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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Buy this classroom

    Suggest screening the film “”Blow Job”” in the classroom, and you’ll be praised for introducing a great work of modern art to growing minds.

    Suggest showing an advertisement from a local business, and you’ll be attacked for introducing “”corporate smut”” into the pristine learning environment of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans, HarperCollins textbooks and Microsoft Powerpoint, for corrupting the free academic environment of the university.

    We should all be so lucky as to have the “”corrupted”” education that supposedly comes from corporate funding of higher education. The University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley, widely considered among the best public universities in the country, are both supported by corporate sponsorship. For Michigan, the transition to private funding was forced upon them when the state entered a recession in the 1970s and started drastically cutting funding to the university. By the 1990s, the proportion of funding for the university from the state dropped from 60 percent to a mere 15 percent (UA, in comparison, receives about 28 percent of its funding from the state).

    Yet the University continued to maintain its excellence through an effort to bring in more outside funding. James Duderstadt, president emeritus, describes Michigan as a “”privately supported public university.””

    The UA has considered the benefits of such a model. In a 2005 interview with the Phoenix Business Journal, former President Peter Likins said “”what we’re all trying to do at research universities is diversify our revenue streams”” and noted that “”there is an unspoken consensus in America that public universities are going to have to be more and more on their own financially.””

    On the other side of the country, Berkeley has also seen its share of state funds diminish. BP Amaco has recently proposed establishing a $500 million biofuel research center at the school, which will double the size of its corporate research programs. This follows a five-year, $50 million deal with Novartis, Inc. in 1998.

    Yet in spite of the success these schools have had with corporate sponsors, the anathema many ivory tower types have towards the business world still manifests itself in ways that go against their own interest. Take, for example, the University of Iowa. Professors at the school’s College of Public Health rejected a $15 million offer from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield for naming rights of the school. Some may applaud the professors’ decision to stand up to the machinations of this “”evil corporation.”” But to paraphrase Shakespeare, a well-funded school by any other name will teach as effectively. The money could have been used to ensure employment for non-tenured faculty, whose jobs are at risk with every state budget cut. The money could have lowered tuition for Iowa students, who have seen their tuition rise 54 percent since 2000. Instead, the money was haughtily rejected; beggars, apparently, can be choosers.

    Of course, critics of corporate sponsorship have a point – sometimes, it can go too far. This was recently demonstrated at Hunter College in New York, where the school experimented with corporate sponsorship of a course. The course, in which students crafted a campaign against counterfeiting, was sponsored by the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) – a seemingly perfect fit. It drew complaints, however, from the Faculty Senate, who alleged that the course stifled any sort of critical analysis of copyright law and deceived students in what amounted to a thinly veiled marketing scheme. Yet the college is hardly without blame: the course was taught by a professor without any experience in the field, and was given the green light without any kind of curriculum review.

    Rather than depicting the horrors of corporate sponsorship, this case provides an example of creative destruction upon which great ideas are built. With more oversight by university officials (a seeming no-brainer), this formula could actually be quite successful. Google employees could teach computer engineering courses, and pharmaceutical companies could provide training for pharmacy students. Students will receive their education at a cost they can afford, and businesses build ties that may lead to stronger employees down the road.

    There are already hints of such corporate sponsorship at the UA. Many students have taken classes at the Coca-Cola Company, Phelps Dodge or Honeywell professional classrooms in McClelland Hall. The UA established a “”strategic partnership”” with Gateway Companies, Inc. in 2007, providing funding for programs demonstrating financial need. UA researchers have teamed up with Raytheon, Inc. to compete for the X-Prize, a $30 million prize for the first private team to succeed in sending a robotic mission to the moon.

    Rather than dismissing such proposals out of hand, the UA should seriously consider sources of funding other than the state. The school is certainly going to be short-changed by the state legislature, but hand-wringing and chastising will change nothing. UA must take a proactive approach towards its future, and take monetary matters into its own hands, rather than leaving them in the hands of a legislature that is fickle by nature. We may sniff our noses at the idea of a Pepsi-Exxon classroom, but a classroom sponsored by corporate interests is better than no classroom at all.

    Evan Lisull is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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