Perspective: “On Mobilizing Against the Corporatization of Indiana University”

 The following opinion piece was sent to the Bloomingtonian over the weekend:

“[April 14, 2022]

“On Mobilizing Against the Corporatization of Indiana University”

Michael T. Martin

As a member of the IU Bloomington faculty and in solidarity with the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition (IGWC), I believe in your call to form a union and redress the systemic inequities that befall graduate workers.

I believe, moreover, that this strike constitutes a critical and necessary first step in a historic struggle against the corporatization of Indiana University.

The protest challenges faculty and staff to mobilize with graduate workers on behalf of legitimate grievances, but also and no less important, to support a project of recovery and renewal of Indiana University that former President McRobbie, ironically declared it to be the “People’s University.”

By the corporatization of the University:

  • I mean the vertical concentration of authority and decision-making by the Administration and its apparatus in all financial, staffing, and programmatic matters of consequence rather than under the mandate of the much -touted “shared governance”. This form and exercise of hegemony is evidenced in the relegation of the Bloomington Faculty Council (BFC) to a largely ineffectual role in significant affairs of the University. For example, rather than functioning autonomously, the BFC is presided over by the provost. In my nearly forty years of teaching at ten or more institutions of higher learning, I have not witnessed such a compromised and debilitating governance arrangement that works against and denies to such a collective faculty entity independence, unfettered by the interventions of an Administration.
  • By corporatization, as was recently disclosed in The Chronicle of Higher Education, I mean a process in which executives in the commercial sphere increasingly populate University and College Boards of Trustees where decisions appear to be driven more by economic interests than larger societal concerns and the well-being of staff, students, and faculty. Moreover, what IU Health appears to be—a profit driven enterprise—may foretell a reorganization of Indiana University itself along the same lines.
  • By corporatization, I mean that the IU Foundation, whose mission is to support students and academic programs at Indiana University becomes another source of revenue for senior administrators. For example, last year journalism students at the Indiana Daily Student reported that the former president’s wife, Laurie McRobbie, received $1.8 million in compensation and their daughter $200,000 + paid by IU Foundation funds. Note that the Board of the Foundation was chaired then by the President of IU himself. What are we to make of this since the Foundation has yet to publicly deny this claim?
  • By corporatization, I mean serious irregularities by which the current President of IU was appointed and the orchestration of that appointment by the Chair, along with the Board of Trustees, who together overrode the duly appointed Search Committee and imposed their candidate for the presidency. Further compromising the integrity of this process, the Board agreed to compensate and reward former president McRobbie $582,000 for services he agreed to render, as a contingency should the search not yield a new president. Well, it did: Pamela Whitten was appointed president in the specified timeline, yet McRobbie was paid the obscene sum of nearly $100,000 per month for the fall 2021 semester.
  • And no less damning, consider the longstanding two-track system of compensation and annual raises that privilege senior administrators over staff, graduate workers, and faculty; in the latter case, faculty annual raises have varied from .5% to 1.5% for the past decade. Consider too that the salaries of several senior administrators at IU exceed those of some presidents and provosts at other universities and colleges in the U.S. With an annual inflation rate of nearly 8%, what can we expect in compensation next year when graduate workers have been promised 5% raises by the Administration rather than a wage that, at the very least, matches inflation? This divide between administrators and the rest of us is widening and deepening systemic inequalities between the two. This is to say that the structures and process that sustains such inequalities is not random or arbitrary, but rather constitutes a deliberate policy decision to suppress wages at the mid-to-lower levels of the work force at IU. A corrective for this fact and longstanding issue requires study and deliberation.


Lastly, how are we not to consider these practices as the “corporatization” of Indiana University when they privilege senior administrators who systematically erect structures and policies that deny a meaningful and palpable voice to “employees” of the university—staff, graduate workers, and faculty—on critical matters such as the appropriate and equitable distribution of university and IU Foundation resources?

And with a seemingly passive and intimidated Bloomington Faculty Council unable or unwilling to address these challenges and toothless, ineffectual, and rudderless Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs with neither the mandate nor determination to confront systemic inequities at Indiana University, the call to unionize, at all levels of the workforce, is of necessity the imperative of this moment.

In solidarity then, I salute the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition for standing fast in your rightful demands and, I hope that by your actions, together with those of faculty and staff, a mobilization will be possible to redress the inequalities that compromise the mission of Indiana University, tarnish its stature and good name, and that betrays its employees.

Thank you.”

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