The article from last Wednesday fails to give necessary background on why changing the school’s name to the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs after a large donation, without student or faculty involvement, can devalue our SPEA degrees.
It puzzles me that the administration would choose to make such a big change to the top public affairs school in the world without allowing any faculty or student input or announcing it was happening until the day it became official.
Throughout my time at this school, which I am proud to attend, professors have always emphasized avoiding community collapse by understanding the needs of the community through outreach and creating dialogue before decisions are made. I cannot help but wonder why the administration took this top-down approach to the renaming, rather than following its own advice.
I became especially concerned after learning that Paul O’Neill acquired the name following his $30 million donation, and knowing myself already that SPEA’s external funding records have not been updated in two years. The original article unfortunately made it sound like students are only hesitant about this change because of disliking Paul O’Neill himself, rather than the cloudy circumstances under which this change was made.
That’s not to say I don’t have disagreements with the face of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs being the former CEO of an environmentally damaging corporation; however, the issues students have with this decision go far beyond this detail.
Transparent IU is an organization that seeks to protect academic freedom by encouraging SPEA to reject donations that include conditional requirements, such as conducting biased research for the donor or allowing the donor to alter the curriculum to further their agenda. Students should conduct research and learn in the classroom with free inquiry, and without corporate influence.
When looking at how the Koch brothers have used conditional donations at places such as Arizona State University to fund research that denies climate change, thus protecting their corporate fossil fuel interests, it becomes clear how similar corruption could be occurring at IU. This is why the donation and name change is so concerning regarding the value of our degrees, it makes students wonder what other stipulations are attached to that money beyond acquiring the title of the school, and what corporate agendas that money might serve.
It is hard to trust that SPEA will do what is best for the students and faculty with this money after previous failures to include them in decision-making. It also removes trust from the new dean selection process, as some wonder whether it will truly include input beyond the administration, despite the appearance of student and faculty input. If SPEA is to continue upholding its proud global reputation, it will need to start considering the needs and opinions of those who are so proud to work at or attend the school.
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