March 12, 2008

I am pleased to share that I have recently received and accepted an offer of admission into the Queen's Master of Education program. I will be a part-time graduate student so I can continue to work, and my program will begin in July. I am interested in examining the effects of the privatization of Canadian universities, with a specific focus on business schools. My aim is to research the following question: To what extent has the privatization of business programs affected the quality of management education at Canadian business schools?

My research interest arises out of my professional experience as an administrator at Queen’s University since 2000. Having been a manager of Canada’s first “private” MBA program I have had first-hand experience leading and driving privatization. Currently, I am a fund-raiser for Queen’s School of Business, furthering the linkage between private interests and higher education. I have also served on the Queen’s Senate Internal Academic Review Committee, where questions about academic quality and resource usage were paramount.

Initial research into this subject, through the works of Lawrence Soley (1995), Wesley Shumar (1997), and Michael Engel (2000), have led me to conclude that the university has undergone a profound change of its values, structure, and ideology from the liberal education tenet of public good to a market-based tenet of private good. Robert Birnbaum (2000) claims that higher education has shifted from a social institution to an industry. In Richard Florida’s (2003) words, the rush by universities to link with industry has derailed them from their core mission of knowledge and talent creation. Whereas Christopher Newfield (2003) points out that corporate interests and ideology have long been an integral part of universities, Jennifer Washburn (2005) argues that it is only more recently that universities have been corrupted by corporations and corporate values. Similarly, former Harvard president Derek Bok (2003) contends that, for all of the benefits university commercialization has created, there has been a toll on the quality of education.

Based on my professional experiences, I believe the privatization of higher education has occurred nowhere more quickly in Canada—and perhaps most irrevocably—than at our business schools. Moreover, the belief that business models will best solve the university’s mission has deeply influenced the operation of our business schools, and their complex funding models. This market-based shift is most noticeable in the classroom and in the dramatic proliferation of deregulated degree and non-degree programs. Through its mission statement, philanthropic linkages, facility design, program offerings, and its annual reports, the Canadian business school does all it can to emulate the corporate model. According to Alan Hochstein (2006) of Concordia University, privatization has led to the “dramatic decline into mediocrity” of Canadian business education, where academic quality has been sacrificed for the sake of profit.

To answer my primary research question I want to investigate the hinge-point of the debate over privatization: what is quality and how should it be defined? Proponents of private programs argue strongly that quality is much greater in private programs, and they point to external and internal quantified results to support their claims. However, quality, as currently defined by business schools, is viewed solely as a product of measurable results. What I want to ask through my research is should such results-oriented measurements, such as salary and employment figures, be the criteria for judging the quality of a university education? Indeed, I am interested in not only figuring out how quality is defined in the contemporary Canadian business school, but pose a much harder question of how ought quality be defined and determine whether privatization has hindered or fostered academic quality.

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