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Follow the Money: Reform Work in the USA By Dr.June Terpstra Revised 2006


This essay examines my research on the subject of reforming “the system” and “working from within” the system in the USA.  The main methods by which I examine this subject include my experiences as an activist and educator combined with a focus on following the money trail to identify who funds reform work in the USA and by asking who benefits from the reform programs, policies and legal strategies these philanthropists support. By “the system” I mean that economic and social system in the late stages of capitalism and imperialism since the end of World War II that we find ourselves embedded today.  Author and educator Bob Nowlan refers to this stage of capitalism as that in which the routine workings of the market are no longer sufficient to ensure the stable reproduction of the necessary preconditions for the continuation of profitable capitalist production. Therefore, regular and routine intervention in the capitalist economy by the federal government, world banks, state and other social institutions becomes necessary. This is sometimes referred to as “advanced capitalism” (Nowlan 1993).  By “imperialism” I refer to the political theory of the acquisition and maintenance of resources to benefit the empire through force. The term is used to describe the policy of a country or ruling group in maintaining colonies and dominance over distant lands, regardless of whether the country or group calls itself an empire or a democratic nation fighting over there so they don’t have to fight in the fatherland  where freedom isn’t free and war is peace.

 By “social justice,” I am referring to the radical restructuring of the distribution of resources in a society so that all people have shelter, food, clean water, adequate medical care and the means to self-determine their own lives. By “radical” I mean “from the roots,” or the foundational causes of why people do what they do and why they organize themselves certain ways economically and socially. For example, what is the root or foundation of capitalism, the priority of capital or profit, the bottom-line that profit comes before people? Under capitalism, it is logical (inhuman and evil but logical) that one should enslave people because then you make more profit off of the proceeds of your plantation or oil field.  Why?  What is the root?  The root is greed: the greed to control and possess.  A whole system was created around the greed to be gods and the greed to control all of nature.  The root response to counter the enslavement to the greed masters is liberation and emancipation.  By liberation and emancipation I mean processes that free us from mechanisms of oppression and exploitation like capitalism and imperialism and in turn provide the necessary relationships for the creation and reclamation of multiple self-determined forms of individual and social models fostering human well-being.

 Practices and policies to reform this system by conservatives and progressives alike typically advise and enforce a reform praxis as opposed to revolutionary praxis.  By “praxis” I mean the many ways in which we human beings engage, individually or collectively, as subjects—in grasping, holding, shaping, and forming the world in which we live (Nowlan 1993) based on our theories about social conditions and social change.  A reform praxis is theory based action that maintains things as they are while making alterations which ultimately benefit power holders while trickling down some benefits to the rest of the people.  By revolutionary praxis I mean theory-inspired action which revolves to the core of what it means to be human by eradicating dehumanizing, oppressive and exploitative systems and relationships.  No justice, no peace.


Through-out the twentieth century, a new presence of philanthropy emerged (people of wealth who give away money while getting tax breaks by giving money and resources to the social and cultural causes of friends and family while getting good PR).  These philanthropists strengthened their power base of social control by including programs and research from people on the political spectrum of left, middle and right.  The reality of revolutions and the emergence of potential revolutionary movements in the USA was a threat to their ability to maintain world power. Thus, they directed efforts using their money and resources to ensure that a shift occurred from organized radical and revolutionary activist efforts such as those manifesting in the streets all over the world in the 1960’s  to reformist governmental, non-governmental and non-profit programmatic reforms, such as new laws empowering the state to manage discrimination and diversity.  In other words, instead of destroying capitalism and imperialism by breaking down its walls and breaking its balls many activists took jobs in programs and university departments created by the super-rich.  These programs and projects were developed in such a way so that they threw a bone at social and economic problems, widened consumer bases and in fact, supported the capitalists and their empire building campaigns throughout the so called cold war.  

What were some of the intentions of those power holders who funded these projects and offered these jobs?  What are the power relations and practices of capitalists who focus their philanthropy and corporate partnerships toward programs, private research councils, think tanks, and the academy within the USA.  Why does the  CIA also develop and fund similar programs in NGO’s non-profit organizations, educational and media institutions.

