Reposted from Bloomberg Markets Magazine
Schools Find Ayn Rand Can’t Be Shrugged as Donors Build Courses
By Seth Lubove and Oliver Staley – May 5, 2011
John Allison, former chairman of bank holding company BB&T Corp. (BBT), admires author Ayn Rand so much that he devised a strategy to spread her laissez-faire principles on U.S. campuses. Allison, working through the BB&T Charitable Foundation, gives schools grants of as much as $2 million if they agree to create a course on capitalism and make Rand’s masterwork, “Atlas Shrugged,” required reading.
Allison’s crusade to counter what he considers the anti- capitalist orthodoxy at universities has produced results — and controversy. Some 60 schools, including at least four campuses of the University of North Carolina, began teaching Rand’s book after getting the foundation money. Faculty at several schools that have accepted Allison’s terms are protesting, saying donors shouldn’t have the power to set the curriculum to pursue their political agendas, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its June issue.
“We have sought out professors who wanted to teach these ideas,” says Allison, now a professor at Wake Forest University’s business school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “It’s really a battle of ideas. If the ideas that made America great aren’t heard, then their influence will be destroyed.”
Allison, 62, is one of a number of wealthy philanthropists who are making bold demands on schools as a condition of giving, says Jack Siegel, a lawyer whose Chicago-based Charity Governance Consulting LLC works with colleges and nonprofit groups.
Seeking to leave their imprint on everything from the direction of scientific research to the performance of sports teams, these benefactors are stirring conflicts when their causes don’t fit with the priorities of administrators and faculty.
The strings attached to the gifts present university presidents with tough choices: While schools suffering from diminished endowments and government funding cuts following the recession need the money, administrators are sometimes forced to reject the offers to avoid a dust-up on campus.
“I have known some gifts in which the university just could not agree to the terms,” Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee says. “If there are too many strings attached, you have done yourself a disservice. If someone gave me $100 million to start a school of massage at Ohio State University, I’d have to say, ‘Sorry, it’s just not in our strategic plan.’”
Donors as far back as John Harvard, the first benefactor of what was renamed Harvard College after his death in 1638, have gotten their names enshrined on buildings in a quest for immortality. “They’re building a tombstone,” Siegel says.
Henry Kravis, the billionaire co-founder of KKR & Co., pledged $100 million last year to fund an expansion of Columbia University’s business school. The new lecture hall at his alma mater will be called the Henry R. Kravis Building.
Allison, who promotes Ayn Rand’s writings, will likely generate more conflicts on campuses as he seeks to expand his foundation’s gifts to 200 schools nationwide. In 2006, Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, gave up a seven-year, $420,000 grant from the BB&T foundation after some faculty bristled at the president’s decision to accept the money on the condition that the school teach “Atlas Shrugged.”
After Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, accepted a 10-year, $500,000 grant from Allison’s foundation, Richard Zweigenhaft, a professor of psychology, protested the decision in an article for Academe, a magazine published by the American Association of University Professors. He said the appropriate faculty committees weren’t consulted before the school decided to take the money.
“This deal with BB&T was simply an egregious case of the college administration deciding to sell a chunk of the curriculum,” Zweigenhaft says.
As private donors gain more power on campuses, it’s just the kind of shift away from state control that Rand would applaud.
To contact the reporters on this story: Seth Lubove in Los Angeles at email@example.com; Oliver Staley in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Laura Colby in New York at email@example.com .
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