Saturday, July 05, 2008

More corporate branding in college campuses

I have made light before of the fact that more colleges are using private and corporate donors to fill the financial gaps after their state legislatures pretty much abandon them. So that the University of Wisconsin is doing it should not come as a surprise. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, on July 5th, "from the Halliburton Geoscience Visualization Center to the Kikkoman Lab of Microbial Fermentation, corporate names are sprinkled throughout the hallways and mailboxes of the UW-Madison campus." At this rate, I am willing to speculate that we may well do away from state colleges and universities. I mean, let's take this to its logical conclusion. State legislatures everywhere keep cutting back on funding their institutions of higher education. Apparently, educating the citizenry of the states is not a high priority to those governing the states (here's looking at you Texas. And yes, I threw one story in those links about public schools because in the end this whole thing is linked. A matter of time before our public schools go corporate too, but that is a separate post).

  • And why would we want to go corporate? In the words of people at UW, "professors and administrators defend the use of corporate sponsorships, saying it allows them to build sophisticated facilities or pay for endowed professorships that they couldn't otherwise afford." Hey, we need new labs, new facilities, better talent for research (which brings grants which brings more money), so on. If the state is not providing, why not let Halliburton do it?
We are probably not going far enough when it comes to seeking out corporate sponsors. Here is what we could do, and I am going to use our campus here as an example (the usual disclaimer about how these are my views applies)

  • The library. Sure, we have it named after somebody, but we need more funding. I say we sell the naming rights to Dell. They already provided our computers for the lab, and certain segments of our administration would like nothing better than to just have the "library" in a couple of rooms with servers to host the databases. If we became the "Dell Library," we can probably rake a few million bucks. Sure, we'd probably would not have books, but everything is online these days, right?
  • Our Chemistry Department could become the Dow Chemical Department.
  • Our nursing programs could be sponsored by the U.S. Armed Forces. They are always looking for nurses (if their ads are to be believed). No, I am not picking on the armed forces. Think about it for a moment. We could actually kill two birds with one stone: solve some of the shortages of personnel in the armed forces and keep providing for our nursing programs. However, if you want to keep the corporate idea going, we can pick a couple of pharmaceutical companies and HMOs to pick up the tab. How about Pfizer and Blue Cross?
  • The Department of Political Science is kind of a no-brainer. We could get some of the same foundations and wealthy individuals that fund some of America's finest think tanks. If it works for The Heritage Foundation, the Center for Progressive Reform, and the Brookings Institution, it ought to work for us. Besides, a lot of political science majors do end up working at think tanks, so they would be getting a headstart.
  • We can fund the Criminal Justice department by selling the naming rights and sponsorship to a prison contractor. You know? Those private companies that build and maintain many of the prisons in this country. For example, we could have the CCA CJ Department. CCA already provides prison services in Texas, so this would not really be a stretch.
Yes, I am making light, and that is the point folks. Education is a human right for one. Two, it should be in our best interest as a society to make sure it remains affordable and accessible. And when I say in our best interest, I mean that society should be the ones funding it. Joking aside, letting corporations do a lot of the funding does raise questions about neutrality and objectivity. We need to remember that little detail about conflict of interest. Then again, if most people figure that higher education (along with public education) is not really that important, then let's go ahead and let the corporations and foundations pick up the tab. It works for the arts and humanities (just look at most local symphony orchestras for example). Maybe instead of whining about taxes, think for a moment about some of the things those taxes might fund, including the education of your own children (if you have them). At the end of the day, would you rather those children get and education and become productive citizens (who will work, pay taxes, so on), or would you rather they end up in prison (where your taxes have to pay to house and feed them)?

A hat tip to The Kept-Up Librarian.

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