeler-dealer who, with an annual salary of $1.3 million, is the highest-paid public employee in the state — this enterprise was begun with a 20-year $1 billion investment by New York and has reportedly drawn in $17 billion of investments from the nation’s biggest corporations, such as IBM and Intel.

Governor Cuomo, absolutely delighted by this thriving public-private partnership, has made Kaloyeros his top advisor on higher education and has given him the green light to create such SUNY partnerships elsewhere. The first, Nano Utica, was announced in October, and involves a $200 million state investment in a computer chip manufacturing and research center to be run by Kaloyeros’s Nanotech College and the SUNY Institute of Technology. Announcing the venture, the governor declared that “this partnership demonstrates how the new New York is making targeted investments to transition our state’s economy to the 21st century and take advantage of the strengths of our world class universities.”

Only a few days later, the news broke in the Albany Times Union that “the NanoCollege has been aggressively acquiring real estate property from Albany to Rochester,” and was “quietly seeking developers for a similar [chip manufacturing] facility in Syracuse.” Amid talk of billions of dollars in private investments, the article noted delicately that the Syracuse venture “would likely need an educational component to fit in with Cuomo’s strategy of using the SUNY system to attract high-tech employers.”

Local campus administrators have been quick to jump on the bandwagon. In an article (“SUNY Cortland’s Entrepreneurial Spirit”) published in the summer 2013 issue of SUNY Cortland’s alumni magazine, Erik Bitterbaum, the campus President, declared that his school was “taking steps to make sure our campus culture nurtures the spirit of entrepreneurism, one of the primary strategic goals [of the SUNY system] … Our graduates have built companies, restaurants and theme parks,” he boasted “[And] own chain franchises, run mom-and-pop business and open health-, wellness- or fitness-related enterprises.”

He added, “[B]usiness economics is now one of our most popular and fastest-growing majors … the College has an active Entrepreneurship Club.” And SUNY Cortland recently began offering a two-course sequence in “entrepreneurism.”

Other SUNY campuses were not far behind. In the fall of 2013, SUNY Albany hired an Associate Vice President of Business Partnerships and Economic Development to manage and advance public-private partnerships at the university, including the Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex and the Start-Up New York program. Even before that, the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences called a special meeting of department chairs to hear a presentation about Start-Up New York by the campus President’s Chief of Staff and to address such questions as: “What kinds of businesses could your faculty potentially foster? Where would those businesses be located?” Other campus ventures included what the administration described as “the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!), an eight-month program that teaches middle and high school students how to start and run their own REAL businesses.” At SUNY Delhi, the campus President told the press that she was hopeful that, under Start-Up New York, her college could work with a manufacturer on a new “biodigester” that would make good use of cow manure.

Turning a public university into a generator of private business activity and development seems a considerable departure from SUNY’s official mission statement, which promises that the university will “provide to the people of New York educational services of the highest quality.”

Indeed, is it appropriate for an educational institution to be so thoroughly devoted to the fostering of “entrepreneurialism?”

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and writes for PeaceVoice.  His latest book is “What’s Going On at UAardvark?” – a satire on the corporatization of higher education.]

Lawrence S. Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark?

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
Alice Donovan
Cyberwarfare: Challenge of Tomorrow
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
April 28, 2016
Miguel A. Cruz Díaz
Puerto Rico: a Junta By Any Other Name
Alfredo Lopez
Where the Bern is Fizzling: Why Sanders Can’t Win the Support of People of Color
Peter Linebaugh
The Commons and the Centennial of the Easter Rising
Dan Arel
What Next? Can the #Movement4Bernie Accomplish Anything?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail