August 25, 2003
Microsoft Money Influencing What College Students Learn
While some of the research money and gifts that Microsoft has provided to top-tier universities and individual faculty has enabled projects that would otherwise have been financially impossible, a growing number of concerns have been raised about the degree to which these gifts are reducing the range of ideas that students have access to during their education.
"The corporation...has also directly or indirectly influenced curriculums and research priorities, drawing an outcry from critics who say the donations are turning computer science departments into vocational schools where mastery of proprietary computer programs are valued over the study of theory."
As an academic, I'm very aware of the fine line that researchers tread between doing things that benefit their students in the short run (e.g., getting corporate donations) and doing things that potentially harm the pedagogy in the long run (e.g., not exposing students to a variety of ideas and theories). The size of Microsoft's war chest, which it achieved through its monopolistic practices, to pursue these relationships is stunning, as the article goes on to point out:
"Today, more than 2,000 professors from top-tier schools are considered close collaborators with Microsoft, accepting cash, software, hardware or other in-kind donations from the company for specific research projects or classes. ... Microsoft's total research and development budget -- $4.7 billion in 2003, $4.3 billion in 2002 and $4.4 billion in 2001 -- is estimated to be more than all the rest of the software industry spends together. ... In comparison, according to the National Science Foundation, computer science department expenditures at all universities and colleges from all sources for 2001 was less than $1 billion."
Hmm...makes you wonder if www.microsoft.edu isn't just around the corner.