ADDRESSES: Home—Brooklyn, NY. Office—New America Foundation, 1630 Connecticut Ave. NW, 7th Fl., Washington, DC 20009. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer. Freelance journalist, 1995–; New School for Social Research, World Policy Institute, New York, NY, senior research associate in Arms Trade Resource Center; Open Society Institute, New York, NY, fellow; New America Foundation, Washington, DC, fellow; Project on Government Oversight, Washington, DC, investigator.
AWARDS, HONORS: Science-in-Society award, National Association of Science Writers, 2000, for "The Kept University."
University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Washington Post, Nation, Newsday, Washington Times, and Mother Jones.
SIDELIGHTS: Jennifer Washburn began working as a freelance writer in 1995 and has served as a research fellow for several public-policy think tanks, including New America Foundation and the Open Society Institute. While working for the latter, she investigated the increasing frequency with which government agencies contract services to privately owned corporations and, more specifically, how this trend affects universities. This research resulted in an award-winning cover article for Atlantic Monthly, coauthored with Eyal Press and published as "The Kept University." It also served as the basis for Washburn's first book, University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education.
In this book Washburn maintains that universities are structuring themselves more and more like major corporations, instead of merely allowing outside companies to oversee their research. She cites the Bayh-Dole Act, passed by Congress in 1980, as a turning point in this trend. Under the act, universities that conduct research are awarded intellectual property rights to any research that is funded by the taxpayers. Unfortunately, this also provides the universities with a profit motive that Washburn believes draws their attention away from students and pure research. Little of the money earned through research is ever funneled back into improving the quality of education for the students. Washburn cites the details of various relationships between universities and corporations to illustrate her point.
Gary Greenberg, writing for Mother Jones, called the book "a painstakingly detailed chronicle of how the free market has penetrated the inner sanctum of higher learning." He added that Washburn "illustrates just what is at stake here: not only public health but the 'knowledge commons' that once was one of the greatest achievements of modernity." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Washburn's effort "a heartfelt, well-documented expose of a major rip-off that debases education in several important ways." While noting that "Washburn offers a few modest and thoughtful prescriptions for saving higher education," however, a Publishers Weekly contributor observed that "this book is more likely to be read for the illnesses it lucidly diagnoses."
Washburn told an online interviewer for CorpWatch that "people who are on these college campuses must look into where industry money is playing a big role." She added, "Increasingly, universities are signing contracts that allow industry to dictate the terms of the research in ways that violate academic freedom. The only ways those contracts can become public is if someone starts to raise questions and insists on openness."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2005, review of University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education, p. 45.
Mother Jones, March-April, 2005, Gary Greenberg, review of University, Inc., p. 81.
Publishers Weekly, January 31, 2005, review of University, Inc., p. 63.
Clemson University Web site, http://www.clemson.edu/ (July 18, 2005), biography of Jennifer Washburn.
CorpWatch, http://www.corpwatch.org/ (July 18, 2005), Jennifer Borden, interview with Jennifer Washburn.
New America Foundation Web site, http://www.newamerica.net/ (July 18, 2005), biography of Jennifer Washburn.
UT Watch Web site, http://www.utwatch.org/ (July 18, 2005), Nick Schwellenbach, interview with Jennifer Washburn.