… happens all over the American university, of course; but some forms destroy the institution and some just cheapen it. I think Derek Bok is right that when for-profit businesses start providing instructors for non-profit universities’ online courses, it’s extremely destructive:

[Northeastern University’s online] instructors mostly do come from “the Northeastern family,” [a campus representative] says, meaning people familiar to the university because they are alumni or have taught the course before as lecturers. But on “one or two occasions,” …the university has needed someone, “and Embanet has provided an instructor for us.”

… Mr. Bok sees a “dangerous trend.” Even though campus officials insist that they control hiring decisions, he doubts that a college would veto a company’s recommendation in a situation in which students were waiting for a class, and time to find a teaching assistant was limited. Mr. Bok emphasizes that he is speaking generally, not about any particular institution. But as a matter of principle, he says, “you have crossed the line” by using a private company to recommend teaching assistants.

“You have now delegated an essential academic function, which is choosing who will assist in the teaching function, to a company,” he says. “You could say it’s not very important. But of course, the way principles break down is because the first thing is not very important.”

Similarly, when pharmaceutical companies, through subcontracted ghostwriting firms, write scientific articles for university professors (articles touting their pills), it’s extremely destructive. It goes on quite a bit – as does corporations running university courses – and it’s extremely destructive.

We find out about it when the lawsuits start happening: When students sue schools on the basis of fraud (as they have for some time been suing the tax-syphon for-profit ed providers), and when the government sues yet another corrupt pharma outfit, as it has most recently successfully sued Johnson & Johnson, we see how the deal works, how universities in search of revenue hand over their academic functions to corporations.

In the Johnson and Johnson matter

the case file includes a list of academic researchers who wrote articles for medical journals that the company allegedly used to overstate the benefits and understate the risks of a blockbuster drug…

A primary investigation underlying the case identified 44 articles written by university scientists and colleagues, many of them joint collaborations that included Johnson & Johnson researchers, described as being overseen in some manner by the company.

Yes, let’s do it together! Let’s run the class together; let’s write the article together. After all, we’re both motivated by the same thing: Pure pedagogical or scientific integrity…

UD was warmed to see the name of Joseph Biederman, a man who has arguably done more than anyone to make the world safe for baby Risperdal, among the university scientists working, er, hand in glove, with Johnson & Johnson.

Some university authors — including Joseph Biederman, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard who gained renown for collecting at least $1.6-million in consulting fees from drug makers …appeared to be more personally aware than others of their misrepresentations…

Dr. Biederman, through a lawyer, declined to comment on his work with Risperdal.

Johnson & Johnson will pay a pittance – 2.2 billion – in penalties for having illegally marketed Risperdal. Joe will keep his trap shut and stay at Bok’s Harvard. All quiet on the western front.

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