April 29, 2007

Corporate donors and universities

From the cutting-room floor: Adam Emerson and I talked for about half an hour last weekend while he was preparing today's article, Corporate U, and I think he did a nice job of putting the corporate sponsorship of one university program into a broader national contemporary perspective. I shouldn't be surprised that the historical perspective was left out (he quotes me far down in the story), but I thought I gave him the best statement on the history: "If you look just at the names of major universities like Leland Stanford University or Carnegie Mellon University, you'll understand that wealthy philanthropic influence on universities have a long history." I don't know if I said exactly those words, but it was close.

The other gripe is also minor: he quoted me on a general concern about the influence on the curriculum but not on the two questions I have in general:

  • Did a donor have substantive influence on the shape of the curriculum, or did the faculty sponsors determine the shape?
  • Did a program go through a university approval process controlled by faculty?

In talking with him, I said that there was no problem with professional programs having close relationships with the field, and many faculty have an obligation to keep close ties to practitioners, but that there was a difference between consulting with practitioners and turning your curriculum over to them. In this particular program, faculty seemed genuinely enthusiastic when they came to USF's undergraduate council, and I suspect they would have told Emerson that while they value Jordan Zimmerman's enthusiasm and support, they determine the curriculum. From what I understand, the program had existed for a number of years; this was a revision, not the creation of an entirely new entity.

Given that in the USF case, the program in question is advertising, I'm not surprised that the donor wants to claim far more influence than I suspect faculty would say he had.  After all, he wants to make a case for his own influence.

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Posted in Academic freedom on April 29, 2007 1:10 PM |