Academic Cooperative: A Second Alternative

There are in fact two viable and desirable alternatives to the current triad paradigm of institutional service units (universities/colleges), government finance (state/federal) and union labour representation.  Higher education and research do not need to be provided and are not sustainable under the triad, and are better served under the professional and cooperative service paradigms.

Cooperatives immediately avoid the negative perceptions (and tendencies) associated with professions such as social and economic elitism, institutionalization, diminished civic responsibility, and undemocratic decision-making structures.  As such, they might also be more readily and constructively integrated with the existing paradigm.

Cooperatives are functionaries like the current or professional paradigms and share a common legal status. They can be of the worker or social benefit variety, or an original design specially tuned to higher education.  They conduct business in the social economy, where higher education ought to be located.  They engage shared governance and one vote per member representation, with membership composed of academics, students, and general citizens rather than government bureaucrats and institutional administrators.  They temper price and profit concerns by focusing on civic duty and responsibility, not individual or institutional gain.

The full complement of financial, labour, ethical, and service relationship advantages offered by the professional alternative are reproduced in an academic cooperative.  For instance, cooperative higher education operates on the current rate of tuition alone, abates exploitation of core labour (academics, teaching and research assistants), and improves the academic/student relationship.

Cooperatives are more likely to avoid other perceived and potential negative effects of a formal profession, such as: an extreme shift in the power base of higher education; institutionalization of the service; professional elitism; dramatic increases in the price of service; inadequate stewardship; and insufficient membership disciplinary action.

These distinctions provide further material that might recommend one of the three available paradigms over the other.

Successful teacher owned and operated educational cooperatives have demonstrated the possibility and utility of this service paradigm in elementary and secondary education.  There are presently at least 90 in the US, with exceptional examples found in Wisconsin and Minnesota (School for Urban Planning and Architecture (Wisconsin) and Minnesota New Country School).

As is the case with the professional alternative, these coops eliminate, redistribute, and contract for the required services of elementary and secondary education, including (but not limited to): student transportation and food; evaluation; curriculum development; record keeping; human resources; admission and registration.

The cooperative model is possible and desirable for higher education.


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