During the current turbulence in the Middle East, a storm of public criticism engulfed the London School of Economics after it was found to have accepted a £1.5 million (US$2.4 million) pledge from a charity run by a son of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. LSE Director Howard Davies accepted responsibility and resigned. Cambridge University's Deputy Vice-chancellor also came in for criticism for being part of a delegation to the Middle East that included representatives of British arms manufacturers. Other universities in France and the United States have been found to have trained Libyan diplomats. But the LSE affair is only the latest in a long line of ethical controversies that have affected universities. Back in 2000, in what some saw as the ultimate irony in university corporate sponsorship, Nottingham University accepted £3.8 million from British American Tobacco to establish an International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility. Part of the conundrum for universities lies in the following question: are they public or private sector organisations? According to Oxford University's David Watson the answer to this question is 'both'. Many universities are state funded, but are expected to increasingly pay their own way in an age when spending on the public sector is shrinking and the higher education market has gone global. This means that universities are now required to be more 'business facing' and look to ways to generate and diversify their income. The inevitable consequence of this is that universities will occasionally find themselves under fire for who they are doing business with, like any other organisation. The problem lies in the way that the modern university has to be all things to all people. This is represented in the vacuity of mission statements that proclaim a commitment to a bewildering variety of 'stakeholders'. Wider society still expects the university to live up to its old role as a trustworthy bastion of scholarly values yet at the same time it must also be a street-smart entrepreneur alert to every money-making opportunity. The result is that the university is forced to be Janus-faced. But where does ethical responsibility start and finish? The power of the internet to turn an incident viral is making matters harder to contain. The decision of the French fashion house Christian Dior to sack their chief designer after he was caught on film shouting anti-semitic abuse in a bar is a case in point. Both universities and private companies are being judged in the court of public opinion. Some universities have developed ethics policies that exclude doing business with or investing in certain types of organisations, such as tobacco companies and arms manufacturers. However, it is arguably trickier to decide which countries are off limits. It is not simply a question of which countries are 'democratic' and which are not. Several Australian and British universities, for example, are heavily involved in higher education in Malaysia. Both Monash and Nottingham University have campuses there. Malaysia might be a moderate Islamic country with a democratic system of government, but for over 40 years it has had a policy that provides for the preferential treatment of the majority Malay population. This means that nearly all public servants, police and army recruits are Malays who also receive housing discounts, virtually all government contracts and preferential access to universities. This is why for years Malaysian Chinese students have been forced to go abroad to get a university education. Even though ethnic Chinese and Indians have been in Malaysia for centuries they are not treated as indigenous 'sons of the soil' or Bumputras. One way of looking at this policy is that it provides affirmative action to redress historic patterns of inequality. A less charitable interpretation is that it is an open form of racism against Malaysians of Chinese and Indian descent who make up around 38% of the population. Whereas it is possible to find many affirmative action programmes in other countries for minorities, in Malaysia this benefits the majority over the ethnic minorities. Malaysia, though, is just one of several countries which might be criticised as having a less than desirable policy that presents an ethical question for anyone wishing to do business there. University ethics policies are often narrowly construed around research ethics and issues affecting employees such as conflicts of interest. They have little to say about bigger issues involving corporate sponsorship, foreign investment and doing business abroad. This includes sponsorship of university research by pharmaceutical companies that can gag academics from publishing results in a timely fashion for the common advancement of science. The easy option is to hide behind the blanket excuse of cultural relativism and simply hope that nothing embarrassing will occur. But universities ought to ask themselves whether countries with which they plan to engage have practices that conflict with their own values. Do such practices relate to a country's relative level of economic development? If the answer is 'yes' then the practice is unlikely to be related to 'culture'. Even if the practice is independent of a country's level of economic development can the university, in good conscience, do business without entering into this practice themselves? And, is the practice a fundamental breach of human rights anyway? If the answer to either of these questions is 'yes', then they ought to think hard before proceeding further. This is an ethical algorithm developed by Thomas Donaldson, a widely respected writer on the ethics of international business. Universities could do worse than to use Donaldson's algorithm before getting involved with countries where they plan to do business. Ultimately, they cannot be all things to all people. Universities have to draw the line in the sand somewhere if they are to continue to be respected and trusted as organisations of special character.

