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February 10th, 2008:

Signatories To The WHO FCTC

View the Signatories to the WHO FCTC here.

Saying No to Tobacco Money

How McCombs decided to put a halt to donations derived from the sale of a product that’s dangerous to consumer health

by George W. Gau – Viewpoint February 10, 2008 – Business Week

In November of last year, the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin instituted a new policy regarding the school’s relationship with tobacco companies: It would no longer accept money from them. This ban covers contributions to student organizations, career fairs, faculty research projects, and research centers.

Was this a difficult decision? We certainly knew it would be controversial as well as unprecedented for an American business school. However, after careful deliberation, it was a decision we believed was right for our school and our students. The school’s leadership joined me in believing it is not ethical for us to continue to accept donations from tobacco companies, since those gifts come from revenue generated through the sale of a product that has damaging health consequences for its consumers.

This is not to say we did not fully consider all the arguments against instituting this policy. I respect and understand these different viewpoints. The most prominent argument against such a ban is the “slippery slope” one. A few of the negative letters I received from alumni addressed this point. What will be next? Banning donations from fast-food companies? From alcohol companies?

For me, this argument doesn’t hold up. It is evident that tobacco has been a unique product in American history, and extensive research has shown it is highly addictive and harmful. While there are other legal products that can be misused by some, such as alcohol, tobacco is different in that it is damaging no matter how it’s used.

Many universities and schools that have debated similar bans on tobacco money, such as the University of California system, have received pushback from faculty who consider it an incursion on academic freedom. We considered this as well. I would have been concerned if we had faculty research projects that were dependent on funding from tobacco companies, because banning those funds could have infringed on the freedom of those faculty members to pursue their research. However, all of the research at the school that was supported by tobacco donations could continue without that funding.

As for the students, to their credit, the organizations that have lost funding have been supportive and respectful of the decision.

Under the new policy, tobacco companies will still be allowed to recruit prospective employees at our school. I believe that as a public university, we do not have the right to prohibit recruitment activities by lawful companies. Therefore we will continue to provide them with the same placement support given to other companies. This assistance includes posting job opportunities, allowing on-campus interviews, offering information sessions, and requesting résumé books from our programs.

At McCombs, we have put ethics at the core of our mission in educating the next generation of business leaders. In the final analysis, I simply felt that accepting money from an industry that has caused so much harm to so many without any redeeming qualities was incompatible with this mission.

George W. Gau is dean of the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.