Revolution and struggles for self-determination that aim to eradicate capitalism are not in the interest of bankers or major shareholders whether they be Chase, McDonald's, Unical, Bechtel, Halliburton or any of the major corporations who are expropriating the worlds resources.  The majority super-rich, the 1-4% who own and control the systems do not want fundamental change which redistributes wealth.

How is that people in positions of power with tons of money win the consent of people to focus on reform instead of revolution?   One way is by not killing them or imprisoning them and instead giving them money and jobs to take over cultural forms of protest such as hip hop and make it about bling and booty.  Another way to distract people is with stories that give social meanings to the violence of the oppressor and the oppressed.  We are repeatedly told that it is ok to imprison “gangsters” who invade and occupy a neighborhood but we should support the troops who invade and occupy neighborhoods around the world.

This is an example of cultural hegemony.  Hegemony is the dominance of one group over other groups, with or without a stated threat of force, in every aspect of life and death.  Hegemony results in the dominance of cultural stories, cultural beliefs, values, and practices to the submersion and partial exclusion of others.  For example, Columbus “discovered” America.  Forget about the indigenous people tortured and killed so that Europeans could invade and occupy “the new world” and establish the “new world order”.

Hegemonic dictates require their “experts”  (intellectuals, professors, researchers, and artists to enforce  a set of tacit rules about what can and cannot be said, who can and cannot speak, who must listen, whose social constructions are valid and whose are erroneous and unimportant (Kincheloe and McLaren 2000).   For example, I was speaking the other day with a protestant minister who owns a home in Panama and claimed to be Panamanian.  He was quite angry at my claim that the invasion and occupation of Panama in 1989 was another US imperial invasion for a strategically positioned territory in the fight for world power (for more information see: ).  

The acceptable storyline and spin for him were that the Panama invasion and occupation were to depose the evil president Noriega (a man who reported to Bush senior when he was the CIA director) and of course, for democracy.  Sound familiar?  This man certainly benefited from his job as a  missionary in Panama with a house, power status and a style of living way above the everyday Panamanian people.  He was outraged that I teach the facts about the  Panama invasion.  He expressed his belief that I do not teach the facts about who invaded, who was killed and the resulting conditions for the Panamanian people.  He liked the story where he could call himself a landowning Panamian and a freedom-loving American.  The facts did not fit his story.
The manner in which hegemonies works involves a highly complex media and education matrix working on the reception of images and signs on individuals located at various race, class, gender, and sexual coordinates in the web of reality (Kincheloe and McLaren 2000).  Using the age-old guidance to “follow the money” it is evident that there were and are substantial monetary allocations (big money paid out) for reformist equity, legal, social service and academic projects such as missionary programs, development projects, youth centers, shelters, diversity programs, and women’s, ethnic and peace studies programs.

The money for these programs, like those that funded the early efforts of reformers such as Jane Adams and early founders of the NAACP, put into place within the greed system reform practices based on theories that would pose no major threat to the power holders, the super-rich and capitalism.  Additionally, with reform programs, another layer of centralized government was put into place increasing public consent for increased state power in the private lives of people.  For example, white social workers were given the power to go into poor people's homes and decide whether they should receive welfare or keep their children.  

Another example of so-called reforms is drug laws that allow the police to seize the car or home or money of not only someone who is caught with a drug but also anyone with him.  Clearly, these laws do not apply to people who use alcohol which was once illegal but now legal.  Did you know that the first American President was a hemp farmer? How is it that one thing is defined as legal and another illegal and who makes these definitions and who benefits from the definitions? This is an example of ideology production--marijuana=bad, alcohol=good.  Hegemonic media tells you what is a crime, who is the gangster, who is the fascist.  They tell you a story over and over.  They do not want you to pay attention to the facts. 

In my experience from 1982-1987 writing grants to foundations owned by super-rich families I obtained over $500, 000.00 in grant money for domestic violence, sexual assault, abuse prevention education, social issues theater projects, anti-racism projects and an urban teen center from foundations such as the Woods, McCormick and the Marshall Fields Foundations. I also secured city community trust, city community block grant and state funds for the programs I was developing. Each of these funding organizations had an array of “standards, requirements, and rules” to follow and reports to file in order to meet “funding objectives” toward “reforms.”  Who were the people who gave the money to make the definitions and set these standards and who decided on the right way to make things better?  Who really benefits from these programs, laws, and policies?

