Thursday, February 28, 2008

BB&T under attack for supporting Atlas Shrugged in the classroom

According to Inside Higher Ed, some professors at Marshall University believe that a donation to the university that requires that Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged be taught in a course supported by the donation is an assault on academic freedom (Hat tip: OActivists).

"Atlas Shrugged can be taught. It's the required part that is problematic," said Jamie Warner, director of undergraduate studies in political science. Under this precedent, she said, "you could see neo-Nazis giving money and saying that you have to teach Mein Kampf."

The gift in question was $1 million to Marshall’s business school, from the BB&T Foundation, the charitable arm of the BB&T Corporation, a financial holdings company. The press release announcing the gift last month said that the funds would support a lecture series and an upper level course that would focus on the principles of Atlas Shrugged and also Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Much of the discussion has focused on Atlas Shrugged because that was the key requirement of the gift.

The BB&T Foundation has given a series of large gifts to universities generally to support programs involving business, ethics and philosophy.
So here we have a successful and respected private company offering a charitable gift to a university with the caveat that the university includes a specific text in a class funded by the gift. The book is a long-time bestseller that directly relates to the gift-giver's corporate mission in support of American free enterprise—the very raison d'etre behind why the university has been offered its gift in the first place.

The university freely accepts the gift, plainly implying that it had no problem with the terms and that they had a faculty member willing to fulfill them, yet once other members of the faculty learn of it, they nevertheless equate the terms of the gift with an assault on academic freedom and Neo-Nazis pushing Mein Kampf.

While I have my own issues with BB&T's choices in gift giving (primarily that they have bankrolled libertarians at my alma mater who write garbage like this while simultaneously failing to support the faculty on campus who do expose students to Ayn Rand's ideas in the classroom), this attack at Marshall University is beyond the pale. BB&T is being condemned because it chooses to attach specific conditions to its gift to Marshall. Why shouldn't it? Why should it be expected to meekly write blank checks with no say or interest with what is taught in the classrooms made possible by its largess?

I am reminded of when I was an undergraduate student publishing an Objectivist campus newspaper at George Washington University. The experience was excruciatingly bitter and disheartening, primarily because I had to work ten times as hard as my non-Objectivist peers in order to secure even a modicum of student funding, and this despite a product that competed head to head with the larger and more heavily supported campus newspaper. I was condemned to the ends of the Earth for being an Objectivist by my professors and it was made abundantly clear that there was no place in the university for me and the kind of study that I was interested in. All the while, students who supported environmentalism, multiculturalism, or "mandatory volunteering" were showered with money in support of their programs and full-ride scholarships in support of their educations.

I vowed then that it would be a cold day in hell before I gave any university one red cent of my money for any endeavor that I didn't have direct oversight. BB&T's experience at Marshall bears me out. A bank has the audacity to encourage the study of capitalism and the works of one of capitalism's premiere defenders and it gets slimed by the vermin who can't even stand the mere thought of it.

If Marshall University's faculty doesn't want BB&T's support, BB&T should take its money elsewhere. I can think of a hundred better places to spend that money than at Marshall.


"van Vliet" Art Blog said...

Nicholas, I heartily agree. What is the meaning of ownership and contract if one cannot give ones property with conditions attached prior to transfer. If Marshall doesn't like the condition they should negociate terms more to their liking prior to acceptance or refuse the gift. Anything less is more then dishonorable, it is theft.

Anonymous said...

"alma matter"? :)

Anonymous said...

They compare the donation to the Neo-Nazis pushing Mein Kampf!! I believe the problem was not the Nazi's pushing Mein Kampf, but suppressing opposing ideas and freedom of speech, among other rights. The ones making the donation are not a governing body either, but a private entity; where as the academics are part of government. Students still have the choice whether or not to take the course as well. So who is trying to suppress who in this case?!