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate.

March 13, 2011

By Dipak Kumar Dash

It’s not everyday that the father of the bride gifts a helicopter to his new son-in-law. But could it become standard procedure at Gujjar weddings in Delhi and its suburbs? Among the land-rich Gujjars, there are baraats stretching miles with the biggest, most expensive cars. Farmhouses are luxurious wedding venues. Huge cash gifts are the order of the day. The guest lists run to at least 10,000 people.

Land is the reason this band-baaja-baraat is booming. Property prices are rising in the suburbs. In the last 10 years, much of the agricultural land in the NCR has been converted to residential use. This is particularly the case in Gurgaon, Noida and Greater Noida. The Gujjars traditionally kept cattle and sold milk. Now there’s new wealth in the hands of a few even though much of the community remains poor, landless and uneducated. The Gujjar minority is having a blast. Mega weddings, big spending — it’s setting a trend for a community that is anxious to show it has ‘arrived’.

The big fat Gujjar wedding just got fatter. In Delhi, there was the Rs 100-crore wedding of the son of Delhi-based leader Kanwar Singh Tanwar and the daughter of Sukhbir Singh Jaunapuria, ex-MLA from Sohna, Haryana. The gift of a chopper may have set a new benchmark for the display of new wealth. But much of the Gujjar community agrees that extravagant weddings are becoming the norm. The worldly wise Gujjar says every month sees at least two high-profile and expensive weddings. Vedpal Lohiya, who lives in Sultanpur in south Delhi, details some of the excess: “The entire village talks about what came from the bride’s side. These expensive items are being termed as gifts. Gujjars who have flourished in the politics of Delhi and Haryana are spending huge sums in marriages. Gifting a Mercedes, a BMW or a Hummer has become common for these families.”

The stories seem to become wilder with each re-telling. An MLA from south Delhi recently received a farmhouse in Jaunapur, three cars including an Endeavour and Rs 71 lakh as gifts when he married off his son. An estimated 20,000 people attended the wedding.

The gifts go over the top and so does the decor. The creamy layer of Gujjars is becoming increasingly finicky about details such as ambience and catering. Rupinder Walia of JB Décor, who organizes many Gujjar weddings, says the community is increasingly picky. “In most cases, we give them theme options for the décor. But sometimes, they also come up with ideas. There are demands like designing the venue on the lines of Macau, Venice and other beautiful cities.” Walia explains it as a consequence of travel. “A section of the community is travelling abroad and their children are studying at foreign universities”.

The more contemplative local observer tracks the change to 10 years ago. A young Congress Gujjar leader recalls an ex-MLA receiving “an E Class Mercedes and Rs 61 lakh as cash gift at his son’s marriage”. It was 2001 and it was said to be the community’s most expensive marriage, he says. Ten years on, “we shouldn’t be surprised if some affluent Gujjar leader gifts a chopper now,” he reasons.

He says a wedding gift that includes at least two high-end cars such as a Mercedes and a BMW and at least Rs 61 lakh in cash has become the basic minimum for affluent political leaders and Gujjars in the real estate business. It’s their way of “being recognized” as someone of consequence, a point that sociologists might find interesting.
The young Congressman offers some sociological insight into the Gujjar mindset, questioning why other communities refuse to flaunt the big fat wedding while “in our case, parking the biggest car at the front gate of the house, exhibiting what you have has become the trend. People take pride in this”.

The flipside, of course, is that most Gujjars can’t afford the big fat wedding but feel increasingly pushed to manage it somehow. The pressure to organize and pay for a “respectable” wedding is forcing several Gujjar families to either sell ancestral property or take enormous loans from the bank.

Some say the bigger problem may be the knock-on effect of vulgar displays of wealth. The Gujjar community’s fight for reserved jobs is bound to be affected because much of India will be entitled to ask why such well-off people need affirmative action. Yashbir Bhati, a Gujjar social worker, is disapproving. “These community leaders are setting a bad example” and a section of Gujjar intellectuals and social leaders are soon to meet and discuss what needs to be done.

Meanwhile, the wedding extravaganza continues.

Posted on http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com

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