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Why universities will never be run well

They’re too easy to rip off.

Back when I was in academics — during the halcyon Clinton days — Elsevier had perfected its method for hoovering up money from universities by bundling journals. The scheme worked like this: charge incredibly high prices for a journal subscription (hundreds to thousands of dollars for one four to twelve issue subscription — no joke), then “bundle” all the journals together at a substantial discount, thus forcing universities to break the bank for a couple journals or break the bank less severely to buy everything in your catalog. Even then, universities knew they were being ripped off.

Now, what business would accept this from a supplier? And, in an economic downturn with university funds drying up exponentially, isn’t it time to give the finger to Elsevier and other academic publishers? Rather than raise University of California tuition almost 10% (thus destroying the institution, as one regent complained), how about reading the riot act to academic publishers.

Here’s the kicker. Academic journals are written, refereed, and edited for free by university professors. Since all the work that goes into producing the content of a journal (research, writing, refereeing, and editing) is free labor, why is any university paying for journals in this day and age when all academic work can be researched, written, refereed, edited, and then distributed online for free?

The administrative watchword on campuses these day is running universities according to business principles. Well, paying premium prices for something you should be getting for free is, well, not a sound or sustainable business practice.

I have said it twice before in this blog: the universities are ripe for an entrepreneurial makeover. More in a later post.

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2 Responses to “Why universities will never be run well”


  1. [...] Overpaying for Journal Subsciptions My friend Samira just showed me this blog entry from Shoestring Venture, which although quite sarcastic, absolutely hits the nail on the head. They [...]

  2. [...] And every business that profits from them (profits wildly, I might add — take the example of Elsevier) does so by treating them as just a discrete set of clients. As budgets become smaller, staff [...]

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