Criticism of tobacco donation builds


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 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.”

3 thoughts on “Criticism of tobacco donation builds

  • The continuing negative (national) press coverage to this “gift” and backlash from staff and students is no surprise. An article in the Guardian this week (see the end of this response for the link) has attracted a number of comments and one is worth repeating. For some reason the comments section is now closed, so the debate cannot be continued on the Guardian webpages – a shame because there are still many unanswered questions surrounding this issue.

    “For the University of Durham, surely this is not an issue of ethics, but one of judgement and leadership?

    The exchange of reader comments on here takes me back to my O-Level morality debates and is ultimately pointless. To debate whether money from the universally-maligned tobacco industry is more or less ethical than benefitting from the spoils of drink or fast food industries – or indeed from large multinational monopolisers or governments (UK or otherwise) – misses the main issue here.

    For £125,000 (peanuts in the grand scheme of HE budgets – and of course the market value of a good reputation) who at Durham thought it was a risk worth taking to associate a prestigious university brand with the tobacco industry? Surely negative press coverage and debate such as this – and backlash from staff, students and alumni (not least the usual pressure groups) was INEVITABLE. (Unless of course the plan was to cover-up the funding from tax payers and their own staff and students which is at odds with the university and BAT’s positions of ‘we’ve done nothing wrong’.)

    How did the gift come about? Who targeted who? This is where the poor judgement lies – is it in the hands of the university’s financiers and fundraisers (and are these the same ones at Durham that were behind the recent funding from the Iranian government and Kuwaiti PM)

    What advice were they given about the reputation risk of such an association and why did they ignore it?

    How much has this actually COST Durham? Surely the £125k has disappeared in a puff of smoke (pun intended) when calculations are made about damage to the Durham brand, negative publicity, staff and admin time, withdrawn funding or boycotts, lost opportunity.

    Poor leadership. Poor judgement.
    Someone needs to be held acconuntable for a mistake that will linger on the fabric of the University for years to come…..”

  • Why has the Guardian shut the comments down?
    More uni cover-up and spin I’m sure

    Still can’t believe that Bryson would put his name to funding like this. What was he thinking – the public backlash was SOOOO obvious.

  • I really hope there is a follow up article to this. There are so many unanswered questions – particularly if you read the recent Guardian piece. What will the impact of taking this “gift” be on future researchers? Are the senior “management” going to return the gift as suggested by their own academic staff AND cancer research uk? I want to know more about the ethical gifts policy that is clearly not worth the paper its written on. Come on Palatinate – more news!!


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