Reform programs are influenced and driven by agendas set by funding agencies. In university environments faculty respond to (are often driven by) both private and public requests for proposals in specific areas of research and program development on issues such as welfare, anti-gang, peace studies, multi-culturalism or women’s leadership development, to name a few.  People with bright and creative ideas often apply for grants but their efforts are shaped and measured in relation to what is considered “fundable” by existing guidelines and standards of foundations, councils, and the national research associations.  Who are these people and where do they get their ideas and their money? 

Public and private monies were made available by people with power for research and programs for centuries through patronage in many forms.  Kings and lords learned over time the manner in which they could keep people distracted and divided with cultural forms and legal processes.  Imperialists such as Julius Ceasar knew way back in the day how to manipulate and control people with cultural events featuring gladiators and legal structures dividing people into citizens and slaves.

A recent version of social control through reform is one of my own experiences exampled in what became the social service field of domestic violence in the 1980s.   It benefited power holders (such as government and foundation managers) to get rebelious women to work with in the system and help them create laws that would give the state increased domestic management power.  This way the power holders could shape definitions, signs, and symbols and strengthen the states legal power to define what is legal and what is illegal.  New non-profit groups were given money to create shelters and universities obtained grant awards for research in this area. 

In universities in which  I worked  government grants were provided for women’s studies faculty to evaluate a state domestic violence coalition and to conduct research on local domestic violence prevention education programs. The funding of such projects and awards produces academic work products promoting the program directions already set by power holders while advancing the promotion and tenure of faculty who in turn become gatekeepers and agents of the state at elite and teaching universities. 

In her book, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, Joan Roelofs provides an analysis that lends insight into the complex mechanisms of hegemonic ideology production (the production of research, texts, art, music, film that tells stories directing and shaping how people think and act).  Roelofs asserts that foundations hide their social control work and “become invisible by working through buffer organizations,” such as the Social Science Research Council. 

Roelofs describes how robber barons like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller reinvented themselves as “philanthropists” in the early 20th century, by establishing elite foundations such as the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation. She provides a statistical portrait of the economic power of foundations and the rest of the U.S. “non-profit” world. She observes, for instance, that “the planning and coordinating arms” of the non-profit U.S. economic sector or “independent sector the foundations have billion-dollar assets, with the largest private foundations being the Gates Foundation, the Lilly Endowment and the Ford Foundation (Roelofs 2003). She describes the various ways that the “third sector”/non-profit world largely functions as a protective layer for capitalism” (Roelofs 2003). One “protective technique of the nonprofit sector” that she mentions is “co-optation”, a major theme of this essay (Roelofs 2003).

The contours of the nonprofit system become clearer when we look at its great planning and funding arms: the large foundations. They contribute to amusement, to placation of artists, to biochemical research, and to routine charity, but perhaps their most interesting endeavors are in directing social reform.  The great multipurpose foundations first arose in the early 20th century, closely connecting themselves in theory and practice with Progressivism (progressing towards what?) and the rise of the social sciences. The new millionaires of robber baron infamy saw foundations as devices to serve several purposes. First, they would provide a systematic way to distribute vast fortunes. Second, they would permit considerable social control through philanthropy. John D. Rockefeller decided “to establish one great foundation. This foundation would be a single central holding company which would finance any and all of the other benevolent organizations, and thus necessarily subject them to its general supervision. Third, foundations could improve public relations; many believed that the Rockefeller Foundation was created to erase the scandal of the Ludlow Massacre in one of American history’s dramatic confrontations between capital and labor at the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. In a carefully planned attack on the tent colony by Colorado militiamen, coal company guards, and thugs hired as private detectives and strike breakers twenty people were shot and burned to death, including a dozen women and small children. Later investigations revealed that kerosene had intentionally been poured on the tents to set them ablaze. The deaths were blamed on John D. Rockefeller Jr. (Roelofs 2003).

In the period prior to the First World War, foundations could ameliorate the lot of the masses and at the same time co-opt (buy) intellectuals who often had socialist sympathies. They promoted an ideology that regarded social ills as problems to be solved by social scientists (Roelofs 2003).  In the 20th-century foundations influenced the direction of local, national and international governmental reform and of educational reform. The push for Congress to pass in 1921 the Budget and Accounting Act, “which turned budget interests over to the president and a newly created Bureau of the Budget,” for instance, was led by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Trustee Robert Brookings and Rockefeller Foundation men. 

