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By Merle Bertrand | March 23, 2000

My friend Andy calls the inexorable spread of homogenizing chain retailers and corporate megastores that wipe out local businesses the “Walmart-ization” of America. In “University, Inc.,” Kyle Henry ably demonstrates that this chilling trend is now spreading like kudzu to our college campuses. The film starts by investigating what could easily be overlooked as a regrettable but largely local injustice; the closing down of the University of Texas at Austin’s vaunted and eclectic repertory film program. As this slyly skewering documentary digs deeper, however, it reveals an onion-skinned layer of money-grubbing bureaucrats and university administrators who are more than willing to sacrifice the sense of community at the school’s Student Union on the soulless altar of Wendy’s and Taco Bell. After months of stonewalling the filmmakers, the Student Union Director — and country club buddy of the University president — finally agrees to an interview…only to quickly founder when he discovers that pitbull-journalist Henry and his partner, editor Spencer Parsons, will have no part of his condescending and evasive doublespeak. Somewhere Roger Moore is a happy man. Henry has, if you’ll pardon the pun, done his homework here. Intercut with bitterly ironic footage from archival management films, he’s crammed “University, Inc.” chock full of such incriminating statistics as the one contrasting the $42,000 “operating loss” of the Union Theater with the $94 million football stadium renovations. Better still is the one which shows how that “loss,” based solely on box office revenues versus operating expenses, blithely ignores the more than $3 million in student services fees which are meant to support precisely such services as, surprise, the Union Theater. It’d be a delicious irony, if only it weren’t so depressing. With its matter-of-fact gallows humor tone, “University, Inc.” sounds the alarm about the corporate arsenic poisoning of our nation’s institutes of higher learning. That this film is currently on a national tour of college campuses demonstrates that this corporatization is far from just a local issue or the retaliatory work of an embittered UT film student. Sadly, if Walmart-ization has metastasized onto such a major university as Longhorn country, it’s most likely a terminal disease.

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