Tobacco Deal Brings Protest at University

By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent The Independent
14 December 2000

Nottingham University came under renewed pressure to refuse a 3.8m grant from the tobacco industry yesterday after its star business graduate turned down the Student of the Year award in protest.

The university faces humiliation at a graduation ceremony on Friday when John Rouse, 32, is planning a public renunciation of the award on the basis that accepting sponsorship from British American Tobacco is "unethical".

The MBA student, a former ministerial adviser, has asked the university to read out a statement condemning the sponsorship; he also wants the university to donate the 50 prize money to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

John Rouse

The university plans to create Britain's first International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility using the BAT grant, but the move has provoked condemnation from health charities and may be investigated by the House of Commons Education committee as part of a wider inquiry into higher education and corporate sponsorship.

Mr. Rouse, who took a year off from his job as chief executive of the Commission for Architecture to do an MBA, has written to the university authorities to say he believes it is wrong for "any academic institution to be building bridges with the tobacco industry."

He said: "I feel very strongly that an academic institution should not be taking money from a tobacco company. They are making a product that ultimately kills people."

Student's Snub over 'Tobacco Money'

BBC News
14 December 2000

Jon Rouse: "Important issue"
A student at Nottingham University has refused a cash award in protest at the university's decision to accept funding from British American Tobacco (BAT). The university has approved 4m sponsorship from the company which, it says, will be used to set up Britain's first International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility. Anti-tobacco campaigners accused the university of selling out and taking "tainted" money.

Jon Rouse - who graduates on Thursday with a Master in Business Administration (MBA) - has asked for his 50 "student of the year" prize to be given to the Cancer Research Campaign. In a letter to the head of the business school, Professor Ian Gow, Mr Rouse said he did not wish to accept the award because he did not agree with the university's collaboration with BAT. The MBA graduate asked for a statement to be made at the graduation ceremony, outlining his stance.

'Richly deserve'
In his reply, Professor Gow said: "I am disappointed that you don't feel able to accept the award which you so richly deserve. "But I respect your views on the university's decision to accept funding from British American Tobacco and understand that your decision is now made."

But it would not be appropriate for a statement to be made at Mr Rouse's graduation, the professor said. "In fact the award is a business school one, which is completely seperate from graduation itself." The presentation would have been made at a prize-giving tea in the business school after graduation, he said.

He would be happy to arrange for Mr Rouse to read a statement if he was intending to be present at the tea. "We will reallocate the prize money as you request," the letter confirmed.

Mr Rouse said he was making a stand on a very important issue. "I'm doing this with a great deal of regret," he said on Breakfast on BBC One. "I had the year of my life last year at Nottingham Business School, it's a great business school, but it's just made a horrible error of judgement." Mr Rouse said he thought the UK's universities had a very high standing - as President Clinton's visit to Warwick on Thursday illustrated.

"That's because they're independent and they are very objective," he said. "As soon as you start having these sorts of relationships with companies with what can best be called a dubious track record, I think you're on a very sticky wicket."

Corporate social responsibility was not what came to mind when thinking of BAT, he said. He hoped the university would pull out of the deal. "I don't think it's too late, and I really think the business school should think very, very hard and reject the offer outright."

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