Foundations are in the business of ideology production.  They propagate ideology via think tanks, educational institutions, academic disciplines, and the media.   The Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford foundations shaped academic political and social sciences during the 20th-century and promoted concepts and subjects such as “social work”, “multiculturalism”, “welfare reform”, “ women’s liberation” and “civic renewal”.  Today the foundations and philanthropists are funding the development of the field of criminal justice.  Defining the way people think and act in reference to these subjects was and is a major strategy in what the capitalists call the cold war and now the war on terror. For example, what do you think and what images are produced when you hear or read the phrase the war on terror or the word communist?  You have been programmed to think and believe a set of stories with these words.  You may even be willing to kill someone based on these stories.

In the 1960’s foundations encouraged the fragmentation of the  New Left in the USA and Europe by promoting “identity politics” and “helped transform radical movements into professional-led scholarly or bureaucratic organizations(Roelofs 2003).” When  dissident anti-war political scientists formed the “Caucus for New Political Science” within the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 1967 they opposed the APSA convention’s lack of concern with the Vietnam War and mass protest movements. The Caucus for New Political Science raised the issue at this time of “foundations’ influence on research topic choices and foundations’ connections to political science more generally.  There arose a movement to censor an expel those members speaking out (Roelofs 2003).

A similar movement to censor and expel those speaking against the Iraq war within educational institutions in the USA is ongoing.  For example, in 2003 I was told by a Dean that I could not sponsor anti-war guest speakers in a class I was teaching, Several funded groups are sponsoring websites to intimidate teachers who are speaking against the war by labeling them as unpatriotic. Some faculty have been forced to resign positions and some Arab Muslim faculty have been incarcerated and deported as so-called terrorists.  

In my own experience I have been a part of foundations focus on legal reforms to solve problems of racism and discrimination. Particularly, the Ford Foundation promotes legalistic, courtroom-oriented strategies for groups such as Blacks and women to adopt, instead of a mass-based struggle, street protest-oriented, and fundamental political change approach.   By funding lawyers and social workers to “ work from within” foundations neutralize dissent and prevent systemic alternatives from developing credibility.   By channeling social change organizations away from criticism of the corporate economy and its global penetration and to work instead on tax programs or development projects real economic revolution is avoided.   Roelofs argues that philanthropy was directly responsible for the decline of the 1960s’ and 1970s’ protest movements” because “radical activism often was transformed by grants and technical assistance from foundations into fragmented and local organizations subject to elite control.” In addition, “energies were channeled into safe, legalistic, bureaucratic and, occasionally, profit-making activities” by the foundation grants (Roelofs 2003). 

After the Second World War, foundation intervention in the policy process increased dramatically. For example, fear of political disorder brought forth a strategy to keep people from revolting and rebelling from the Ford Foundation.  Its Report for 1949 argued that we had to strengthen our system in order to meet the challenge of communism. Problems included the unfinished business of the Civil War, the lack of political participation, and the care of maladjusted individuals. Ford’s initial strategy was to fund litigation for Supreme Court decisions, which successfully obtained increased legal equality for blacks, reform of the criminal justice system, and reapportionment of legislatures.

During the 1960s, as one response to burgeoning protest movements, the Ford Foundation took the lead in developing public interest law, which included law firms, clinical programs in law schools, specialized law reviews, and an appropriate ideology. Among the litigation organizations created were the Women’s Law Fund, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and a number of Legal Defense and Education Funds (LDEFs) including the Puerto Rican LDEF, Mexican-American LDEF, and Native-American LDEF. Older organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union, also became dependent on foundation funding (Roelofs 2003). 

By 1984, foundations contributed about one-third of the peace movement’s income” and cites a February 1985 Monthly Review article, “Corporate Interests, Philanthropy and the Peace Movement,” which asserted that in bankrolling U.S. anti-war groups, “foundations distinguished between `acceptable and unacceptable’ activism” (Roelofs 2003). Foundations that are “bent on reforms that will contain and channel social change “include alternative, leftist, “social change foundations” such as the now-defunct Garland Fund and the Haymarket Fund (Roelofs 2003). 

