If my university were run as a co-op, would workers be able to redirect donations toward the university's greater good? Today Jan 28 2017 Cornell's interim President Hunter Rawlings has announced a "historic, transformative $150 million gift from Trustee Emeritus Fisk Johnson and SC Johnson to endow and name the SC Johnson College of Business." I'll spare you the rest of the drumbeat rhetoric of this press release about how this "landmark gift" will "continue the Johnson family's multigenerational legacy of leadership and support for Cornell." For one lopsidedly well-endowed segment of Cornell, that is, as we in the strapped College of Arts and Sciences and beyond are all too aware. I'm sure the same story unfolds in the academic sector widely, but this version seems especially egregious as a capstone to this week's news. Could a university run as a worker co-op change any or all of this? Thanks.
There are multiple ways to respond. Most simply, the answer is yes. Universities began centuries ago as precisely collections of teachers who collectively administered as well as taught: in effect a kind of cooperative with greater or lesser hierarchies of power within them varying from place to place and time to time. Today, colleges and universities could be run as worker coops working out divisions of labor within them as to all the functions they would undertake, etc. And then, of course, they would likely decide collectively and, hopefully, democratically whether to accept and how to make use of any outside funds flowing in. Of course, how colleges and universities would be funded would itself be decided socially according to how the larger society was organized. If, for example, higher education were deemed to be a public right and entitlement for all citizens, if could be funded by taxes on all and thus not subject to the vagaries and private agendas of rich individuals and businesses, etc. In any case, there are radically different ways to organize colleges and universities from the current system that panders to the corporations and the rich.