Strings attached

This is something I didn’t know was happening. Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed reports that colleges and universities are taking money from a corporation to teach Ayn Rand. She cites

a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Academic Ethics, called, “BB&T, Atlas Shrugged and the Ethics of Corporation Influence on College Curricula.” It says it is the first study to track a particular set of donations by the financial services holding company BB&T to colleges and universities stipulating that they teach the works of free-market capitalist Ayn Rand and address the “Moral Foundations of Capitalism.”

The paper says these agreements, which have largely ceased, happen under a veil of secrecy, often without the knowledge of faculty members, and that BB&T’s foundation is set on correcting what it sees as an overly liberal curriculum.

“This has been reported on ad hoc, mostly by individual universities and their campus newspapers,” said Douglas Beets, the article’s author and a professor of business at Wake Forest University, which has its own BB&T-funded program. “But otherwise you can’t find information on [BB&T’s] website, and that’s one of the major problems — this is not transparent.” And Beets says that, given current discussions over allegations of corporate influence over university research agendas, the Ayn Rand grants need more attention.

It sounds eerily like the Templeton Foundation, but in aid of teaching Ayn Randism instead of religion.

By scouring local news stories and university press releases, along with other means, Beets determined that at least 63 colleges and universities received Moral Foundations grants, averaging about $1 million each.

The grants typically stipulate that the institution will offer a course featuring Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged — a famously pro-free market novel — and provide even unenrolled students in the relevant department a free copy of the book; in some cases, Atlas Shrugged is the only book on the course syllabus.

Why Ayn Rand ffs? Why not at least an economist or a moral philosopher, or both? Ayn Rand was a screenwriter and novelist. Why just one person? There are thousands of pro-capitalism books out there, why single out a crap novel by a hack writer as The One Book?

Beets quotes a BB&T spokesperson telling Bloomberg in 2008, “These gifts are really about the study of capitalism from a moral perspective and all we want is to make Rand part of the dialogue.”

By inserting her into the curriculum at colleges and universities, instead of other, better books.

Beets says these grants can have outsize influence, as some states have programs that match corporate donations with public funding. Beets also points to a major funding overlap with Charles and David Koch, billionaires who have poured millions into conservative causes; some 42 institutions with Moral Foundations programs also had received donations from the Koch brothers’ charities. Both BB&T and the Kochs also have been major contributors to the Ayn Rand Institute.

One campus that’s accepted both BB&T and Koch grants is Florida State University, the latter of which caused much tumulton that campus. The institution accepted a $3 million BB&T Moral Foundations grant in 2008, in exchange for creating a course on market ethics, among other requirements.

There’s a profound irony embedded in that sentence.

5 Responses to “Strings attached”