One program under Ford Foundation leadership, was the creation of Community Development Corporations, in an attempt to transform the “Black Power” slogan into the more acceptable “Black Capitalism.” These entities, which combine financing from the government, corporations, and foundations, develop small businesses and industries in impoverished areas white and black, urban and rural. Although their return on investment is trivial, their payoff can be measured in terms of pacification, the development of moderate leadership, and social mobility for individuals. Another project of the foundation-corporation alliance was the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta. It was financed by the large foundations, as well as the corporate foundations of Ford Motor Company, Atlantic Richfield, Levi Strauss, Amoco, General Motors, Heublein, Corning, Mobil, Western Electric, Proctor and Gamble, US Steel, Monsanto, Morgan Guaranty Trust, etc. Along with innocuous programs like daycare centers, housing rehabilitation, and information on how to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, are two striking projects. One is work with military chaplains to provide King Birthday observances at military bases. The other is cosponsorship of an annual lecture series entitled: “The Free Enterprise System: An Agent for Nonviolent Social Change.” Other minority movements have been transformed into standard Washington lobby format. The Southwest Council of La Raza and National Council of La Raza were created by the Ford Foundation from what were once militant movements of Chicanos in the Southwest. 

Leadership training and technical assistance programs for protest and advocacy organizations also stress pragmatic goals. The foundations claim that their programs enhance “pluralism.” What they mainly do is increase the clout of the foundation-corporation network to enforce their ideological agenda. For all the emphasis on participation, ordinary people have become alienated from politics in any form, and foundation-supported policy experts nearly monopolize the political debate (Roelofs 2003). 

Historically and currently, foundation power is also exercised outside the United States in foundations such as the Global Fund for Women in what could be referred to as “shadow feminism.” This is a reference to the manner in which American feminism works for the interests of capitalists by supporting wars under the guise of freeing the oppressed women of a country. One of the best examples is evidenced by the international activities of George Soros’ foundations, as well as the international activities of the Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations. These foundations fund development and leadership programs so that people around the globe become good capitalist producers and consumers. There is a connection between the NGOs and the liberal foundations in Latin America, South Africa, and Eastern Europe which have undertaken what is called democratization and is promoted by the network of NGOs which the liberal foundations now fund around the globe, “the NGOs also co-opt leaders and movements for change” (Roelofs 2003). 

Studies such as Roelofs’ confirm for some of us what we experienced as we attempt to develop counter-hegemonic programs.  The funding for our programs was and is a “set up” to put out for the system.   For example, after fierce debates overtaking private and public monies in a variety of organizations of which I was a member we took the plunge and wrote grants and obtained funding for programs, conferences, seminars and projects. As the money rolled in we lost more and more control over what we could say and do.  Philanthropic “support” came to control major aspects of new programs while it also offered jobs to those people acceptable to the super rich who “owned” the foundations.   

By the 1970’s the foundation structure was historically set in place to influence social program agendas that would not threaten capitalism and globalism in any fundamental way. In fact, these programs often assist in the development of a new professional group of people across race, sex and ethnicity to teach and conduct research aimed at socializing new generations of workers who will produce the stuff and consume the stuff from which capitalists get super rich (like Nikes, or computers, Wal-Mart stuff) . In the fields of education and social sciences faculty now build acceptable curricular models for a “diverse” consumer market heretofore ignored. Women and ethnic studies and queer theory became acceptable in elite research universities over time as long as they provided capitalists with the justifications to do things like make war for oil, redevelop poor people’s neighborhoods,  and cut down the rain forest for Home Depot and McDonalds.  At arts colleges they sponsor creating music and TV shows for new markets such as teens in gangs, poor black women, and gay and lesbian consumers. This is the capitalist version of good race and ethnic relations.

