Corporate college has major flaws

Product placement is all the rage – Paula Abdul sips a front-and-center Coca-Cola while judging “American Idol” contestant and a little girl in Hasbro’s Transformers movie drags a stuffed Hasbro My Little Pony behind her as she spies on the giant Hasbro robots.

No, product placement – for all the controversy it causes – is nothing new.

But the span of its reign is widening – right into academia.

A recent article in Inside Higher Education reported that the University of Iowa is talking with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, a major health insurance company, about accepting a $15 million donation that would allow the company to rename the school’s College of Public Health.

Nationwide, plenty of money-hungry universities have accepted donations from well-endowed major corporations, struggling to make up for the government’s lack of monetary funding by seeking outside sources of cash. These deals have resulted in places such as University of North Carolina’s FedEx Global Education Center and Florida Atlantic’s Office Depot Center for Excellence. They’ve even produced such ludicrous-sounding entities as the Taco Bell Arena at Boise State and the M&M Mars Room at Elizabethtown College.

But to name an entire college after a public corporation? Critics are up in arms.

The potential implications are numerous, and a few of them are downright scary, especially for us as journalists.

As journalists, we buck at the idea of having to report to anyone (no pun intended). It’s bad enough that newspapers nationwide have become products of Big Media, run by a few major corporations that prevent hard-hitting investigative journalists from digging for the truth if it means probing the company holding the purse-strings.

If universities allow our journalism schools to be snatched up by the highest-paying donors, how can we be expected to learn veracity in reporting? When corporations own journalism schools, it can be assumed that student reporters will be forbidden, whether implicitly or explicitly, from reporting on anything that might insult The Man. It’ll be pretty difficult for our professors to teach us journalistic integrity when we all know Big Brother is looking over our shoulders, ready to engage in the collegiate form of censorship should we insult our major donors.

And journalists aren’t the only ones at risk of being harmed by corporate ownership. The implications for Kent State’s numerous research facilities could restrict faculty and student researchers’ berth, prohibiting them from examining anything having to do with their school’s donor corporation or researching topics that could have potential benefits for the donor’s competition.

Perhaps David Matthew, a reader who commented on the Inside Higher Education article, said it best: “University thirst for the (almighty) dollar has led to a total erosion of the ‘no strings attached’ etiquette regarding gift-giving.”

College academia is desperate for proper funding, and administrators are right to look at every possible donor, including big businesses. But until the lines are definitively drawn between corporate gift-giving and the possibility of corporate censorship, we can’t bring ourselves to be excited about the prospect of millions of dollars coming from big business donors whose names get tacked onto our schools and colleges – no matter how much money they offer us.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Summer Kent Stater editorial board.