Does corporate investment in business schools compromise academic freedom and research integrity?
Herein lies the dilemma in determining whether corporate donors are influencing the agendas of the business schools they fund. There is a disconcerting lack of transparency around deals made between
business and business schools. Requests to see copies of documents are routinely redirected or ignored. Often, it seems, the terms are reached verbally and never committed to writing. Imagine—multi-million dollar deals between corporate Canada and institutes of business education entrusted to the oral tradition.
Take, for example, Schulich’s Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility. Announced in 2003 by former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the $2-million endowment was negotiated by Paul Tsaparis, HP Canada’s president and Schulich alumnus. Yet, according to Pivato, the terms surrounding the chair are strictly verbal. No written—let alone legal—document exists.
Perhaps the most controversial donor deal came out of the University of Toronto with the Rotman Foundation’s offer of $15 million to the business school. Rotman’s offer came under 11th-hour faculty fury when it was revealed that the agreement would allow for “the unqualified support for and commitment to the principles and values underlying the (donor’s) vision by members of the Faculty of Management.” The faculty claimed that such language represented an abrogation of the university’s commitment to academic and research freedom.
Eventually, the objectionable details of the deal were resolved to the satisfaction of both benefactor and scholar—and U of T’s B-school was branded the Rotman School of Management. As a result of this donor debacle (and others including Barrick Gold, Nortel and the TSE), the U of T developed guidelines to govern all future donations and pledged to make public all agreements on donations larger than $250,000. Few, if any, other Canadian campuses have followed its lead.
The University of Calgary, it seems, has not. Recently, a group of donors—led by energy giant Nexen—funded a Chair in Business Ethics to be housed in the Department of Humanities. The search committee included representatives from two of the eight corporate donors and each donor was granted a seat on the advisory committee which works with the appointed chair, Dr. Gregory Daneke.
“Sure, it’s a little unusual to have corporate donors involved like this,” admits Daneke. “But I’ve found it a helpful forum to discuss current ethical dilemmas facing the corporate sector. Do I feel compromised in any way? Absolutely not.”
A businessman with strong ties to the University of Calgary isn’t so sure that Daneke will be able to maintain his independence. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he says, “I’ve heard that one of the donors tried to direct Dr. Daneke’s research to meet his own company’s needs. If they want a consultant, they should hire one. But funding a research chair for private gain is suspect if not unethical.” He sees it as but one example of an insidious trend sweeping Canadian campuses. “There’s no doubt that corporations are wielding far too much influence over the direction of academic research. But there’s a culture of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ when it comes to the quid pro quo deals between corporations and academia.”
And so fact meets controversy meets conjecture. Still, the question remains. Are Canadian business schools selling off the assets of academic freedom and research integrity to the highest bidder?