The Ford Foundation began supporting women’s studies programs on campuses in 1972, and by 1975 was also supporting the National Organization for Women, and Women’s Action Alliance.  Mariam Chamberlain, a former program officer at the Ford Foundation, estimates that Ford donated millions to women’s studies projects from 1972 to 1992 . . . Rockefeller Foundation also funds women’s studies, minority studies, and gay and lesbian studies, but much of their support for marginalism and multiculturalism is funneled into the arts rather than the humanities. This year Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie gave grants to organizations working against the California Civil Rights Initiative, a ballot measure that would bar race preferences in state employment, contracts, and college admissions. (Brandt 1996)

Today, a core group of super-rich women such as Teresa Heinz Kerry oversees reform efforts. For example, Heinz Kerry donated more than a million over the past ten years to the Tides Foundation, a “charity” established in 1976 by Drummond Pike. The Tides Foundation and its closely allied Tides Center, which was spun off from the Foundation in 1996 but also run by Drummond Pike, distributed nearly a million in grants in 2002 alone. In all, Tides has distributed more than a million for funds to organize peaceful antiwar demonstrations, anti-globalization demonstrations, domestic moderate Islamic groups, civil rights legal groups, environmentalists, reproductive rights work, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered activism. (Newman 2004) 

The Tides Foundation also helped establish the Iraq Peace Fund and the Peace Strategies Fund to assist funding a nonviolent antiwar movement.  These projects fund so-called progressive democratic advocacy organizations such as IndyMedia which provides “alternate activist-oriented media coverage.” IndyMedia, a piece of enormous internet news and an events bulletin board with local pages in most of the world’s major cities, has provided a vital link for a reformist, nonviolent and civil disobedience activists to coordinate nonviolent protests and social justice organizations. 

I have participated as both a street action journalist and behind the scenes as both an advocate and critic with IndyMedia organizers since 2001 in Italy and the USA. Similar to what happened in academic women’s and multicultural programs in the USA, worn-out IndyMedia volunteers (mostly white women) began to see possibilities for foundation funds.  They wanted the funds so they had enough money to pay their rent and travel to do their work. They lobbied their more radical members to agree to a grant submission process that would solicit and obtain money from foundations. Many volunteers in IndyMedia from around the globe stood against this move. In turn, some of the women in the USA dumped the collective decision-making process and sent out proposals under the auspices of local autonomy with local Indymedia centers in the USA holding non-profit status.

I saw a familiar historical pattern and a dilemma for workers in general and women specifically repeating itself in IndyMedia. Without substantive knowledge of the history of foundations and reform, small groups in the USA are playing roles as assets for capitalism as detailed in this essay. In direct opposition to the revolutionary theory and practices of key IndyMedia brothers and sisters outside of the USA, this group within the USA is organizing the professionalization of journalistic endeavors in the hopes of professional salaried status for themselves and others by applying for grant monies from foundations. This indicates to me that people now publishing articles who typically do not have access to publishing will eventually be held to standards put into place by funders and managers. IndyMedia has received money from the Tides Foundation and a recent Ford Foundation grant. I predict that in a matter of one to two decades IndyMedia will have paid staff, running the organizations globally and locally with amounts of money and oversight from Ford, Tides, Rockefellers, and Soros, who is one of the newest philanthropic barons. 


Another layer in the super-rich domination and social control efforts is the partnerships between the CIA and educational institutions. According to the book, CIA Off-Campus by Ami Chen Mills (1991), “CIA spokesperson Sharon Foster said in 1988 that the CIA has enough professors under Agency contract ‘to staff a large university.’“ The same book also observed: 

As of the late 1970s, approximately 5,000 professors were doing CIA work in some capacity, either `spotting’ U.S. or foreign recruitment candidates, participating in research and grant work or carrying out more active programs like foreign police training. It is estimated that about 60 percent of these academics were aware of the nature of their employment, while another 40 percent did the CIA’s bidding in the dark-through front companies or foundations. In the 1990s, the number of academics on the CIA payroll has undoubtedly increased. (Chen Mills 1991)

In a recent book entitled Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University, sociologists Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie analyze what they term the “global knowledge economy.” This economy is structured by rapidly growing partnerships between public universities and the corporate sector. In case studies of universities in Australia, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S., Slaughter, and Leslie demonstrate that public universities increasingly seek corporate money to offset the loss of government block grants which now subsidize big corporations with tax dollars. This has occasioned a cataclysmic change in the way public universities operate (and private universities also in my experience). The faculty are no longer able to occupy the tenuous space between capital and labor they have held since the Industrial Revolution (Slaughter and Leslie 1997). Instead, they are increasingly becoming direct participants in the market in order to fund their research. As a result, a new breed of academic players has been bred, “academic capitalists” or “state-subsidized entrepreneurs” who “act as capitalists from within the public sector” (Slaughter and Leslie 1997). They must compete in the public sector in order to make their areas of research or individual department’s viable financial entities. This has had numerous ripple effects. Many corporations have closed their research and development departments, using public universities as their state-subsidized laboratories (Slaughter and Leslie 1997).  

