The Closed Corporation: American Universities in Crisis
by James Ridgeway
1968, Ballantine Books, New York.
The Closed Corporation: American Universities in Crisis, is a book written by James Ridgeway in 1968. In it he gives a good overview of the military and corporate influence of the university system back at the time, and a useful model for investigating universities today.
Ridgeway has been an investigative journalist for decades. Currently his is the Senior Washington Correspondent at Mother Jones, a left-liberal magazine that has produced much quality investigative journalism (they exposed Romney making the “47 percent” remark). His biography gives a breakdown of his journalism career, including “Blood In The Face,” a book and movie about the rise of White supremacist movements in the 1980’s. With Ridgeway’s investigative journalist background, The Closed Corporation is delivered in that style, chock full of facts and figures without an encompassing analysis.
This book was also written in 1968. That was a turning point year for peoples movements around the world. A main social base of struggle were students. In American universities, students began looking at their own schools as institutions that had strong connections with policies of the broader society. With struggles going on against the Vietnam War and for civil rights against a racist society, many university activists discovered how universities served these same interests. Much information came out about military and corporate ties at many schools, and students used these ties as rallying cries. The strike at Columbia happened that year, caused as a result of protests against the university ties to policies in Vietnam and a building project that served to displace Black residents in New York. ROTC was targeted, etc. Ridgeway collects many of these facts about different universities in this one book. From university presidents sitting on corporate boards, trustees that come from corporate and elite political backgrounds, research funded for counterinsurgency, weapons research, subsidized pharmaceutical research and development, it is all here.
One limit in this book is its concentration of goings on in the more elite universities of the time. As an activist in a place like New Mexico, I did not find any exploration of the ties to universities in this state. This can be forgiven in that news stories and releases will often focus on this more elite universities, and any coverage of smaller universities will be limited to local media. And with at the time of this writing there being nearly 4,500 institutions of higher education in the United States, the scale of a survey to cover all of these schools would be immense. One point to get out of a present day reading of The Closed Corporation is that more than likely an institution of higher learning has some corporate and military ties if one looks hard enough. The more these relations are exposed the more these institutions can be held accountable.
The Appendix at the has a list of the amounts of military contracts given for fiscal year 1967 at different institutions across the country. Here are the ones I found that are related to New Mexico (money amounts are from 1967 value, not adjusted for inflation):
University of New Mexico received a total of $1,144,000 in military contracts for 1967, split up by $330,000 to its main Albuquerque campus, and $814,000 for Sandia Labs.
The Lovelace Foundation of Albuquerque received $653,000 from the military that year (Lovelace is the big hospital chain in New Mexico; wonder what they spent it for).
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (aka New Mexico Tech) received $821,000 for its campus in Socorro. This is the big college for explosives.
Something called University Corporation for Atmospheric Research got $460,000 for its facilities in Sunspot, New Mexico.
New Mexico State University received $2,811,000, split up by $2,397,000 at its University Park, $386,000 to its Las Cruces campus, and $28,000 to its Alamogordo operations.
Speaking of Alamogordo, many universities across the country had money going to its operations in this city, site of White Sands Missile Range. They are:
*Yale, $132,000 (out of a total of $1,101,000 in contracts, they get less than UNM that year).
*University of Texas. $37,000 for its operations in Alamogordo, with an additional $40,000 allocated for “White Sands MS.”
*Washington State College, $63,000 for its operations in Alamogordo.
And also, the University of California system, a big receipient of military cash overall, got $20,000 for its contracts at Holloman Air Force Base that year. And in case one forgot, the University of California ran Los Alamos Labs for a good deal of time.
Thus, The Closed Corporation is a book that should be consulted by any potential campus activist looking into how to do research, students of the corporatization of the university looking into past analysis, and anyone concerned with the corporate and military influence on universities.