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BB&T, Atlas Shrugged, and the Ethics of Corporation Influence on College Curricula


Tuition and government funding does not adequately support the mission of many colleges and universities, and increasingly, corporations are responding to this need by making payments to institutions of higher learning with significant contracted expectations, including influence of the curriculum and content of college courses. One large, public banking corporation, BB&T, has funded grants to more than 60 colleges and universities in the United States to address what the corporation refers to as the “moral foundations of capitalism.” These grants vary in size but average $1.1 million and typically require design of a new course that includes discussion of Atlas Shrugged, one of the novels of the author Ayn Rand. With many of the participating universities, the agreement with BB&T also stipulates the creation of chaired faculty positions, library reading rooms, designated capitalism centers, speaker series, scholarships, and the distribution of free student copies of Atlas Shrugged. Several ethics concerns about these grants, including their threat to academic freedom, are discussed in this article, as well as the need for focused guidance for university administrators regarding the temptation of large donations with attached questionable expectations.

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Correspondence to S. Douglas Beets.


Appendix 1. Letter of Agreement Between BB&T and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

January 21, 2005

Claude C. Lilly


The Belk College of

Business Administration


Charlotte, NC 28223–0001

Dear Claude:

You will soon receive a letter from the BB&T Charitable Foundation confirming a $1,000,000 contribution to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The contribution will be used to create a program for the study of the moral foundations of Capitalism. The contribution will be payable over 5 years in $200,000 annual installments beginning June 30, 2005. The funds will be used to:

1) Develop a course that will focus on the moral and ethical fundamentals of Capitalism (the course will be available to advanced undergraduate students and MBA students). The objective is to provide students with a solid understanding of the moral foundations of Capitalism and the implications of these foundations for ethical behavior.

Required reading for the course will include Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and other reading materials appropriate for a class of this type. The students will be required to write papers on the required reading.

I am extremely pleased that you will be the first instructor for this course. In the future, any professor who teaches the course will have a positive interest in and be well versed in Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. The course outline will, in a broad context, be similar to the one attached.

2) Organize at UNC-C a speaker series which will focus on ethical and core values in business (the speaker series will be done in conjunction with the Center for Applied Ethics at UNC-C). The list of speakers will include chief executive officers, philosophers, and Objectivist intellectuals. It is anticipated that the seminars will be open to undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty members. Possible speakers include Yaron Brook (Executive Director of The Ayn Rand Institute) Harry Binswanger, (Objectivist Intellectual), Tara Smith (University of Texas philosophy professor) and the like.

3) Encourage faculty members to include materials in all their classes that focus on the moral foundations of Capitalism. (In addition, faculty members will be encouraged to use classroom visitors to lecture on this topic.)

4) Provide funds for faculty to do research that examines the philosophical underpinnings of Capitalism. (The goal will be for faculty to produce works that not only have academic credibility in the top academic journals – basic research – but also will provide philosophical grist for applied journals – applied research). The research will focus on current issues related to core values. The research grants will be selected by a committee made up of faculty members, the dean and business leaders. The research funding will also be made available on a limited basis to graduate students including the possibility of faculty-member graduate-student teams.

5) Create an Ayn Rand reading room which will be established in the Friday Building where the Belk College of Business Administration is housed. The reading room will include the works of Ayn Rand and other intellectuals who support individual rights and economic freedom.

6) Provide copies of Atlas Shrugged which will be given by the University to all rising junior business majors and MBA students.

Obviously, we would appreciate as much positive publicity for the BB&T Charitable Foundation as is appropriate regarding this contribution.

Claude, I have enjoyed getting to know you personally and am very pleased about the opportunity for an ongoing relationship between BB&T and UNC-Charlotte.

If you have any additional comments or questions regarding this program, please do not hesitate to call. Best wishes!


John Allison

Appendix 2. Letter of Agreement Between BB&T and Florida State University

March 7, 2008

Caryn Beck-Dudley

Dean, College of Business

Florida State University

P.O. Box 3061110

Tallahassee, FL 32306–1110

David Rasmussen

Dean, College of Social Sciences

Florida State University

160 Bellamy Building

Tallahassee, FL 32306–2160

Dear Caryn and David:

It is a pleasure to inform you that BB&T will make a $1,500,000 contribution to Florida State University. The contribution will be made payable over 10 years in annual installments of $150,000 beginning August 1, 2008. The intent of the contribution is to encourage a thorough discussion of the moral foundations of capitalism.

