Book Blasts Corporate Cash Influence at Universities

‘How Corporate Cash Bought American Higher Education’

 New book outlines how rich donors have become more assertive about how their money should be used and explores the costs to higher ed.

–By Marjorie Valbrun November 2, 2018

A new book about Nike Inc. and company founder Phil Knight has renewed debate about the corrosive influence of big donors on higher ed and the serious consequences of the unchecked power the author says is wielded by rich benefactors.

The book, University of Nike: How Corporate Cash Bought American Higher Education(Melville House) by journalist Joshua Hunt, is a searing indictment of how corporations in general, and Nike in particular, have compromised the integrity and independence of college administrators, especially presidents of public institutions operating with decreased state funding.

The book also argues that Nike founder Knight used his wealth to shape university policies and practices at the expense of students, faculty and even taxpayers.

A large part of the book is focused on what the author describes as Knight’s officious and sometimes bullying behavior as the University of Oregon’s top donor. The book also delves to a lesser extent into Nike’s actions at other colleges and universities to which the company or Knight donated money, or with whom Nike did business.

In example after example, Hunt details how Knight, an Oregon alumnus and now chairman emeritus of Nike, has used his gifts to control and systematically transform the football program at Oregon into a national powerhouse and gain increasing say over the university’s athletic department, including hiring and firing decisions. Along the way, academic programs became secondary to football, according to the book.

For instance, in 2000 Knight temporarily froze his ties with Oregon over its decision to join a labor consortium pushing for better working conditions at Nike factories in developing countries. He withheld $30 million he planned to give Oregon and instead made a large donation to Stanford University, where he attended business school. As a result, a stadium expansion at Oregon that Knight money was to help fund was halted and became “saddled with ballooning costs,” according to an article by Hunt published in Pacific Standard last week.

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