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Transferring wealth from the public to the private: What won’t be said at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new GVSU business college building

May 25, 2011

A groundbreaking ceremony will take place in Grand Rapids today for the new GVSU Seidman College of Business. The event has received a fair amount of local news coverage from print, broadcast and online media.

The Grand Rapids Press announced last Thursday that Rich DeVos would be a speaker at the groundbreaking event, since DeVos and Seidman were friends. The article also mentions that of the 300 donors to this new college are former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger – both of whom served with Seidman in the Ford administration.

The Holland Sentinel also mentioned the groundbreaking ceremony and that both Rumsfeld and Kissinger were major donors to the project. In fact, it appears that much of the coverage is based upon at GVSU Media Release that went out last week.

In character with how local commercial news media reports on such incidents there is no critical analysis or inclusion of other perspectives. Nothing is said about Rumsfeld being considered a war criminal by people in Iraq or lawyers who practice international law. The absence of such a critique also applies to Kissinger despite plenty of declassified documentation on the former Secretary of State’s role in the coup to oust the democratically elected government of Chile, the US support for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor or the war crimes that Kissinger helped orchestrate during the Vietnam War – all of which is included in the documentary The Trials of Henry Kissinger.

Equally important is the lack of any critical perspective on the role that business schools play in society, especially since it has been argued that business school promote the continuation of neoliberal market capitalism, an economic system which creates a tremendous amount of human misery and ecological destruction.

This critique of neoliberal market capitalism is not a new idea nor is it a marginal one. The critique has been around as long as the mid-19th Century when Karl Marx first began providing a critical analysis of market capitalism. Today, that criticism takes on many forms such as Annie Leonard’s book/films The Story of Stuff, Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine or the anti-capitalist website Infoshop.

Even in the Oscar winning documentary Inside Job, there is a section that deals with the role that business schools played in supporting to the hyper-deregulation of the market and the economic practices of the financial sector that led to the massive global economic crash of 2008. Here is a short clip were the film director questions two economics professors who were making money to write policy papers in support of the kind of economic schemes that led to the crash.

Therefore it is no surprise that Rich DeVos would say a few words at the groundbreaking ceremony. DeVos himself is the king of pyramid schemes and a businessman who has profited immensely from taxpayer subsidies, government incentives and the stripping of state business taxes, all which translates into policies that add more cost to the public.

This lack of a critical perspective has been and will be reflected in the lack of anyone in mainstream commercial media questioning the groundbreaking of a new building for a business school, which uses public money to teach people how to transfer more public funds into the private sector. This lack of critical journalism is, as they say, business as usual.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 25, 2011 10:10 pm

    Good article, Jeff. It seems rather fitting that a business school would have this seedy launching. It also has a pretty murky history in its making: there was a standoff between GVSU and DeVries Properties over the sale of the site, and GVSU threatened to seize the property through eminent domain. A settled price was quickly made after the threat was issued.

    Eminent domain came into its expanded format after George W. Bush had stacked the Supreme Court with neo-conservative justices.

    Its use as a “revitalization” or gentrification tool is, at this point in time, virtually unlimited. Although the seizer has to pay “fair market value,” that value doesn’t taken into account added value due to zoning changes that are forthcoming for development. Owner of a seized property also can’t claim business losses or personal losses, and can’t get compensated for legal fees even if they win and overturn the eminent domain seizure.

    Shortly after Supreme Court ruling, Donald Trump attempted to seize someone’s New Jersey home so he could turn it into a remote-location parking lot for casino limousine parking. The state of New Jersey intervened. Most people aren’t so lucky.

    It seems weirdly appropriate that two awful legacies from the Bush years–war crimes and the loss of personal property rights–are juxtaposed in the GVSU event.

  2. spyralout permalink
    May 26, 2011 3:19 pm

    The property that was threatened with eminent domain seizure was a dilapidated abandoned warehouse. It’s owner was trying to squeeze GVSU for more than the land was worth, and was trying to publicize it as a “they want to take my land by force and give me nothing!” issue. This is not a case where “gentrification” debates come into play either, since it’s not a residential district, and so there is no issue of longstanding residents being pushed out.

    Would you rather have this in your city:

    http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2009/10/building_owner_says_grand_vall.html

    Or a building that would actually be used for the purposes of education, regardless of it’s field of study?

    While I agree that Rummy and especially Kissinger are slime, there’s no reason to lament the loss of a crumbling pile of bricks and glass just because what is going up in its place doesn’t jibe with your own personal interests.

    The title of this article is also funny since in this case the situation is the reverse of what you’ve got. This was a private piece of land that is now owned by a public university.

  3. Jeff Smith permalink*
    May 26, 2011 3:36 pm

    Spyralout, even though there are no residential houses in the immediate location of the new GVSU business college building any new development in that area could promote gentrification as the entire campus expands, so Kate’s point about gentrification is valid.

