‘The Quad News’ Controversy and the Corporatization of Quinnipiac University

By on November 11, 2008

What does the ongoing dispute between The Quad News and the Quinnipiac University (QU) administration have to do with the construction of a new, $52 million sports facility on campus? More than you might think, suggests Andrew Bartholomew in The Yale Daily News.

Bartholomew’s thoughtful article ("Fast Times at QPac") depicts QU as a university flush with money and a surge in applications. Bartholomew notes that QU’s current freshman class is the largest in its history, and that QU’s enrollment has doubled since current president John Lahey began in 1987. But as his experience writing the article shows, QU’s rise in prominence has come at a price.

Bartholomew describes an encounter with a QU security official during his visit:

As I pulled into the visitor parking lot at Quinnipiac Monday afternoon, a balding man at the gatehouse gave me a sideways look:

"You aren’t taking any pictures, are you?"

When asked why that would be a problem, he replied, "I don’t know the reasons behind the rules, I just enforce ‘em."

Just minutes earlier I had been turned away by a security guard at the TD Banknorth Sports Center, who said, with a suspicious glare, that I could not get out of my car or take any pictures because of ongoing construction.

The university manages it "much like a corporation does," said John Morgan, the associate vice president for public relations.

This kind of caution coming from QU should be little surprise to Torch readers who have followed FIRE’s involvement at QU on behalf of The Quad News, which was formed last summer following the mass emigration of the staff of the QU-controlled Chronicle in the wake of a prolonged period of increasingly onerous restrictions placed on the paper by the administration.

It’s telling to hear an administratora spokesman for the university, no lessdescribe the view QU has taken of the oversight process as akin to that of a corporation. Of course, we’re used to reading stories about universities with multi-billion dollar endowments (Bartholomew puts QU’s own at $223 million) handling themselves as Fortune 500 companies would, at the risk of distracting from their roles as havens for scholarship and free inquiry. As FIRE co-founder Harvey Silverglate observed:

"Increasingly, university presidents operate more like CEOs than academic leaders: they emphasize the bottom line, large endowments, U.S. News and World Report rankings, and highly visible campus construction (and donor-naming) projects, while they neglect or marginalize academic excellence, intellectual inquiry, academic freedom, and students’ rights."

At Quinnipiac, Bartholomew sees that this corporate mentality has also fostered a heightened sense of wanting to control every aspect of the university’s image. As he puts it, "[c]aution, in other words, comes from the top down." As we well know, that instinct has served QU poorly throughout the Quad News ordeal.

He notes that, after a crush of bad press at the hands of the national media, temperatures have fortunately started to cool at QU:

The press generated by the controversywhich included coverage by the News, followed by the New Haven Register, the Hartford Courant and the Associated Press has encouraged moderation by the administration, and relations between the Quad News and the university have improved in the past few weeks. The university has lifted its ban on Quad News reporters speaking to certain university officials and athletes.

Still, he can’t ignore the chilled atmosphere on the QU campus:

Several students identified with the uneasiness journalists felt speaking out on campus. Students cannot even post fliers on bulletin boards, for example, without a stamp of approval from the administration. (A flier in the library advertising the Quad News had a stamp that read, "Quinnipiac University is not sponsoring, does not endorse, and takes no responsibility for this activity.")

Bartholomew then widens the focus of the piece, discussing the building of QU’s new TD Banknorth Sports Center, its construction of a new dormitory aimed in part at improving town-gown relations, and its recent expulsion of three students over two separate hate speech incidents. Seen through the "corporate" lens, Bartholomew shows a university eager to project a positive image of itself both locally and nationally, and quick to distance itself from any hint of controversy.

Bartholomew’s article gives us an interesting insight into what happens when universities stop acting like schools and start acting like corporate entities with no greater role or mission in society than any other profit-maximizing multinational. It’s a worthy read, and lets us see the Quad News case in an interesting new light.  

Schools: Quinnipiac University