Colleges and universities never seem to have enough money to do all the things they need or want to do. Theyre always trying to cultivate deep-pocketed donors.
But when donors want to finance specific courses of study, the conclusion has to be drawn that theyre aiming to shape the curriculum to suit their own purposes. That puts the institution on thin ice in risking that scholarship will be skewed by politics.
On thin ice is where several North Carolina institutions find themselves, having accepted grants in recent years to fund instruction featuring the works of Ayn Rand, novelist and conservative political theorist. Rand has lately been in the news because she has been championed by the Republican candidate for vice president, Paul Ryan.
The grants have come from the charitable foundation of BB&T, whose now-retired chairman, John Allison, was a Rand enthusiast. As of 2008, the banks 37 grants to support instruction about capitalism and free markets had totaled $38 million; the bank declined to provide an updated total in response to a query from The N&O. Recipients have included a number of North Carolinas public and private colleges and universities.
N.C. State University, which won a grant totaling $2 million over 10 years, established the BB&T Center for the Study of Free Markets and Institutions. Its aim has been to infuse economics study with a liberal arts perspective and to expose students to a broad range of ideas. Well and good but the line between instruction and indoctrination can be a fine one.
A healthier example was set by Meredith College, which in 2005 turned down a BB&T grant out of concern that academic independence would be compromised.
Whether the push comes from the right or left, offers from ideologically motivated donors should elicit the same response: If the money comes with no strings attached, it can be gratefully accepted. If there are strings, better not to become entangled.