In most debates over its future, the university is represented—by both its critics and its champions—as a secular temple for learning, a sacred space freed from the more mundane concerns that trouble other institutions. But lately this lofty image looks increasingly tarnished, especially with regard to public research universities. There, a new class of administrative professionals has been busy working to make colleges as much like businesses as possible. In this eye-opening expose of the modern university, Gaye Tuchman paints a candid portrait of these wannabe corporate managers and the new regime of revenue streams, mission statements, and five-year plans they’ve ushered in.
Based on years of observation at a state school, Wannabe U tracks the dispiriting consequences of trading in traditional educational values for loyalty to the market. Aping their boardroom idols, the new corporate administrators wander from job to job and reductively view the students as future workers in need of training. Obsessed with measurable successes, they stress auditing and accountability, which leads, Tuchman reveals, to policies of surveillance and control dubiously cloaked in the guise of scientific administration. Following the big money to be made from the discoveries of Wannabe U’s researchers, Tuchman probes the cozy relationships that the administration forms with industry and the government.
Like the best campus novelists, Tuchman entertains with her acidly witty observations of backstage power dynamics and faculty politics, but ultimately Wannabe U is a hard-hitting account of how higher education’s misguided pursuit of success fails us all.