“By buying their way into academic, scientific, and cultural institutions, the rich have quietly undermined democracy” -Sally Haslanger (MIT) on philanthropy, plutocracy, and democracy.

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The rich have made up most of those subgroups for a long time. I think a more accurate term would be newly rich.


So, it seems from a lot of the comments that many people are missing the bigger point here. It’s not that “there’s money in academia today.” Of course there is. Money has been a factor in academia since the first university students pooled their resources and hired the first faculty at the Sorbonne nearly 1000 years ago. What’s happening right now is more than just money. Maybe an example, derived from personal observation of corporate and foundation relations at a US university, will help illustrate: Assistant professor Alice Bozo at Bling University is a right-wing crank whose life’s work has been using hoosgowlogy to prove her theory of race superiority. Dr Bozo’s research is garbage and [edit: ~~Bozo]~~ Bling has only retained her so far because she’s cheap, meets her teaching requirements, and doesn’t make too much trouble. But then Corporate and Foundation receives a call from the Vultch Institute for Ethnographic Hoosgowlogy, saying that they want to endow an academic chair in sociology dedicated to advancing hoosgowlogical research, in honor of legendary hoosgowlogist B. A. Dorkus. C&F does some cursory research and is super excited — “hey,” they say, “there is this amazing coincidence, we have a professor that fits that description perfectly, where do we sign up?” Of course the way this works, Bling gets a 40% cut of whatever the institute’s endowment pays out, so this is good news for the university’s general budget. So then Dr Bozo gets a call from Bling’s Chancellor, saying, “hey, we have some life changing news for you, we’d like to offer you the new Dorkus Chair in Sociology, which will mean lifetime tenure.” Dr Bozo, bemused that decadent liberal Bling is offering tenure but not an idiot, of course accepts. Bozo doesn’t know or care about the Vultch Institute grant, as far as she is concerned, Bling has simply finally recognized the undeniable validity of her race superiority theories, which she is now free to promulgate to her heart’s content, with the added bonus that everything she publishes from now on carries the weight of Bling Univeristy’s venerable 300 year old reputation. For their part, Corporate and Foundation doesn’t really know anything about Dr Bozo’s racist research, all they knew was that there was a professor who matched the Vultch Institute endowment criteria. And that is what makes this whole system possible. Because, you see, Vultch was actually founded by a right-wing think tank for the sole purpose of endowing Dr Bozo and embedding her ideas permanently into the fabric of Bling U. Bling doesn’t allow person-specific endowments — no reputable university does. But because C&F doesn’t have anyone who checks this stuff, or understands academic legitimacy, all they see or care about is the bottom line of the grant, and they don’t notice that Dorkus and ethnographic hoosegowlogy were discredited a long time ago. They don’t grasp that Vultch, which was created exactly 1 year ago and has only ever given 1 endowment, is a cutout, for funneling targeted money to selected projects. And even if Dr Bozo were highly principled and would refuse to stand for this kind of corruption of academic process even though it benefits her, there is a good chance she will never find out the details of the endowment arrangement to begin with, because Bling keeps its “business side” separate from its “academic side.” And, let’s be honest, not many people are going to go out of their way to look too closely at who is laying their golden eggs. TL; DR — corruption of academic decision-making through secretive money manipulation is real and a new thing.


This predated democracy. Surely.


Meh. The problem isn’t that wealthy people have bought the “freedom […] to realise their own vision of what is good” or that they engage in ” burnishing reputations” through philanthropy. If buying these things is so bad, *they shouldn’t be for sale.* The problem that I have with articles like this is that they presume that the people who take the money of the wealthy are too hapless and impoverished to be complicit in the corruption that the authors complain about. Money isn’t magical; the money itself doesn’t prevent people from being held accountable for “great crimes.” People who are willing to look the other way in exchange for a payoff do.


The fact that they could buy their way in shows that it was never a democracy to begin with. It was always capitalism.