Delaware Debacle

This is a guest post by Cary Nelson, past president of the AAUP and Jubilee Professor at the University of Illinois.

Recognizing that the financial services industry succeeded in bringing the world economy to its knees, the University of Delaware administration apparently decided it was time to give them a crack at higher education. An agreement has been signed to grant JPMorgan extraordinary influence over a new PhD program  in “financial services analytics.”  It is highly unusual to give one donor so much control over an academic program.

JPMorgan is giving $17 million to renovate a building, pay program faculty, and cover student costs. In exchange JPMorgan gets to advise the university about who the faculty should be. That is the single best way to compromise academic freedom. Will JPMorgan be happy if faculty who seek more strict regulation of the financial services industry are proposed? Is there a difference between advice and influence when one company is paying the bills?

Unfortunately, the whole idea for the program grew out of negotiations between Delaware administrators and the company. The faculty are supposed to be in charge of the curriculum. That’s been a primary faculty responsibility for 100 years. By the time faculty became involved, the committee chair was arguably compromised by conflicts of interest: he already led a bank-backed campus institute.

It gets worse. JPMorgan staff will be available to sit on PhD dissertation committees. Bringing in an outside expert is common. Consistently using employees of one company is unheard of. It’s almost as if Delaware set up an experiment to see how many ways they could compromise one program.

What should Delaware do? Either find multiple sponsors for the program or abandon the plan entirely. The faculty will have an opportunity to do just that.

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