Many of the issues we discussed at the Tarrytown Meetings have direct relevance to college campuses. In 2010, UC Berkeley’s efforts to promote genetic testing of incoming freshmen’s spit caused a stir, as many professors and activists raised concerns over the ethical implications of such an initiative. At Stanford University, they offer a graduate course where students have their genotype sequenced and learn to mine their own data. Done in the name of innovation, the university has failed to recognize its obligation to treat students as other than individual consumers. Companies such as Monsanto have changed the nature of agricultural research in public universities through the funding of research that favors their products. While genetic technologies increasingly pervade the university setting, the structures for critical scholarship and teaching which call the power of the biotech industry into question are in jeopardy.
The increasing privatization of universities means that more university funding is derived from biotech companies, bolstering the sciences’ stability while the humanities and social sciences face dramatic cuts. As the sciences and the liberal arts are increasingly pitted against one another through this shift, the necessary conversations that need to happen across disciplinary lines around genetic and reproductive technologies fall further out of reach. This climate threatens to breed science students who are increasingly entrepreneurial before they even enter their careers, posing risks to the future of scientific research. Additionally, the corporate U poses a direct threat to quality education; while many Tarrytown participants are educating their students about the ethical, legal, and social implications of emerging biotechnologies, other professors are accepting biotech funds, risking a conflict of interest in which they are encouraged to put biotech interests before the public good of education.
We must be careful not to idealize what the university has been in the past, for it has always had ties with industry. However, the past thirty years have seen rapidly intensified the influence and role of corporate industry in universities. This working session considered the challenges this changing educational climate poses to raising a social justice perspective around biopolitical issues in the educational realm. What pedagogical tools can we best employ to make students aware of these changes? How can we prepare students for the ways in which emerging biotechnologies are already affecting their education? How does increased corporate control limit – or perhaps enhance – spaces for activism and politics in the university setting? Finally, albeit an optimistic question, might the restructuring of universities open up any opportunities for our work in new academic homes or structures? Presenters provided comments, based on what they have witnessed at their universities and organizations, followed by discussion.
Documents Related to This Session