There is overwhelming evidence that capitalism produces a higher economic standard of living. However, capitalism is perceived to be either amoral or immoral. How can an immoral economic system produce a better outcome? We believe that there needs to be a deeper understanding of the morality of capitalism and its causal relationship to economic well being. We also believe that there is a fundamental integration between economic and political freedom.

In our opinion Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, provides the best moral defense of capitalism as is particularly reflected in her classical philosophical novel, Atlas Shrugged. We are interested in Rand’s philosophy having a fair hearing in the academic community.

It is very important to us that any program we support meets the highest academic standards and encourages students to hear all points of view. Frankly, we are confident that, when given a fair hearing, capitalism will prevail.

Unfortunately, we find that many graduates from business schools, while understanding the “technology” of business, do not have a clear grasp on the moral principles underlying free markets.

This contribution will be used to create the BB&T Program of Free Enterprise. The program will accomplish the following:

  • The Department of Economics will create a new course on Morals and Ethics in Economic Systems. The work of Ayn Rand will be among the required readings for this course. Initially the course will be offered to 108 students each term, and eventually increase to as many as 500 students. The college of Social Sciences will also offer this course in an online format in the near future.

  • The Depart of Finance would add additional readings and course content in free markets, self-interest and individualism to its current required coursework.

  • A working paper series will be created featuring the work of Economics and Business faculty addressing free enterprise issues.

  • The BB&T Program of Free Enterprise Distinguished Speaker Series will be created, whereby two speakers a year will be invited to the Florida State University campus. The presentations would focus on the Core Values of the Free Enterprise System and the Moral and Ethical Foundations of Capitalism. These lectures will be publicized throughout the community and will be free and open to the public. They will also be podcast to the College of Business online MBA students. The Ayn Rand Institute will be consulted for the list of the recommended speakers on the moral foundations of capitalism.

  • A Web site will be created and will focus on the principles of free enterprise; it will also feature and highlight the Speakers Series with the inclusion of podcasts of previous speeches.

  • Every undergraduate student in the College of Business and all graduate students in Finance and Economics will receive a copy of Atlas Shrugged. The Program will oversee the distribution. There will be several discussion groups set up to facilitate the exploration of the book’s themes.

  • Two program professorships will be awarded to faculty, one in Finance and one in Economics. These faculty members will play key roles in developing and promoting the free-enterprise curriculum in the classroom.

  • Because of the importance of the program, the program will be initially co-directed by the Department Head of Economics, and the Department Head of Finance, the directors will also be responsible for the Speaker Series and the general administration for the program.

  • The BB&T Program of Free Enterprise Graduate Fellows will be established. These fellowships will support doctoral fellows in Finance and Economics each year. Fellows will assist in leading the discussion series on Atlas Shrugged, assist in the teaching of the undergraduate Financial Institutions and Investments courses and serve as teaching assistants for the Morals and Ethics in Economic Systems class.

  • The program would sponsor and support the Students in Free Enterprise student club.

The $150,000 annual contribution will be used to support the program and for example could be used in the following manner:

Purchase of Atlas Shrugged for up to 700 students $6000

Visiting Speaker Series $6000

Course and Discussion Group Support $5000

Webpage Design and Maintenance $5000

Directorship Salaries $30,000

Graduate Student Stipends $64,000

Professorships for COB/COSS $30,000

Students in Free Enterprise Support $4000

Total $150,000

Any publicity which FSU believes is appropriate in regards to this contribution would be appreciated by BB&T. We appreciate the banking relationship with FSU and hope it will continue to grow. As we discussed, BB&T anticipates making a further contribution to the FSU Economics Department as soon as the proposal is finalized by FSU.

We are pleased to have a number of FSU graduates who are making a significant contribution to BB&T’s success. We are excited about expanding the relationship between FSU and BB&T. Unequivocally, this program will make the world a better place to live. We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial working relationship with you and your team.


John Allison

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Beets, S.D. BB&T, Atlas Shrugged, and the Ethics of Corporation Influence on College Curricula. J Acad Ethics 13, 311–344 (2015).

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