Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: MassMutual donation embodies BU’s complicated relationship to funding

Countless articles have been published from our desk about the ways Boston University impacts its own community or the community around it. That is one of our jobs as the school newspaper: to amplify student voices and to highlight the issues that need changing.

Two weeks ago, the insurance company MassMutual donated $1 million to BU’s Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences in what BU Today called an “unusual partnership” given the differences in function.

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

MassMutual, however, is a company with a dubious past. 

In 2007, MassMutual rolled out the Guaranteed Income Benefit Plus 6 and Plus 5 investments, which promised their customers their annuity income would increase to a certain amount, notwithstanding the actual performance of the investment. 

MassMutual guaranteed that the money would not run out. But due to the 2008 financial crisis, the guarantee failed. Thousands of customers would have lost their retirement savings if it were not for a whistleblower who reported the company to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

It would be simple to condemn the Center for its use of morally compromised donations and pile this one on BU’s long list of blights.

But the program that MassMutual’s donation would be utilized to create actually sounds worthwhile. The donation will provide funding for one non-tenure data science professor with industry experience and launch a fund aimed at diversifying the field of data science. 

This is not to say that MassMutual’s donation was completely selfless. In an interview with BUToday, MassMutual’s head of data Adam Fox stated that the program would help in mining new talent to recruit. 

But the Center nonetheless provides resources and access to address systemic racism and inequities both utilizing data science tools, as well as addressing these issues within the data science field itself. 

The bottom line is, it is uncomfortable to think about how this program may be beneficial to us as students when the funds utilized to build it are less than ideologically sound. What does it mean when our education benefits from bad corporations that have done bad things?

Though BU agreed not to invest in fossil fuel companies in 2016, it nonetheless did not rid itself of existing investments in fossil fuels. In 2015, the Board of Trustees decided not to divest from firearms manufacturers.

More than any brochure or guided tour, this queasy, uncomfortable feeling of being grateful for having access to such immense resources while being totally unsure about their ethics best describes some students’ relationship to their college campus. 

The bottom line is: Boston University’s partnership with MassMutual is not as odd a partnership as one may think. It is merely a continuation of corporations creating more employees for them to recruit. 

This is not to say that moral compromise should be simply accepted as the status quo. Rather, we can make the best out of donations. It is important to look at the donors while also taking any gift given with intention. Even though this is an unusual donation, the purpose seems worthwhile, and we should consider it with a healthy dose of grateful skepticism. 

One Comment

  1. This article is intentionally misleading. Give me a break.

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