The University Record, April 8, 1998

Nader urges students to hold on to intellectual freedom

By Rebecca A. Doyle


Introduced as America's toughest consumer, Ralph Nader told a near-capacity audience at the Michigan Theater that a society whose educational and professional institutions were run like businesses is headed for decay.

Consumer advocate and activist Nader visited the University March 30 as part of the Environmental Theme Semester. His appearance was co-sponsored by the University Activities Center and Project Serve.

"In 20 years, corporations have expanded in academic, religious, consumer and political arenas," Nader said. "There is nothing that is off limits to them."

Nader told his audience that the real asset of corporate power is that everyone who grows up in the United States is "growing up corporate." Advertising campaigns for unnecessary or harmful products, university athletic teams that are sponsored by corporations and a public that accepts what corporate America dishes out are allowing business to take over what should be controlled by citizens, Nader said. He also cited health care organizations that look at the profit margin instead of the patient, and a legal system that is built on dollars instead of professional ethics, as culprits in the corporatization of the country.

He said that as bad as crime on the streets is, it is much worse in the corporate sector. Made famous as the man who fought the auto industry on public safety issues, Nader dug into the past to present statistics on air bags and mirror placement in cars.

"It took eight years for the auto industry to put air bags in cars," he said, despite studies that showed how many lives could be saved. "And it took nine years for the automakers to redesign rear view mirrors to break away when hit, even though they had graphic pictures of the effects on human heads and bodies."

He cited abuse in health care billing that cost the industry (and therefore the public) $100 billion over the past year in billing fraud.

"The problem is, we don't feel it," Nader said. People accept high cost for health care, bank charges at automated teller machines and high percentage fees on credit cards as a matter of course, he said.

"Then the government beats up on the $300-a-month welfare mothers," Nader said. "There's an example of government and corporations turning the middle class against the poor."

While corporations are growing and reports rate the national economy as the best it has been in years, Nader pointed out that 80 percent of American workers are losing economic ground and most homeowners only own 57 percent of their homes. Services such as community health, libraries and school budgets are being cut and the government still is willing to bail out corporations in trouble. Meanwhile, Nader says, personal bankruptcy filings have reached a record number.

Nader urged students to take a look at what is happening in universities. "Why is there so little intellectual life on campus?" he asked. Research priorities are being distorted by corporate contracts, he answered, and universities are buying into signing corporate contracts for the products of their research, allowing dollars to drive the direction research takes.

"Scientists at the University of Michigan should not work with corporate scientific companies, "Nader asserted. "The tradition of academic freedom is compromised, and scientists may not be working on the most important research, or even what they want to pursue."

Nader urged students to "make your mark on the University by making it a model of intellectual ferment."

"This may be the last time you are free to do that."