The university gift with strings attached

If you went to college in America, you probably spent a small fortune on books, perhaps even more than you spent on beer. The books —  almost always new hardback editions — were required readingAtlasshrugged
in various courses. Well, what if you found out that a particular book was required not by a professor but a university donor? You wouldn’t be pleased, would you? I’d be utterly furious, especially if it was one of the books that I actually read.

According to the Charlotte Observer, at least one university donor has prescribed a book for students and it’s none other than Ayn Rand’s "Atlas Shrugged."

As a college student in Chapel Hill, John Allison stumbled across a
collection of essays by Ayn Rand and was hooked by her philosophy of
self-interest and limited government. As he rose over the decades to
chief executive of BB&T, one of the country’s leading regional
banks, Rand remained his muse.

He’s
trying to replicate that encounter through the charitable arm of his
Winston-Salem-based company, which since 1999 has awarded more than $28
million to 27 colleges to support the study of capitalism from a moral
perspective.

But on at least 17 of those campuses, including UNC
Charlotte, N.C. State and Johnson C. Smith University, the gifts come
with an unusual stipulation: Rand’s novel, "Atlas Shrugged," is
included in a course as required reading.

The schools’ agreements have drawn criticism from some faculty, who
say it compromises academic integrity. In higher education, the power
to decide course content is supposed to rest with professors, not
donors. Debate about the gifts, which arose at UNCC this month,
illustrates tensions that exist over corporate influence on college
campuses.

UNCC received its $1 million gift pledge in 2005, but
details about the "Atlas Shrugged" requirement came to light as the
school dedicated an Ayn Rand reading room March 12.

"It’s going
to make us look like a rinky-dink university," UNCC religious studies
professor Richard Cohen said Thursday after UNCC Chancellor Phil Dubois
told the faculty council about the gift. "It’s like teaching the Bible
as a requirement." [Link]

You mean UNCC isn’t a rinky-dink university? If not, then imagine what’s happening at the hundreds of actual rinky-dink universities and colleges in America, including the ones I attended. Surely donors are not just putting their names on buildings, walls and scholarships, but also "suggesting" what ideas should be taught and where professors can stick academic integrity.

If UNCC and the other 16 universities had an ounce of integrity left, they’d give John Allison a message: "Sorry, Mr. Allison, but we’ve decided that the only Rand you can force on us is the South African kind."

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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