Decreasing government funds lead to more corporate donations on campus

Karla Karcioglu, Contributor Ω

Students hang out in the newly renamed BMO Student Street. PHOTO BY KARLA KARCIOGLU

Students hang out in the newly renamed BMO Student Street. – PHOTO BY KARLA KARCIOGLU

The number of corporate donations to TRU is increasing, leaving the face of our campus covered with brand names. With the newly-renamed BMO Student Street in Old Main, the CIBC Mezzanine in the Campus Activities Centre and the Kamloops Daily News classroom in the House of Learning to name a few, students would be within their rights to question the ethics of corporate funding.

Christopher Seguin, TRU’s vice president of advancement; Jason Brown, TRU faculty association (TRUFA) president; and Katherine Sutherland, TRU’s vice president academic, all feel it is ethical, yet still a complex issue.

Brown said universities are under great pressure to make up for the shortfall of government funding in more recent years.

“If the government is not keeping up with the same percent of funding as it has in the past,” he said, “then what’s the university going to do? You either shut down a lot of programs [or] lay off a lot of faculty, it’s not in our best interests to just blanketly say corporations are bad, we don’t want them around.”

In 2010 government funding for TRU was about $78 million. In 2011 it was $78.6 million, but by 2012 it dropped to only $74.2 million. In fact, when you calculate the rate of inflation, TRU has received less government funding in recent years than it did in 2008, when it received $73.94 million – $80.22 million in today’s money.

Seguin, the university’s chief fundraiser, said that it applied for the funding from BMO that resulted in the renaming of Student Street in exchange for a donation of $600,000.

He said the best type of fundraising is where both parties understand each other’s motivations and expectations upfront.

“We apply with a use already in mind,” Seguin said, adding donors do not have any control over how their money is spent within the school.

A student exits the new Kamloops Daily News Classroom in the HOL. PHOTO BY KARLA KARCIOGLU

A student exits the new Kamloops Daily News Classroom in the HOL. – PHOTO BY KARLA KARCIOGLU

“You have to draw a thick line between donation and expectation and influence,” Seguin said. “If they wanted to dictate the spending, we wouldn’t accept the gift.”

He said corporations could invest in a number of things, including health care, but by investing in education, “they are making a statement.”

Seguin said there is a stigma with gifts and that often people assume investment comes with influence, but he recognizes the huge opportunity they create.

Sutherland, vice president academic, has mixed feelings about corporate donations. She said that since government funding is not increasing, schools are left with two options: make cuts or seek other funds.

She said although some may feel the university is selling itself on the market, the thing to remember is “[everyone] will complain equally loudly when things are cut.”

She said there are three major ethical questions arising from corporate or private funding: where are the funds coming from, what is the organization’s mission and what will the funds be used for.

“There’s tons of discussion about how we organize those priorities,” Sutherland said.

Brown said that TRUFA, which has its own human rights committee, hasn’t had any concerns with the corporations who have made donations to TRU.

“Naming is not so problematic,” said Brown. TRUFA would be concerned if restrictions were put on academic freedom or if the donor was “socially irresponsible.”

“Corporations aren’t bad just because they are corporations,” Brown said.

Sutherland said private donations from individuals are not necessarily a better option than corporate donations.

“There is no guarantee that an individual donor is a more ethical donation than a public donor, and it may be harder to get information on an individual donor than a public donor.”

Sutherland also said even when you get money from the government it is never without strings.

“Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Yes we’re going to give you funds, but only for these two programs because we’ve decided these are the two important programs,’” she said. “And let me tell you that program is never philosophy.

“Students have a huge say in our fundraising priorities,” Sutherland said. More than 3,000 students contributed to the new academic plan, which is used to drive fundraising priorities. “Students have had a huge impact on setting those priorities,” she said, “and they are very academic priorities.”

Sutherland said ideally governments should fund universities more, but “looking at public debt, its ultimately our students who have to pay off that debt.”

“I know that sometimes when you walk down that hallway and you see all these things that are named you can feel a little bit cynical,” Sutherland said. “But the other way you could look at it is each one of those placards is an announcement of support from your community for this university.”

“It’s a trend across the country,” Brown said. “It hasn’t affected TRU as much as some other more established universities, but it seems to be coming.”

Sutherland said it’s important to question the decisions of the university and to always have public discussions.

“It’s the role of the students to question and scrutinize everything the university does,” Sutherland said. “As soon as they start asking us about every decision we make, it means our job is done, we’ve created educated citizens.”