As a college student in Chapel Hill, John Allison stumbled across a collection of essays by Ayn Rand and was hooked by her philosophy of self-interest and limited government. As he rose over the decades to chief executive of BB&T, one of the country's leading regional banks, Rand remained his muse.
He's trying to replicate that encounter through the charitable arm of his Winston-Salem-based company, which since 1999 has awarded more than $28 million to 27 colleges to support the study of capitalism from a moral perspective.
But on at least 17 of those campuses, including UNC Charlotte, N.C. State and Johnson C. Smith University, the gifts come with an unusual stipulation: Rand's novel, "Atlas Shrugged," is included in a course as required reading.
The schools' agreements have drawn criticism from some faculty, who say it compromises academic integrity. In higher education, the power to decide course content is supposed to rest with professors, not donors. Debate about the gifts, which arose at UNCC this month, illustrates tensions that exist over corporate influence on college campuses.
John Allison, CEO of BB&T, has been engaged in a heroic effort to bring the study of the morality of capitalism to America's universities. As stated above, his foundation has awarded over $28 Million to at least 27 colleges under various stipulations such as that the colleges offer courses that study the ethical foundations of capitalism, that they require Ayn Rand's books to be part of the course offerings, and in some cases hold seminars or fund visiting professors to discuss and analyze the moral foundations of capitalism.
I hardly think that any effort could have a more profound impact on our society than making Ayn Rand's ideas widely known and studied on college campuses. For decades, despite the enormous influence of her ideas worldwide (not to mention the truthfulness of her arguments), entrenched leftist academics who oppose her defense of egoism and capitalism as well as conservatives who oppose her atheism have dismissed Rand's ideas. It is only recently that many Objectivist professors in various disciplines have gained tenure at major universities and with Allison's foundation leading the way it is likely that a serious movement within academia could become a reality.
The above link discusses the sudden concerns of faculty members at UNC-Charlotte who suddenly realized (after they got the $1M grant) that, "gasp", the deal requires them to teach Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand's magnum opus novel). Of course, their concerns will be couched in rhetoric related to "academic freedom" and the like but it is really a smokescreen for the fact that they do not like Rand being brought into their classrooms. Rand's ideas certainly merit serious academic scrutiny and analysis and if the college didn't like the terms then they shouldn't have taken the money.
Here's to John Allison with the hope that his efforts continue on an even wider scale and that the practical effects of Ayn Rand's philosophy can affect the culture before it is too late.
Below is an excellent op-ed defending Allison amidst the recent hysteria surrounding the grants and a link to the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism which is a model example of what Allison has been achieving.