Academic Neutrality: How to Tell If a College Has Been Taken Over by Special Interests - Student Research Foundation

Academic Neutrality: How to Tell If a College Has Been Taken Over by Special Interests

Most colleges need money. Many foundations and companies like to give large sums of money to them. It’s a win-win situation. But what happens to a college if it accepts large donations from a think tank or other organization that has a political or other agenda that it wants to advance? If that happens, will that college lose its integrity and academic neutrality?

Those troubling questions are explored in “What Charles Koch and Other Donors to George Mason University Got for Their Money,” an article by Erica L. Green and Stephanie Saul in The New York Times on May 7, 2018. The article is a must-read for people who are concerned with the future of American higher education. It is also eye-opening for anyone who is applying to college. Do you want to attend a college that advances a libertarian, liberal, pro-choice, pro-life or other agenda? Do you want your child or advisee to attend such a school? You might, but you should be able to enter into that kind of arrangement with your eyes open.

When organizations or individuals who have causes to advance invests heavily in a college or university, troubling issues can arise. Does that institution abdicate its academic neutrality to advance a cause? Has it been forced to hire professors who have a particular point of view? Has it been influenced to admit students who are recommended by the biggest donors?

To be sure, donations have always shaped what colleges do. When a wealthy alum or other individual makes a big donation to a school, he or she often expects to get certain favors in return.

It is a true caveat emptor situation. How can you know what you are buying when you invest in an education at a college? There are no ironclad ways to know exactly what your tuition dollars are buying. But nonetheless, there are ways to assess any possible conflicts of interest ahead of time.

Read Blogs about College Life

A number of blogs, including the Academe Blog (maintained by Academe magazine), cover controversial topics about campus life across the U.S. For example, the blog recently posted articles about the controversy at George Mason.

Read Student Blogs

The students at many colleges and universities maintain blogs where they share news and opinions about what is happening on their campuses. One example? The Badger Herald, a blog written by students at the University of Wisconsin Madison, recently posted, “Chemistry teaching assistant with history of anti-Semitic, racist behavior removed from position after campus backlash.” Most students like to post opinions about what is taking place on their campuses, and their opinions can be eye-opening.

Read the Chronicle of Higher Education

This is your go-to publication for news about higher ed. One recent article, “This Software Millionaire Is Building the Low-Tech College of His Dreams,” tells the story of one investor’s efforts to resurrect a defunct college that will now promote a sustainable future. (That, most of us would agree, is a good agenda for an investor to pursue.)

Dig Deep into Information on a College’s Website

Most colleges and universities post the names of their trustees. Not all, however, post trustees’ business or organizational affiliations. If you want to know who trustees are, it is often possible to find their listings on LinkedIn or other places online.

Check Out Alumni Magazines

If a large organization or company just made a large contribution to a college, that news will almost certainly be covered. Bear in mind that such contributions do not necessarily, or often, constitute proof that those investments have been made to exert inappropriate influence.

Search for Local News Stories about Colleges and Universities You Are Considering

A simple Bing or Google search for news about a college or university should turn up information about contributions, controversies and other campus news.

And What If You Are Looking for a College that Promotes Your Views?

That is okay too. If you are looking for a school with a political science department that advances libertarian views that is, of course up to you. The same holds true if you are looking for an institution that is affiliated with your religion.

If you are looking for a college or university that supports your views, the same research approaches we recommend in today’s post can help you identify the place that is right for you.

To share your views about trends in American higher education, Participate in the National College and Career Pathway Study.

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