"Pull My Strings And . . ."

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In one of the more thought-provoking articles I've come across lately, Time Magazine's Steven Gray discusses a nascent trend in academic circles: the selling of sponsorships to support classes for which sufficient funding does not exist. As an academic myself, I have seen first-hand the ways in which dwindling enrollment and budget restrictions can adversely affect both students and instructors, so I was not quite as appalled by the prospect of "TD Waterhouse Marketing 101" as I feel I should have been when I first heard the suggestion. I mean, libraries are often named after donors and sports stadiums frequently bear the names of various corporate sponsors, right?


Then again . . .

Any such move brings with it the threat of sponsors affecting the content of the courses on which their names appear. After all, if Daddy Warbucks knows his coffers keep a particular course breathing, he has a certain degree of power over what is covered (or covered up) in that class. Likewise, instructors may feel pressure not to rock the boat or otherwise upset a sponsor for fear of losing a coveted sponsorship for his or her department, which could result in detrimental self-censorship and other equally negative behaviors.

This is not to say that instructors are not already aware of how their conduct in a classroom may affect their job security or their standing within their respective departments, but it does add another, potentially sinister layer of possibilities. One need look no further than our elected officials whose campaigns were financed by special interests to see the reality of the threat. Few gifts are truly free and money almost always comes with strings attached. . .

In the most ideal scenario, naming rights could be a boon to schools, enabling them to keep intellectually valuable courses in their catalogues without much compromise. I mean, ironists could potentially have a field day with naming rights, too: having Frito-Lay sponsor a nutrition class or Halliburton sponsor a course in Middle Eastern studies, for instance. In most other scenarios, however, a sense of humor will not be enough to undo the potential threat to academic integrity.

So, here's a suggestion: sentence corporate criminals to pay for classes as part of their punishments. Drop the whole sponsorship thing and earmark fines for education. That could help a bit, no?

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This page contains a single entry by Sobriquet Magazine published on July 16, 2009 6:38 PM.

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