The dangers of private funding

Should our public university be funded by private dollars? The Daily’s Aug. 11 article on the 73 percent increase in private donations would lead us to thinks so. The article quotes various University officials, whose words assure us that there are no possible problems with public institutions accepting millions of dollars from alumni and corporations. However, there are multiple problems that arise when a public university is forced to enter into the marketplace to gain funding.
The University stresses the amount of money given by alumni, while downplaying the millions given by corporations. Although 34,517 alumni donated $75 million to the University last year, 6,198 institutional donors gave $94.1 million. Admittedly, there are problems with alumni giving millions of dollars to the U: The biggest contributions are obviously extraordinarily wealthy individuals — who else could afford to give away millions? These alumni all have a specific agenda. Take the donation from Elmer L. Andersen: Although his donation is categorized as an “alumni” gift, he is known among other things for being the chief executive officer of H.B. Fuller Company, a paint/adhesive manufacturer, among whose chief products is a glue that is banned because of its toxicity in the United States but is exported to Third World companies. And Andersen’s “alumni” money went to fund a chair in corporate responsibility in 1990!
Corporate donations — which totaled just $94.1 million last year — are even worse. Martha Douglas, director of communications at the University of Minnesota Foundation, is quoted in the Daily’s article as saying research companies donate money to the University “not necessarily to promote research for their own benefit.” Douglas must be incredibly naive or intentionally deceptive if she believes her own words. The fact is, among other things, the University gives high tech research companies a cheap labor pool to exploit, research facilities and patentable products. Instead of putting expensive researchers on their own payroll, companies can instead make a “charitable” contribution to the University and institute a public/private relationship where they have access to research and can patent products that come from hard-working, underpaid graduate students and professors.
Take the recent $10 million dollar donation to the University by Cargill, Inc. This donation was the largest in Cargill’s history. Cargill, the largest agribusiness corporation in the world, donated less than two percent of its 1999 earnings to assist in the construction of the new Microbial and Plant Genomics building, but it will have complete access to research. In this new facility, a part of the University’s publicized “Campaign Minnesota,” scientists and corporate researchers will work side by side to genetically engineer “better” crops. Now, did Cargill donate this money to help further the educational needs of the students at the University? To benefit the hard-working taxpayers of the state? I doubt it. We, the taxpayers, will be paying for most of the new building, but I doubt we will see any benefits — only a lot of plants patented by Cargill, Inc.
I don’t blame University officials for being thrilled at the amount of private donations the University is receiving. Higher education is not a high priority in our society, unfortunately, and public universities rarely get enough money from their state legislatures. However, we encounter many problems when a public institution is being financed by so much private money. Where will the money go? Who will be funded at the expense of whom? Although many private donations are unrestricted, others, like the Cargill donation, aren’t. I doubt Cargill would donate millions to research organic farming, or to a program or department that questioned genetic manipulation of plants. And alumni have their specific interests as well. The influx of private money into our University should not be accepted without question — we need to realize who is giving money and for what reasons. Public universities should not have to put themselves on market for the highest bidder.
Jessica Patridge is a junior cultural studies major. Send comments to the Daily at [email protected]