Brief Guide to Researching Your Campus
by Rich Cowan
Right-wing activity on campus is not limited to outside pressure groups; it is often present within your university's administration and board of trustees.
When a school's leaders resist calls for democratic reform, that is a sure sign of Right-wing influence. We've heard many of the excuses they use.
We "can't afford" a tuition freeze. There aren't any "qualified" minority faculty members we can hire. Women are not capable of "excellence" in math and science. Ethnic Studies requirements 'bias' the curriculum. Opening the meeting to students "politicizes" the discussions. Just wait 40 years: sexism and racism will disappear.
When we challenge these excuses the administration accuses us of naivete, while Right-wing students claim that too many university resources already have been allocated to progressive reforms.
This is where research can help.
A little digging can reveal where your school's priorities really lie. Who is controlling your university, and for what purposes? In your organizing, it will be helpful to know who pulls the strings and where the money is coming from. How much funding comes from tuition? The state? The federal government? Corporate research and user fees? Alumni and corporate contributions? Are students and taxpayers paying 70% of the university's expenses, but only given a token voice in determining the universities priorities? Is the campus administration and board of trustees connected to the entire community, or just to white male corporate America? Are their priorities ours?
The techniques presented below were used by students at the University of Massachusetts, MIT, Rutgers, and the University of Texas at Austin to fight the powers that be at those schools. These techniques can demonstrate the misuse of power by campus administrators such as John Deutch, a former provost of MIT [see "Academia Unincorporated," Z Magazine, February 1990] or William Cunningham, president of the University of Texas [see "Our Invading University, UT President William Cunningham as Corporate Agent in Austin and Indonesia," Texas Observer, Aug. 17, 1990]. When you expose the wheelings and dealings of campus officials, revealing the "true colors" of their initiatives, those officials and their Right-wing student allies will lose their effectiveness at carrying out a regressive agenda and at undermining yours. Your movement will also recognize its own power, gaining both confidence and members.
Here are some well-tested methods for finding the information you need (librarians can help too):
A. General information - In early September, the Chronicle of Higher Education releases its annual "Almanac issue" containing all the statistical tables it has published in the past year. This resource is an excellent starting point, as many of the Chronicle's tables are sorted by university. Locally, you should go to the library (or archives) and ask for three university documents: the annual treasurer's report, the annual on sponsored research, and the annual reports of various department heads to the president. If the library does not have public copies of these documents, find out what they are called and request copies from the appropriate university offices.
B. Administration Salaries - The salary of the top ten officials at a private university is located in form 990, the IRS tax forms that all non-profit organizations must file. In a few states it may be on file for public inspection in the public charities division of the state capital. Otherwise, you can call 1-800-TAX-FORM and request form 4506-A from the Internal Revenue Service, "Request for Public Inspection or Copy of Exempt Organization Tax Form." The president of Boston University made over $350,000 in 1994; the average college president salary was over $110,000. No wonder they think tuition is reasonable; they can afford it!
At public universities, the salary of top administrators is usually in the state budget, and the regents and president will probably be required to file financial disclosure with the state. Check with the same bureaucracy that handles financial disclosures for political candidates, or call the president's/ regent's offices and ask for a copy.
C. University Budget Priorities - Although the treasurer's report is helpful, it probably does not list the school's budget by accounts. Students at Rutgers and UMass used their positions on the student government to obtain more budget information from their schools than they would otherwise be given. The fact that both schools have had large demonstrations with thousands of students certainly added the leverage students needed to win disclosure.
You can try obtaining budget information through student trustees, sympathetic faculty who receive financial memos as department chairpersons, and the office of your provost. At public universities, the Freedom of Information Act or Sunshine Law of your state may give you all the leverage you need. At the Secretary of State's office in your state, information on university-owned trusts, university-affiliated investment corporations, and university bond filings for construction projects should be available. You can even get a copy of your school's bylaws, which may include democratic procedures which your ignores.
D. Major University Donors - Major gifts and grants to the university should be listed in university's complete treasurer's report. 990 forms may list all donors of more than $5000 to your school, with addresses. You could also try to get this information directly from the portion of the campus bureaucracy which solicits donations. Find the top bureaucrat and request a listing. At public universities, donor lists should be a matter of public record. At the first sign of resistance file an open records request for the desired information.
