Charlotte Observer (3/23):
As a college student in Chapel Hill, John Allison stumbled across a collection of essays by Ayn Rand and was hooked by her philosophy of self-interest and limited government. As he rose over the decades to chief executive of BB&T, one of the country’s leading regional banks, Rand remained his muse.
He’s trying to replicate that encounter through the charitable arm of his Winston-Salem-based company, which since 1999 has awarded more than $28 million to 27 colleges to support the study of capitalism from a moral perspective. But on at least 17 of those campuses, including UNC Charlotte, N.C. State and Johnson C. Smith University, the gifts come with an unusual stipulation: Rand’s novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” is included in a course as required reading.
The schools’ agreements have drawn criticism from some faculty, who say it compromises academic integrity. In higher education, the power to decide course content is supposed to rest with professors, not donors. Debate about the gifts, which arose at UNCC this month, illustrates tensions that exist over corporate influence on college campuses.
UNCC received its $1 million gift pledge in 2005, but details about the “Atlas Shrugged” requirement came to light as the school dedicated an Ayn Rand reading room March 12.
“It’s going to make us look like a rinky-dink university,” UNCC religious studies professor Richard Cohen said Thursday after UNCC Chancellor Phil Dubois told the faculty council about the gift. “It’s like teaching the Bible as a requirement.”
Dubois, who learned of the book requirement this month, says it was ill-advised. He may ask Allison to reconsider it, he told faculty.
Allison has been surprised that the gifts can generate controversy. He says he simply wants students exposed to the late author’s ideas, which he believes the academic community has largely ignored. He welcomes opposing ideas.
He also points out that the schools approached the foundation, not the other way around.
Yale bent over backwards (as it were) to negotiate a deal allowing the administration to save face while accepting an alumni gift to endow a program of Gay Studies amounting to virtual advocacy. Ayn Rand’s philosophic views are hardly a less legitimate subject for academic study.