Durham University has accepted a £125,000 donation from a controversial tobacco company, a document leaked to Palatinate reveals.
Signed in June 2010, the gift agreement confirms that British American Tobacco (BAT) will provide funding towards the Chancellor’s “Scholarships for Afghan Women” appeal. The document also explicitly states “that neither the Donor nor the University shall seek to publicize the gift”.
Some academics and students have strongly criticised the move.
A group of anonymous University staff describing themselves as ‘Concerned Academics’ told Palatinate: “The poor judgement in taking funding from the profits of a universally-maligned tobacco giant speaks volumes for the contempt that the University’s leaders and fundraisers have for the ethos and values of this University and its staff and students”.
The academics added: “The decisions taken by the University’s executives are detached from the realities of life in academic departments. There has been little or no consultation with staff in recent years on a whole range of major issues which are now having a negative effect on our reputation.”
Tim McInnis, Director of Development & Alumni Relations at the University, defended the decision.
“The BAT donation was accepted following careful consideration by the University Executive Committee (UEC) in line with its Gift Acceptance Policy, which is approved by University Council. Maximising the resources available to support studentships is an important way in which the University supports its educational purpose.
“We are proud of the project and delighted that its humanitarian ethos resonated with such a cross-section of Durham University alumni, friends and supporters.”
Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins added: “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.”
Durham Students’ Union (DSU) Education and Welfare Officer, Jake Wanstall, said: “Although I highly commend the ends achieved by the scholarship programme, I think we need to ask more questions of the University’s policy over choosing suitable donors.
“This is evident given that currently its policy does allow a company such a BAT to donate, whom many students would deem inappropriate or even unethical.”
The ‘Concerned Academics’ said that there is a growing feeling of discontent amongst academic colleagues, who are “exasperated… and increasingly worried about the direction of the University.
“The academic staff voice at Durham has been suppressed by the management of the University for many years now and we’re tired of token consultation exercises.”
When Nottingham University received funding from BAT in 2001 it was met with widespread opposition as anti-Smoking campaigners urged students to boycott the University. A leading cancer researcher even moved his team of scientists because in his view, “the university is seen to encourage smoking and that is ethically wrong”.
One anonymous academic told Palatinate that he suspected that “the rationale behind the donation was to help BAT achieve penetration into emerging markets such as Afghanistan.”
Anti-smoking charity Ash also criticised the donation.
A spokesman said: “BAT is a company that makes almost £3bn a year profit from selling an addictive product that kills half of life long users.
“There’s no stunt they wont pull to try to look like responsible citizens. The truth is they deal in death.”
In the wake of revelations that Durham had received $400,000 from the U.S. State Department to run a series of seminars on Iran, Higgins addressed the issue of funding sources in an interview with Palatinate.
He said: “drawing the line is always a difficult decision when you’ve got controversial issues, but we’ve got a very strong framework which I hope indicates we get that as right as we possibly can.”
Durham’s ‘Gift Acceptance Policy’, which the Vice-Chancellor referred to, states that the University should consider whether “the gift derives from illegal activities”.
On a number of occasions the tobacco giant has been accused of smuggling, and it has also come to light that the firm used to add appetite suppressants to its cigarettes to target female smokers.
The University responded by saying that “Tobacco is a legal product, and BAT is a FTSE100 company. In deciding to accept the donation, UEC (University Executive Committee) was confident that it was acting within the parameters of University policy and in line with its obligation to act in the best interests of the University.”
From those students Palatinate spoke to, concerns were raised but opinions were mixed.
Will Clement, a second year student at Castle, commented: “While the inconsistencies in the university’s stance towards accepting funding from tobacco companies is wrong, and it is undeniable that BAT has caused widespread harm, the university has not adopted a pro-smoking stance that would endanger students’ health.
“I feel that, in this situation, the honourable ends of the Scholarships for Afghan Women outweigh the somewhat dubious means.”
Adam Robertson, a second year student at St. Cuthbert’s Society, was stronger in his criticism.
“The message from the University concerning its gift acceptance policy seems to be that, as long as the price is right, the management is prepared to take money from anyone.
“The acceptance of money from BAT seriously puts its intellectual autonomy at risk.”
In response to the Nottingham case, a joint Cancer Research and Universities UK protocol from February 2004 said: “If a university accepts donations from the tobacco industry, Cancer Research UK considers it has a duty to publicly criticise such funding.”
Cancer Research UK is just one charity which contributed funding to a three year University study which aimed to “publicize the work of Smoke Free North East (SFNE)”, and to “inform and increase the efficiency of SFNE”. The project ended in 2009.
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