E. University Portfolios and the Corporations on them - A full treasurer's report will usually list investments. Since these investments also change, you will want to request a more current list as Tufts students did before waging a divestment campaign.
F. Tuition and Financial Aid Historically vs. Inflation - Try back issues of any large U.S. almanac such as the "World Almanac" for a list of thousands of college tuition figures for that year. Try the Statistical Abstract of the US for some additional statistics. The university financial aid office will probably provide lists of statistics to you.
G. Minority Enrollment and Faculty Representation - Your first task is to gather enrollment statistics, which your university is required to keep if it accepts government funds. A summary by race appears each year in the Chronicle of Higher Education for all colleges except those which escape the reporting requirement by refusing government financial aid money (i.e. Hillsdale College). Are these figures correct, or is your university playing with the numbers to escape the heat? Network with other minority students to see what efforts have been made to correct any deficiencies in minority representation.
While you are gathering statistics, demand a tally of minority and women faculty by department and by tenure status from the President or Provost of your school. You may ask whether the official faculty regulations and hiring policies contain explicit anti-racist language. If affirmative action is endorsed by the administration but left up to individual departments, do departments ignore this policy? We must publicize the numbers so that departments with bad records will feel the heat and open up a few slots to untenured women or faculty of color.
H. Harassment (sexual or racial) - For harassment research, you are likely to encounter some obstacles. You can check campus police crime reports, but internal university records on harassment by faculty members are seldom disclosed. It may take quite a bit of digging around, including meetings and interviews with other students, to identify professors prone to racial or sexual harassment or insults.
It may be helpful to consult the discrimination related government agencies of your city, your state, the US Department of Education, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Finally, go to the clerk's office in the courthouse of the county in which your school is located to see if your school is a defendant in any active cases which may relate to sex or race discrimination. Simply look up the docket numbers of the cases your university is involved in and request to see them.
I. Research, science, and education statistics historically - Call up the National Science Board, at (202) 357-9582 for a copy of Science Indicators 1990, which is published every two years by the Board, an arm of the National Science Foundation. If you tell them the copy is for a review by your campus newspaper, they'll probably send you the 400-page book for free!
J. Research Contracts (Government and Military) - Your university (try "sponsored research" office) may be willing to provide you with a free listing of all externally funded research, both corporate and military. If they do not do this, remind them that as a taxpayer you have a right to information on publicly-funded research!
You can apply pressure within the university for a current list (not a 2-year-old one), and take direct action if you are refused. You can try the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for disclosure of contracts.
If you manage to get a list of contracts by agency, you then can ask to see the contracts themselves. Each research contract includes 100 pages of irrelevant information, so it is best to choose what you want carefully before becoming inundated with paper. If your university refuses to provide the contracts, you can use the Federal FOIA to obtain them. Tips to using the Freedom of Information Act are located in Packets 2 and 3 of the War Research Info Service (see back cover for ordering information).
K. Research Contracts (Corporate) - Corporate research contracts are sometimes harder to track down. The procedure is the same as for military contracts, except that you cannot go to the federal government for assistance since they do not fund the contracts. At public universities corporate research contracts will be available under open records statutes, though in some states segments of contracts dealing with "proprietary" information will be deleted. You may get a few leads by looking at the advisory boards for all technology-related university department and buildings to see which corporations are represented. If you do get a copy of a corporate contract, see if it is a subcontract of a military contract. Is a company farming out a small piece of its weapons research to your school? Does the professor who works on that project consult for that company?
L. Outside corporate ties of administration, trustees [adapted from Z magazine, 2/90] - Administrators or faculty members that are beholden to outside companies may have agendas or time commitments which get in the way of their teaching duties. Such outside ties are worth exposing if they will show how the university is concealing the profit motive of a company - using up public resources which could otherwise be used to directly help people. From our experience, you are better off focusing on one or two particularly bad cases of conflict of interest, because if you go after everyone simultaneously you scare the faculty, your attack loses focus and the people you attack gang up on you.
Guess which academics are the most likely corporate agents. Go to a business library and try to find at least one board of directors on which each individual sits. The DUNS Marketing Service Reference Book on Corporate Management, and the compact disk (CD-ROM) databases produced by Disclosure, Inc. are the best sources. Once you find one company, you can find out the other "directorships" of that individual by obtaining the proxy statement for that company, which is sent to all shareholders in advance of the company's annual meeting and is available for free if you write the company. The proxy will have also have a photograph of that person, a brief biography, his or her board subcommittees, the number of meetings attended, the annual stipend he or she receives for sitting on the board, and possibly additional consulting compensation.
