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Should universities accept morally-questionable cash donations?

Source: Sharon Mccutcheon/Unsplash

Alumni members with cash to spare may choose to donate money to their alma mater as a gift of thanks.

This form of financial gratitude helps universities support students in many different ways.

For instance, funding a revolutionary research project that could help solve some of the world’s deadliest diseases, or renovating disabled facilities across campus spaces.

By donating lump sums of money, big or small, alumni members ensure their university has the resources to needed to impact other learners’ lives and to continue the institution’s legacy.

But is it wrong to accept such cash injections if the morals and motivations behind them are questionable?

Some alumni members just want to make a change and improve the student experience. Source: Kat Yukawa/Unsplash

Recently, Cambridge University in the UK has received negative attention for accepting donations from global fossil fuel corporations, BP and BHP.

As The Guardian explains, “Documents seen by the Guardian show the university management was aware of a proposed £20m donation offered by BHP – subsequently withdrawn – and £2m from BP, as it considered whether to fully divest its fortune from fossil fuels.”

Whether the university accepted these offers has not yet been proven, but it’s known that they were considered to fund new laboratories and teaching and learning spaces for Earth Sciences and the battle against climate change.

To accept these donations from a colossal fossil fuel producer would be incredibly ironic, and it’s understandable that students and the public don’t agree.

But is it fair to judge the source of the money if it’s going towards environmental change efforts and student facilities?

Expressing a different opinion towards these donations, Study International interviewed a current BHP employee in Malaysia to further understand the issue.

“For me, I don’t think it’s fair that donations are held back because of the company’s ties with fossil fuels. If the money is going towards projects that will produce effective changes to our eco-system, why push it back? As long as Cambridge University can prove how that donation will be used and where it is going, I don’t see what the problem is?

“The amount of Cambridge alumni that must be working in companies like mine – it must be a huge figure! So, really, it’s a process of giving back and helping other learners to follow their ambitions regardless of what their company may or may have not done – we should judge the individual rather than their job.”

To expand the BHP interviewee’s point, The Canary released a list of key members of Cambridge senior management who have ties to the industry. “Of the 14 members of Cambridge’s finance committee, six either work or have worked for fossil fuel companies,” it explained.

So, in reflection of this incident, do you think it’s wrong for an alumni member or a member of a university’s senior management to donate a sum of money that will encourage student development?

Or do you think that universities like Cambridge should pay better attention to who is donating the money and why they are donating the money?

*For the sake of anonymity, the interviewee’s name has been changed

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