Commercialism and Universities: An Ethical Analysis

Academic Article


  • This paper questions the ethicality of commercial relationships between universities and external donors. By examining cases such as technology transfer and the outside funding of research interests, we identify possible conflicts of interest between the external provider of financial support and academic institutions. The reality today is that university administrators, who have significant decision-making powers, proactively seek large corporate sources of funding that may compromise academic values including academic freedom and the ability to make institutional decisions without the influence of commercial interests. For example, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola have provided extensive funding to universities in return for exclusivity rights to market their product on campuses even though such products may not be healthy alternatives to other soft drinks. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies may have opposing interests to faculty and universities if the results of research do not meet the expectations of the sponsors. Curricula issues may be slanted to promote the interests of a corporation or other provider of outside funding. Corporate partnerships between universities and companies such as Nike raise ethical questions when students or other members of the campus community object to the acceptance of financial support from a company that allegedly practices anti-social labor practices in developing countries. On the other hand, corporate funding can be used to supplement diminishing financial resources available to academic institutions, especially for public universities. One benefit of external funding is that it supports pharmaceutical and technology-oriented research and development into new products and processes that have the potential to serve the public good. One cost of such funding arrangements is that the acceptance of financial support from commercial interests solely to market their products on campus restricts the choices available to students that should exist in a free market economy such as in the U. S. The ethicality of the relationship between universities and commercial interests is a matter of concern because of the potential influence of providers of external funds to universities that can compromise academic freedom and objective decision making. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Mintz S; Savage A; Carter R
  • Start Page

  • 1
  • End Page

  • 19
  • Volume

  • 8
  • Issue

  • 1