Defining the Institution's Values
Four questions to guide discussions of gift acceptance
By Kirk O.
Most institutions will find it easy to rule against accepting gifts from
donors who participate in illegal activities. The ethical dilemmas begin
when the prospective donor engages in a behavior that some find morally
My own university provides a good example. On March 4, a group of "concerned
students for justice and peace" distributed an e-mail message to
the entire Santa Clara University community protesting the School of Engineering’s
acceptance of a $50,000 gift from Lockheed Martin Corp.
Its position was that Lockheed Martin profits from the militarization
of the United States and other countries, sells arms to repressive third-world
countries, has contracts to design nuclear warheads and produce land mines,
and is part of an effort to maintain U.S. political and economic dominance,
creating greater global stratification into "haves" and "have-nots."
The students urged the Santa Clara administration to reject the gift as
inconsistent with the Jesuit commitment to the poor and oppressed.
Although university officials welcomed the students' opinions, their
decision to accept the gift stands. "Only new facts after acceptance
of a gift would lead any responsible institution to such a dramatic act"
as returning a gift, says James Purcell, Santa Clara’s vice president
for university relations. In response to the student protests, however,
SCU President Paul Locatelli will work directly with senior administrators
to draft a policy—with community input—to guide the university in accepting
future gifts. In doing so, the administrators should consider the following
Who decides the institution's values? Are the values only those that
have been written down? Or do they need to reflect the values of its constituencies?
Administrators must respect the values of all members of the campus community—students,
faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni. For instance, in the United States,
tobacco and land mines are legal products, and there is no restriction
on the sale of arms to Israel. One segment of the campus community might
object to any one of these products or activities while another segment
is just as likely to support it.
In many cases the institution can face a vocal group that represents
a minority opinion. The protesting students at Santa Clara were few in
number, probably fewer than the number of ROTC students on campus and
certainly fewer than the 400 alumni who work for Lockheed Martin. In other
situations, student protesters may not share the same values as another
segment of the campus community.
Does the objectionable behavior have to be habitual or just sufficiently
grave? A great amount of damage can be done by a head-in-the-sand attitude
toward a consistent pattern of corporate malfeasance, even if the company
has justified each alleged behavior. On the other hand, just one sufficiently
serious offense may be enough to justify ending the campus's relationship
with the organization. In my view, a policy should ban gifts from companies
with "consistent, repeated, and serious" offenses, and the policy
should set a relatively high bar for these distinctions.
Are certain businesses fundamentally inconsistent with the institution's
core values? Conservative Christian institutions might want to avoid associations
with companies that have liquor or gambling interests. Medical schools
might decide tobacco company contributions are inconsistent with their
mission. But today's conglomerates make these distinctions more difficult.
What if a food company has a tobacco division? What if a pharmaceutical
company produces abortion drugs?
At Santa Clara, we debated whether a Jesuit university committed to social
justice and the poor must automatically turn down all defense industry
gifts. Catholic and Jesuit writings embrace at least two ethical traditions—pacifism
and just war. And the chain of causality—from modern arms production to
promoting militarism and repression—is at least unproven.
What is the appropriate response when the campus community objects to
a donor or gift? The most common strategy is probably silence—and at times
this is appropriate, such as when the protest is from a vocal minority.
At other times, silence might imply the institution does not respect its
The administration cannot show too much sympathy for the protestors'
position lest donors fear the campus will abandon them at the first sign
of controversy. On the other hand, it cannot issue a ringing defense of
the donor for fear it will inflame protesters. In some cases, delay can
be useful in stemming controversy.
Regardless of the institution's decision, the event itself creates a
"teachable moment." After the student e-mail protest, Santa
Clara administrators asked the ethics center to host an open campus forum
on whether the university should have a formal gift acceptance policy.
The 90-minute forum featured presentations by students on both sides of
the issue as well as comments by the engineering school dean and Purcell;
Locatelli was on hand to listen to comments. Several professors made the
controversy the topic of a class session. The event highlighted many of
the complexities in separating companies into the good and the bad.
Copyright © 1998 Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.