A few days ago, I had lunch with a fundraiser from an Arizona university. She was in town scouting for dollars to endow a Chair for the school of engineering. Though I wasn’t in a position to provide that level of cash, she stopped by for lunch and over our curries, we talked about the enormity of her task. Being young and optimistic, she seemed to take the challenge in stride — something I could never do.
After she left, I sat down to read an essay by Russell Mokhiber. I laughed when I discovered the topic. He was concerned about the huge amounts of money universities raised from corporations to embellish their institutions. What impact, if any, did these charitable contributions have on education? He used Cornell University’s School of Labor Relations to make his point. While Labor makes a sizeable donations to the school, that figure pales compared to the donations flowing in from PepsiCo, Schering-Plough, Chevron, BP and the like. Plaques bearing their names line the halls of the institution, making clear whose money is greasing the wheels and possibly influencing the lectern. (“Plaque Ops – The corporate conquest, of a labor-relations school,” by Russell Mokhiber, Harper’s July 2013 pg. 39.)
Besides the risk of giving a bias to the curriculum, there are longer term consequences for society’s values. In 2004, for example, Schering-Plough pleaded guilty to overcharging Medicaid for Claritin and violating federal anti-kickback laws… Two years later it paid out $435 million for overcharging Medicaid (again) and illegally promoting a brain-tumor drug.” (Ibid, pg. 38) Should we, as a nation, be happy to see Cornell University rush off to the banks with Schering-Plough’s money?
If the pharmaceutical giant was the exception to the rule, it might be overlooked. But PepsiCo contributed $2milion to defeat California’s Proposition 37, legislation that would have required food companies to disclose genetically modified ingredients in their products. Is food secrecy a value we’d like to see inculcated in the minds of students? And when it comes to giving lip service to Labor Relations, who better than ExxonMobil, BP America and Chevron, owners of major sport leagues where labor disputes are common.
The young fund raiser with whom I had lunch isn’t thinking about these questions, of course. That isn’t her job. But somebody should be thinking about the impact of corporate funding on higher education. Who if not us?
(Courtesy of jeffersonengraving.com)