Schools: Will Teach Ayn Rand for Money

by Vault Education Editors | May 06, 2011

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So much time and effort put into scrubbing the stain of greed from the image of business schools, and here comes John Allison, former banker and Ayn Rand devotee, offering up fistfuls cash to schools willing to teach the Objectivist tenets of reason, self-interest and laissez faire capitalism.

To get up to $2 million dollars from BB&T, the bank where Allison was CEO and chairman, schools would have to offer up a slice of the curriculum and teach a course on capitalism where Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is required reading.

Allison’s crusade to counter what he considers the anti-capitalist orthodoxy at universities has produced results--and controversy. Some 60 schools, including at least four campuses of the University of North Carolina, began teaching Rand’s book after getting the foundation money. Faculty at several schools that have accepted Allison’s terms are protesting, saying donors shouldn’t have the power to set the curriculum to pursue their political agendas, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its June issue.

“We have sought out professors who wanted to teach these ideas,” says Allison, now a professor at Wake Forest University’s business school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “It’s really a battle of ideas. If the ideas that made America great aren’t heard, then their influence will be destroyed.”

Two professors from institutions that accepted BB&T’s donation wrote public letters addressing the problems of selling part of the curriculum.

Here is Richie Zweigenhaft of Guilford College, writing in Academe.

The message that students in business and economics will get at Guilford until 2019 is this: for those ten years, some faculty members will assign Atlas Shrugged, a novel that has never previously been assigned at Guilford College in its entirety, so that we can receive $50,000 a year. At a faculty meeting, one of my colleagues suggested, probably facetiously, that for those courses that require students to read Ayn Rand, the syllabi should acknowledge the role of the BB&T grant in the assignment—maybe something along the lines of “this assignment was brought to you by the BB&T Foundation.”

I believe she was kidding, but maybe she wasn’t. I think she is right that we should be honest with our students about why we assign what we do, although I fear that many students would see such a disclaimer as unsurprising. They are used to product placement and sponsorship. Guilford is already a Coke school (maybe it’s Pepsi). Now we’re an Ayn Rand school. Everything, they might rightly conclude, is for sale, even the college curriculum.

And Gary H. Jones, also in Academe, quoting Brian Leiter on why Rand's philosophy/POV (favorable/unfavorable) doesn’t merit a place in the curriculum:

 “A course on the moral foundations of capitalism might include Atlas Shrugged, though it’s not an obvious choice—it’s badly written and simpleminded,” said the University of Chicago’s Brian Leiter, director of the Center of Law, Philosophy, and Human Values. For such a course, he said, the must-reads would include Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. “There is a large contemporary philosophical literature defending markets by scholars like Robert Nozick, David Schmidtz, and Jerry Gaus. I would think at a serious university and in a serious course, you would look at this kind of work long before you get to Ayn Rand.”

And the trailer for Atlas Shrugged, part one of a trilogy:

[Bloomberg]

[Photo: AP Images/Ross Taylor]

Related: NYT: Give BB&T Liberty, but Not a Bailout

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