Here's a review of the book 'Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities:

"The university, which has had varying degrees of closeness and coldness with the CIA over the years, currently allows the agency to send officers to the mid-career program at the Kennedy School of Government while continuing to act undercover, with the school’s knowledge."

Further, the Carr Center for Human Rights openly collaborates with the US military in the prosecution of the Afghan war according to this NYT article:

"At Harvard, some faculty and activists have been troubled that the university’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy helped revise the counterinsurgency field manual, even though the center’s aim was to reduce civilian casualties."


It did not take long for smart capitalists to realize that creating a cross-cultural professional class who would front for the ruling class was just good business.  They created loyal producers and consumers who have successfully diverted away from work for the emancipation of oppressed and exploited people.   Many professionals who may have been real actors for social justice now are now in the employ of the government and the super-rich acting as agents and assets for the state. By agents I mean those employed by capitalist institutions who consciously act to preserve and maintain the institutions under capitalism and by extension imperialism. By assets I mean those employed or engaged with capitalist institutions that knowingly or unknowingly support capitalist and imperialist tendencies and aims. 

In the past, capitalist philanthropists and government research “planning and development” experts allocated funds to programs such as ethnic studies and women’s centers to train a managerial class of people capable of negotiating and affirming “differences” in the interests of capital. Today the focus is on “criminal justice” or justice as defined by the real criminals, the capitalists. 

A professional social service class has been developed which provides “services” for the increasing numbers of oppressed and exploited peoples negatively affected by the global plunder for profit. With the allocation of resources toward these ends reformers quickly shifted their main aims and overall goals toward “professionalization.”  Jobs were opened up for “professionals” who would help “nonprofessionals.” The state would credential “professionals” with new certification processes exacting fees for the state. This also translated into professional academic and research jobs for consultants, trainers and evaluators in the nonprofit and non-governmental organizations who would oversee and manage all this “diversity.”

Today radicalism and revolutionary theory and practice in and out of the academy barely exist. It has been well-tempered. Criticalists occasionally throw some bones to the idea of producing dangerous knowledge yet most attempts to incorporate such a praxis meets fierce resistance in the academy from liberal and conservative gatekeepers alike. 

The vision promoted by the ruling groups in the philanthropic foundations think tanks and the academy structures the material relations of people sponsoring and utilizing social programs. Those working in the programs are forced to participate within the confines of that vision or lose their jobs, their grants, their positions (Hartsock 1998).  As a liminal (a person situated at a threshold, barely perceptible but offering a fresh take on a classic formula) in the academy I place myself in the historical, political, and theoretical process of constituting myself as a revolutionary subject as well as an object of history in my interpretation of social relations as seen from the threshold. I stand with one foot in the academic door and one foot in the “street” manifesting a protest for theories and actions that recognize oppression for what it is, insisting on economic redistribution and maintaining the preferential option for the poor. I believe that providing accounts of experiences of domination, especially from those working with the system, offers critical understandings about social and economic realities that produce knowledge ways to fundamentally change the system.

This is the point of this essay, many radicals and revolutionaries, after gaining access to the academy, conceded to directions, agendas and approaches set in place by super rich people and their managers.  Often times people desiring social justice become agents and assets (albeit at times unconsciously) in order to keep jobs/retain positions, receive promotions and tenure, by telling ourselves that we are opening doors for women and men across race and ethnicity, who will change the system. Although at times we would challenge and lobby elites to fund efforts for real systemic change which recognizes and redistributes resources, in my extensive experience with philanthropists and the women and men who manage philanthropic funds, these efforts do not benefit them and so they do not fund them. They fund “acceptable” strategies such as “welfare reform,” leadership development, gay and lesbian art projects, trauma therapy research, domestic violence programs, and professional development programs.

     This brings us full circle, revolving back to the core theme of the essay.  If we are truly committed to ending oppression and supporting self-determination then it is time to stop trying to reform the system.  Our work now must be the fundamental change which goes to the root causes of the problems.  


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