Today’s issue of The Columbia Spectator (Columbia University’s newspaper) has an excellent op-ed titled “In Partnership For a New Public Health Narrative,” which examines the corporatization of academic discourse.
Many parallels can be made to how, for example, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics partners often present sessions at the annual conference in a unilateral fashion.
- “As more universities form relationships with corporations in order to finance research and initiatives, how is the intellectual space allotted to students affected? What is the role of the private sector in influencing public health education and research?”
- “This year’s Grand Rounds focus on the theme of “Public Health Imagination.” Public Health Master’s students are required to attend, indicating the importance of these lectures as part of our education. We’re only three lectures into this academic year’s speaker series, but significant controversy has already been generated among the student body. While Grand Rounds are intended to inspire critical discussion pertaining to pressing topics for our field, many students increasingly feel that the lectures serve more as a platform for advancing private corporations’ perspectives and agendas. For instance, last month’s discussion with Dennis Schmuland, chief health strategy officer at Microsoft, consisted primarily of advertisements for Microsoft products with little discussion on how new technologies can address unmet public health needs.”
- “In contrast, this past week’s talk, “Confronting the Health Gap,” was greatly anticipated by students eager to hear renowned epidemiologist and incoming President of the World Medical Association Sir Michael Marmot discuss the social determinants of health inequality. It seemed like finally a speaker was chosen who students and faculty alike wanted to engage with. But by setting Mark Bertolini, current CEO of Aetna, as a co-speaker, and professor John Rowe, former CEO of Aetna and Mailman board of overseers chairman, as moderator, the discussion became yet another example of Columbia’s privileging of the private sector narrative of reducing health inequalities for the sake of economic development.”
- “This problem became even more apparent in the Q&A following the talk itself. When challenged by a doctoral student to tell the audience why we shouldn’t continue to press for a single-payer system that is not dependent on the whims of a CEO, Bertolini became defensive and dismissive.”
- “We understand that there needs to be better dialogue between the private and public sectors, but we are concerned about the seeming corporatization of academic discourse: Valid questions about accountability are treated with derision, and open dialogue is quashed by corporate interests.”
- “What is the fundamental purpose of Grand Rounds? Is it meant to offer critical commentary on “society’s role in creating broad population health”? Or is it yet another example of how academic structures privilege corporate narratives? We see an imbalance coded into the structure of Grand Rounds and, more broadly, which ideas are given credibility in scholarly discourse.”