Cancer Research UK and Durham academics have publicly criticised the University’s decision to accept £125,000 from a tobacco company.
Robin Hewings, the charity’s tobacco control policy manager, said that “the tobacco industry’s record means academic institutions should have nothing to do with it”, calling on Durham to “return the money”.
The University’s interdisciplinary Smoking Interest Group also condemned the donation, describing it as “cynical philanthropy”.
They added: “We are writing to express our dismay at the University’s acceptance of a gift from British American Tobacco to help fund scholarships for Afghan women students.
“While we are extremely supportive of the University’s initiative to help the women of Afghanistan, the acceptance of this gift does not sit well with our commitment as a University to being ‘a socially-responsible institution.”
Sarah Atkinson, Associate Director of the Centre for Medical Humanities, also wrote to Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins calling on the University to return the funding.
She said that “it is perverse for us to accept this funding even as we promote ourselves as a centre that has excellence particularly in the social, political and humanities-facing dimensions to health and wellbeing.”
The reactions came after Palatinate revealed that in June 2010 the University signed an agreement with British American Tobacco (BAT) to receive £125,000 towards the Chancellor’s “Scholarships for Afghan Women” appeal.
Speaking at the time, Higgins said: “Who are we to deny these deserving students access to the Durham education you and I have been privileged to enjoy just because many of us have a personal distaste for tobacco?
“These funds were donated for charitable purposes and were intended by all parties to be anonymous and simply to do good in line with the University’s charitable and educational commitments.”
From the academics Palatinate has spoken to, there is growing disquiet at the donation itself and the way it has been handled.
The Smoking Interest Group urged “all academic members of staff to take a stand about their retirement income being dependent on the prosperity of a company which actively markets its deadly products worldwide.”