Spellings Has A Choice: Corporations or Students
Margaret Spellings is now the UNC system President and her track record of privatizing education doesn't bode well for faculty and students. If she continues this trend, private funding with strings attached is where the UNC system will be left.
Spellings’ background as a former secretary of education under President George W. Bush and a former board member for Apollo Education Group, the parent company of the for-profit University of Phoenix, naturally raises concerns that she will welcome corporations and corporate-backed advocacy groups eager to promote their agendas. If she does, she will hardly be the first to do so.
Whether Spellings encourages or tries to turn back this trend may determine whether she succeeds or fails. If she takes the corporate money and loses the system’s faculty, she will be embroiled in dissent and controversy. If she stands up for academic freedom and faculty control of the curriculum, she may disappoint her political sponsors, but will gain stature as a leader who protected the university’s integrity and served its mission in a time of financial and political stress.
For a sense of the pressures to come at UNC’s 17 campuses, consider the controversy at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. The university is split over the establishment of the Capital Center for the Study of Free Enterprise. The proposed center is to be funded by a $2 million grant from the conservative Charles Koch Foundation.
Faculty members oppose the center as an effort by a corporate titan to dictate what will – and won’t – be taught in certain business courses. WCU’s chancellor, provost and board of trustees – seeing a chance for new funding in a time of shrinking state support – overruled the faculty and approved the center.
In a statement, the WCU Faculty Senate said: “The Charles Koch Foundation has previously set forth explicit expectations in line with their political views in exchange for monetary gifts to universities, thereby constraining academic freedom by influencing and interfering with the development of new knowledge.”