Over the past few decades, cutbacks in federal and provincial university resources have forced post-secondary institutions to find their own sources of funding.
In the past few years, Western accepted two controversial donations, re-naming the medical school the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry and accepting a $1-million gift from CanWest Global to fund various programs for the Faculty of Information and Media Studies.
The decision to accept either of these donations has garnered mixed reactions on campus. On one hand, some believe the school, as a public institution, should avoid affiliating itself with private enterprises at all costs.
On the other hand, receiving money from private donors grants students and professors research and work opportunities they may not have had without additional funding.
While relying on corporate sponsors for money isn’t ideal, realistically most schools must accept outside donations to remedy funding shortages.
However, many students wonder what measures the school has taken to ensure it won’t become entirely dependent on outside funding.
Currently, the only explanation Western has publicized on its website for corporate donations is a three-page document providing vague criteria for accepting “gifts” from outside sources. While having such a document is important, it can be enhanced in many areas.
For example, the document doesn’t define whom or what type of sponsors or corporations Western will accept donations from.
Not only would proper criteria for accepting sponsors make students at ease with the businesses Western affiliates itself with, criteria would help the school avoid conflicts when accepting or rejecting potential sponsors.
More importantly, no clause in the document lets Western opt out of a given sponsorship if a change in the sponsor’s status damages the school’s reputation in the future. No student, for example, would want to attend the “Chuck Guité School of Ethics,” and having an opt out clause would help Western avoid future sponsorship controversies.
These proposed amendments, along with provisions outlining how much impact sponsors can have on research or committee appointments, should be publicized to ensure donors don’t acquire too much influence in the school’s daily operations.
Overall, if government funding continues as is, universities like Western will have to rely on corporate sponsorship to maintain their competitive edge over other institutions. The school therefore must update its gift policies procedure to protect its integrity as a public institution.
Otherwise, if sponsors aren’t screened, Western could travel a dangerous path in the future.