Introducing the Academic Capture Blog
Just as regulatory capture contributes to crony capitalism, the academic capture of colleges and universities by financial elites contributes to crony philanthropy.
The notion of regulatory capture (Stigler 1971) posits that regulators can be inappropriately influenced by the very businesses that they are supposed to supervise. Regulatory capture contributes to crony capitalism, so that—rather than serving the public interest—regulators end up serving the narrow interests of businesses. The Academic Capture Blog explores the academic capture of colleges and universities by financial elites. Analogously to regulatory capture, academic capture leads to crony philanthropy. Crony philanthropy causes our institutions of higher education to promote the interests of financial elites at the expense of the public good (Rapach and Wilson 2018).
The Academic Capture Blog focuses on the implications of academic capture for the independence and integrity of research (although academic capture has broader implications, e.g., for curricula and the growth of certain departments and/or programs). Colleges and universities become susceptible to academic capture when they grant inappropriate influence to financial donors. Inappropriate donor influence typically takes the form of input in hiring decisions, approval for the funding of individual research projects done under the auspices of a college or university, and/or the right to review research findings. Such influence constitutes clear violations of well-established academic norms.
Academic norms are designed to safeguard the independence and integrity of academic research. When norms are violated, we can no longer trust that the “academic” research funded by a donor is dedicated to the pursuit of truth. Instead, it is natural to suspect that the donor is seeking to purchase “academic” support for a particular view or policy. Inappropriate influence is especially pernicious when it goes undetected, as the research has the imprimatur of independent academic research.
Because it is vital for the public and policymakers to be aware of violations of academic norms that potentially bias research, the work of groups such as UnKoch My Campus in uncovering tainted financial donations to colleges and universities provides a valuable public service. Indeed, to support the work of such groups and to further promote public awareness, I have joined with Samantha Parsons and Bonnie Wilson to create the Academic Capture Warning System, which will serve as a repository of information on violations of academic norms in financial donations.
Because they diminish the value of academic research and thus harm society, I am quite dispirited by violations of academic norms in financial donations. Perhaps the silver lining is that in investigating tainted donations, I have found it intellectually interesting and challenging to analyze the “market” for academic research and to ponder policies that promote a well-functioning market. In this spirit, the Academic Capture Blog provides a venue for critically examining academic capture and contemplating measures for ensuring that academic research promotes the public good. Planned blog posts include the following:
Should We Presume that Financial Elites Know What’s Best for Society?
The Incentives of Financial Donors, Administrators, and Trustees: Agency Problems in the Market for Academic Research
A False Dilemma: We Need to Grant Special Privileges to Financial Donors or We Won’t Receive Sizable Donations
The Crucial Role of Academic Norms
Academic Capture at Saint Louis University: A Case Study in Cronyism
Tainted Financial Donations and the Subversion of Competition
Donor Agreements and Public Disclosure
Public Policy Proposals for Preventing Academic Capture
I hope that the Academic Capture Blog raises awareness of the need to protect the independence and integrity of academic research. I welcome comments on the blog posts and invite people to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if they are interested in writing a guest post.