The role of the university in the knowledge society: ethical perspectives on academic research in the age of corporate science

Author:Maria Cernat
Position:Lecturer, Ph.D, Journalism, Communication and Public Relations Faculty, 'Spiru Haret' University, Bucharest
Pages:293-302
SUMMARY

Knowledge society lies on the ruins of national culture that thought people to function in a single universal form of science. This type of society is tightly related to a post-national multicultural world that nourishes the erosion of classical (Kantian and Humboldian) cultural and scientific foundations of the university. We are now witnessing it’s transformation into a “multiversity” dominated ... (see full summary)

 
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Maria Cernat
293
LESIJ NO. XVIII, VOL. 1/2011
THE ROLE OF THE UNIVERSITY IN THE KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY:
ETHICAL PERSPECTIVES ON ACADEMIC RESEARCH
IN THE AGE OF CORPORATE SCIENCE
Maria CERNAT
Abstract
Knowledge society lies on the ruins of national culture that thought people to function in a
single universal form of science. This type of society is tightly related to a post-national
multicultural world that nourishes the erosion of classical (Kantian and Humboldian) cultural a nd
scientific foundations of the university. We are now witnessing it’s transformation into a
“multiversity” dominated by the competitive international academic market for students and
scholars and “commodified” knowledge. The fiscal crisis of publicly financed universities forced
them to constantly pursue other forms of income, the industry being the most obvious solution. In
the place of universities of reason and culture the drastic decrease of public funding generated the
commercialization of the universities. This is because there is an “asymmetric convergence”:
while universities are adopting corporate values and principles the industry itself is not influenced
by the academic values and norms. The pursuit of knowledge for mere intellectual curiosity and
also the conception of the knowledge as a public good have been abandoned in favor of applied
research serving corporate interests. The resulting academic capitalism is far from being the best
solution to budget cuts and this study is trying to highlight some of advantages but also the most
important shortcomings of this present trend in our universities.
Keywords: knowledge society, commodified knowledge, academic capitalism, corporate
interests, research limitations
Introduction
During the last decade one of the most heated debates regarding academic freedom took
place in USA. It was caused by an extremely controversial agreement signed between two
important institutions: a famous land-grand university and the biggest pharmaceutical and
biotechnological corporation. The fierce debate remained known as the Berkeley-Novartis
Controversy. I chose this very interesting chapter in the industry-university relation as a starting
point of my research as a result of a peculiar situation regarding the way this controversy was
reflected in the mainstream press. When theorists made an inquiry on the most debated themes in
mainstream journals, the general ethics issues came in the fourth place after corporate control,
general research and economic concerns themes. It is not my intention to reshape the current
interpretations of this particular event but to prove that this controversy is also important on a
different level. I consider that the Berkeley-Novartis Agreement epitomizes a very controversial
relation between corporations and universities and I think this should be the starting point for
further analyzing the ethical challenges the university has to address in the present knowledge
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Lecturer, Ph.D, Journalism, Communication and Public Relations Faculty, “Spiru Haret” University, Bucharest (e-
mail: macernat@gmail.com).

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