By Roger Moody, countercurrents.org
22 February 2006
Mining companies have been endowing universities, establishing chairs, and financing scholarships for many years. Notable among them is Rio Tinto which aids Imperial College in London (one of the top engineering universities anywhere) and helped establish Atlantic University in North Wales – downstream from its notorious Anglesey Aluminium smelter.
It was the pukka University of North Wales that became a beneficiary of Sir Val Duncan’s largesse three decades ago, when Rio Tinto (RTZ as it then was) ranked highest for the pillage of Indigenous lands in three continents. Before he passed into the Great Smelter in the Sky, the company’s progenitor bequeathed a garden (sic) to the university in his name.
The degree to which Jim-Bob Moffett, chair of Freeport (perhaps the world’s most notorious single mining company), has infiltrated Louisiana State University (LSU) has provoked widespread campus protests for a decade.
Both LSU and the University of Texas at Austin have accepted extensive donations from Freeport, including a named professorship at LSU.
In their infinite lack of wisdom, the regents of Louisiana University have also provided Dow Chemical with squatters’ rights. This “Villain of Bhopal” (as well as being the most munificent lobbyist for US Senator Specter’s now-ditched Asbestos Bill) is further ensconced at the University of Michigan. Here, the School of Natural Resources and the Environment proudly hosts a “Dow Chemical Chair of Sustainable Science, Technology and Commerce”.
Were e e cummings alive today…
Were e e cummings (that stolid poet of authentic American independence) alive today, he might update his classic description of the pseudo patriot. This time around, it would be the Corporate Academic Chair that’s “an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man.”
The University of Michigan accepts money, too, from Alcoa Inc. Does this mean that the company’s Karahnjukar dam in Iceland, and its potentially damaging operations in the rainforests of Suriname, have escaped the scrutiny of all those good docs, profs and studs at this august center of learning? Surely not! After all, they had the wit and wisdom to boot Coca Cola off their campus, late last year.
Back in the eighties, CRA (now Rio Tinto Ltd) created a stink at Monash University in Melbourne by purchasing part of its property for a technology centre. Inco also sponsors university buildings in Canada, as well as having representatives on several boards of regents and governors.
Latin America has many instances of mining companies intervening in the public educational system. For example, UK-based Xstrata’s Minera Alumbrera, through its associated “green” foundation, Los Algarrobos, supplies ecology/environmental educational content to teachers in Argentina’s Catamarca province. For years, Colombia’s biggest coal company, El Cerrejon – a joint venture between BHPBilliton, Anglo American and Glencore – has sponsored environmental briefings for primary school pupils.
And, of course, there are numerous undergraduate and post-graduate programmes, scattered around the globe, for the price of which students may be intimidated against biting the hand that feeds them.
Once again it’s Rio Tinto which has gone “one over the odds” in this regard. Not content with dishing out a substantial amount to establish Dundee University’s Centre of Energy, Petroleum, Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP – the leading “think tank” implementing revisions to state mining codes), it also headhunts candidates to do the Centre’s dubious work.
Nothing exceptional in that, you might think? Except that, while posturing as a “tripartite” process between the CEPMLP, the company, and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, by its own admission “Rio Tinto plc [makes] the final decision on awarding the Scholarships.”
As one US professor commented last week: “This willingness [by Dundee University] to surrender academic independence to the corporate world is completely unheard of, and sets a disturbing precedent.”
Swords into ploughshares?
In India, the Tata group has endowed four “great and good temples of learning” (to borrow its own description) including the well-reputed Institute of Social Science and the JRD Tata Ecotechnology Centre. Yet, however valuable or academically objective the research flowing from these temples may be, the results rarely “trickle down” to Tata’s operations on the ground. This was graphically demonstrated by the company’s complicity in the Kalinganagar massacre of January 2 2006, when it allowed (even if it didn’t instruct) police to murder twelve protestors against its planned steel plant. But worse is yet to come!
Obviously not content with such feeble precedents of the corporate subversion of Academia, the executive chairman of Vedanta Resources plc is going a big step further. Anil Agarwal intends to establish an eponymous university to “nurture” not just his type of yes-people, but also “tomorrow’s Nobel Laureates, Olympic champions and community leaders.”
In typical “fast track” fashion, the London-based non-resident Indian promises to have the university launched in mid-2008, with a site selected from “four or five” Indian states by July this year.
Ah! But isn’t this precisely when Agarwal intends to bring on-stream his Lanjigarh alumina refinery at “Vedanta nagar” in Orissa? Supposing this ghastly project, and its intimately-linked Nyamgiri bauxite mine, are knocked on the head by India’s Supreme Court before then? After all the Court’s Central Empowered Committee last September condemned the enterprise in unequivocal terms. Will Agarwal quit the state, head tucked in humiliation between his legs? Or might he convert the redundant infrastructure into a hall of learning? The man is hubristic enough to do anything.
The US private consultancy, A T Kearney, is assisting Vedanta in achieving its further learning aims; and Kearney is a force to be reckoned with. It set up the Global Business Policy Council to promote globalisation, with an elite of world CEOs. It’s also closely associated with the US “Foreign Policy” magazine (effectively an arm of the State Department) and claims to be regarded by British Petroleum (BP) as its corporate “policy consultant”.
Perhaps all we can do at this early stage is warn. According to A T Kearney, Agarwal’s initiative is now engaging some three hundred academics all over the world; no doubt more will follow. The Indian billionaire says he’s prepared to throw millions of dollars in their direction. Will they follow their true calling and dig around to discover just how this most insidious and abusive of Indian enterprises really makes its pile?
Or will they gulp back another can of Coke, take to their aluminum towers – and cower behind the scholarly equivalent of the Nuremberg defense?
Roger Moody is the Managing Editor of Mines and Communities, London