The Public Interest

The university for sale

Nathan Glazer

Winter 2004

DEREK Bok, the former president of Harvard, who in the  dozen years since he left the presidency has written five important books on major issues affecting the nation and higher education, has now turned his attention toward a peculiarly difficult and challenging problem. In Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education, † Bok considers “the efforts to sell the work of universities for a profit.” He does not have in mind the new and controversial institutions in higher education launched by profit-seeking entrepreneurs. His concern is rather the efforts of traditional public and private institutions of higher education to draw in more revenue by adopting to a greater degree the practices of the marketplace.  This, as Bok writes, is not new—universities, after all, have tried to promote and market their advantages to tuition-paying students for a century or more. But he believes these modest efforts at advertising and promotion have expanded enormously in the last several decades, and raise serious questions as to how they affect the central work of the universities.

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