    As for your comment about the building being owned by the university and now in public sector, you missed my point about what is taught at the GVSU college of business. I was arguing that a great deal of economic theory and practice in contemporary business education promotes the transfer of public wealth into private hands. As for GVSU being a public university, the public has little say in what happens there and I would submit that President Haas responds with much more interest to the business community than he does to the general public.

  4. spyralout permalink
    May 26, 2011 3:58 pm

    That seems like a pretty poor litmus test for validity. Using that logic, building a barn in the middle of a field will one day be an issue of gentrification.

    “any new development in that area could promote gentrification”

    Sooo….. what, what do you propose is the best course of action for dealing with crumbling industrial spaces that provide cover for crime and other social diseases? That whole stretch of land down Front St is filled with warehouses. Nice use of waterfront property eh? I’m sure those neoliberal businesses would be much better stewards of that land than a public university would be, right?

    “As for GVSU being a public university, the public has little say in what happens there”

    They have more say than they do with regard to a private business. That much is undeniable.

  5. spyralout permalink
    May 26, 2011 4:01 pm

    “you missed my point about what is taught at the GVSU college of business”

    Actually I didn’t miss it. I just find it completely irrelevant.

    I don’t get huffy when a new church gets built, despite being agnostic.

    It’s a business school…so what? Do they teach rapacious neoliberal economics practices there? Maybe. Probably, even, but it’s still just a building, and there’s no reason they couldn’t change what they teach there given a shift in the prevailing attitudes.

  6. Jeff Smith permalink*
    May 26, 2011 4:08 pm

    It’s hardly faulty logic. Talk to the people at SWAN, the South West Area Neighbors, which is the neighborhood just west of the GVSU downtown campus and ask them if there has been any pressure from GVSU to expand west into residential neighborhoods. I have talked to residents in that area and they have expressed concern about expansion.

    The point about what is taught at the school is relevant considering that neoliberal capitalism is destroying the planet.

  7. spyralout permalink
    May 26, 2011 4:18 pm

    If they can’t go west, then there’s really only one way for them to go, south, where the warehouses and industrial spaces are. Just look at that area on Google maps. It’s filled with sprawling tracts of mud and debris behind chain link fences. I’m sure the people in the adjoining residential districts would absolutely hate it if you took that away from them.

    “The point about what is taught at the school is relevant considering that neoliberal capitalism is destroying the planet.”

    Paradigms change. Building are just bricks, and the things that people do inside them are not dictated solely by the name on the outside of the building. 60 years from now they could be teaching Howard Zinn. Either way, it’s still better than a shoddy warehouse.

  8. Jeff Smith permalink*
    May 26, 2011 4:25 pm

    One of the warehouses that is just south of GVSU is home to numerous artists and they have concerns about the push south of GVSU per numerous conversations I have had with several of them.

    I agree that what people do inside building is no dictated by the name on the outside, but there isn’t much indication within the US that people want something other than neoliberal capitalism. The US government bailout out the financial sector to the tune of $700 billion and there was no significant opposition in the US, unlike what we have been seeing in Greece, Spain and much of the Middle East. Sure paradigms can change, but there isn’t much indication that this is happening at GVSU’s business college…….

    by the way, are you a student or faculty member at GVSU? Just trying to figure out who I am talking with.

  9. spyralout permalink
    May 26, 2011 4:45 pm

    Former student, current staff member, currently looking elsewhere. Believe me, though I graduated from GVSU, and currently work here, My feelings about the school are mixed.

    Everybody has concerns. Concerns are easy things to have. There are no shortage of things to be concerned about these days. The real difficulty is how to balance the concerns of multiple parties.

    GVSU is a growing school, and that doesn’t just go for the business school or the health science fields. GR is a great place to live too. The two are mutually cooperative, and I can’t see GVSU shooting itself in the foot by aggressively bulldozing houses in order to put up a couple more buildings. I also trust that the residents of the neighboring areas realize that their community is positively impacted by the university’s presence, and wouldn’t deny GVSU any opportunities simply out of misguided fear or spite.

    GVSU isn’t MSU or U of M. It isn’t trapped by the surrounding areas so much that it would have to step on toes to get what it needs at the cost of the residents nearby.

    No one should lament the loss of a crumbling building that was owned by someone trying to get more out of it than it was worth, regardless of what new thing goes up in its place, so long as it isn’t a 50 foot statue of George W Bush holding an LED lit American flag.

    Rummy and Kissinger donated? Yeah, that sucks, and the way no one around here really mentions their sliminess is disconcerting, but it doesn’t really change my mind about the new building being better than a warehouse.

  10. Jeff Smith permalink*
    May 26, 2011 5:11 pm

    I appreciate the disclosure as it is always helpful to have some context for who is commenting here.

    I’m not trying to convince you of anything and I am not defending the old warehouse building, this is not an either or thing. I am just raising questions about what the news media will not likely discuss in their reporting.

  11. correction of sorts permalink
    May 26, 2011 5:52 pm

    Infoshop.org is an anarchist website. It’s more than just “anti-capitalist.”

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