Once you find this information, search through the administration's newspaper and look for the names of the companies you discover. You may find some interesting connections. Also check out the company in the business press. The Wall Street Journal Index, The New York Times Index, and The Business Periodicals Index will be your best and most accessible sources-they will be available in any business library. Once you find articles concerning controversies involving the company, start calling individuals or organizations that have previously been struggled with the target company. Unions and environmental groups will be particularly helpful, but anyone who's fought a large company at any level is likely to have files to share and stories to tell.
Also, if the company has recently been involved in a lawsuit, call the county courthouse where the suit was filed and ask for a copy of the "original complaint" for the suit, as well as any "amended complaints." If the trial is over, you can even get transcripts of the proceedings. And don't forget to call the other litigant or her/his attorney for further leads.
Example: At the University of Texas, students discovered that a finance professor, while serving as UT Vice President for Administration, also sat on the board of a savings and loan while it was being looted in a classic S&L scandal. At the same time, the professor also served as the chief regulator in the region for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. Currently this professor teaches "Money and Banking" in the UT finance department. Students uncovered his background in a student alternative newspaper, largely using information gleaned from court proceedings and reports from the business press.
M. Professors: Conflicts and Academic Fraud - The techniques presented above are also useful for researching a professor. If that professor is doing research for the government, you can obtain a copy of the professor's resumé (called a "curriculum vitae", C.V.) by requesting through FOIA (see above) any research proposal that professor has submitted to the federal government. Sometimes, you can obtain a C.V. from the university's public relations office. In addition, many university public relations offices maintain newsclip files on all professors, administrators and even institutions and programs at the university.
Outside interests of professors often lead to bias in research and even to cases of academic fraud. In The Closed Corporation, a Vietnam-era classic, James Ridgeway gave examples of fraudulent research funded by tobacco companies at Columbia which purported to discover a "safe cigarette."
Today there is evidence of industry manipulation of academics in order to win approval for Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), a chemical that makes cows produce more milk. For example, University of Minnesota scientists have received hundreds of thousands of dollars to evaluate BGH from Monsanto and American Cyanamid, two companies which stand to profit from FDA approval of the hormone.
Jaron Bourke, formerly of Harvard Watch, suggests checking the publications of professors with outside corporate connections to see if they are honest in disclosing those affiliations. Bourke also suggests: "Universities limit how much time professors can spend off campus working for corporations. Most are lax in enforcing these rules because they depend on the very scientists who stand to gain most from conflicts of interest to enforce the rules." You may discover enough outside commitments to demonstrate that a professor is breaking the rules.
N. Electoral Politics and Real Estate - At the assessor's office in any college town, you can get a list of the properties your university owns, as well as a list of properties different candidates may own. At the election commission, you can obtain a list of campaign contributors to local board of aldermen (sic), city council, or mayoral races. The state election bureau will have similar publicly available lists for congressional and governor's races. At the county registry of deeds, you can find out what real estate transactions your university has been involved in recently. Because of space, we're not going to tell you everything you can do with this information. But take our word; there's a lot of real estate wheeling and dealing - even outright attempts by university officials to buy the influence of local politicians through campaign contributions! More information on this type of investigation can be found in Mother Jones' "Raising Hell: A Guide to Investigative Reporting," a brochure published in 1979 that is still available through the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco.
O. Other tips for researching an individual - You can go to the assessor's office of area towns and ask for a list of properties an administrator owns in those towns. You can check to see if any articles have been written by or about your university officials by typing that person's name, or your university's name, into Infotrac, or Academic Index, or Public Affairs Information Service Magazine Index computer that is available in many libraries. Try calling journalists who write such articles and discuss additional leads they did not have time to explore. And try the appropriate academic indexes for lists of scholarly publications by the individuals you are investigating. In the 1970's, Science for the People used this technique to expose the racial bias of eugenics science.
[Scott Henson of the Polemicist in Austin, TX contributed to this article, an earlier version of which appeared in the Fall 1990 issue of Education for the People.]