Powell Memo Blueprint: Impact on Schools and Education

Page - September 2, 2011
Expanding corporate influence over the U.S. educational system was one of the crucial themes of Powell's memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Corporate power in society gained longevity from influencing the opinions of educated young adults about to enter the workforce and helped reshape institutions of higher learning to prioritize commercial interests.

The Powell Memo on University Faculty:

"Perhaps the most fundamental problem is the imbalance of many faculties. Correcting this is indeed a long-range and difficult project. Yet, it should be undertaken as a part of an overall program. This would mean the urging of the need for faculty balance upon university administrators and boards of trustees. The methods to be employed require careful thought, and the obvious pitfalls must be avoided. Improper pressure would be counterproductive. But the basic concepts of balance, fairness and truth are difficult to resist..."

(Direct link to this quote in the Powell Memo)

Modern corporations continue to follow Powell's advice, although at times some have seemed ham-fisted in their approach, just as Powell warned:

The St. Petersburg Times reported in May 2011 that the Charles G Koch Foundation has taken control over new hires at the Florida State University economics department through a $1.5 million dollar grant. The grant allows an advisory committee assembled by the Koch foundation to provide the final approval of applicants nominated by FSU faculty. Think Progress reported similar Koch grant connections with West Virginia University, Brown, Troy, and Utah State University.

While the network of Koch Industries and other companies directly manipulate university faculty rosters, other corporations have employed academics directly to support their agendas. Following the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed eleven offshore oil rig workers and sent an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months, BP hired scientists from numerous Gulf Coast universities to bolster its legal defense strategy and neutralize potential critics.

Lucrative contract deals like those offered by BP often prohibit scientists from discussing or publishing their research for a defined period of time, or give the sponsoring corporation authority over whether the results will even be published. As the Center for Science in the Public Interest reported in its 2008 “Big Oil U” report, “Since 1991, the major oil companies have committed to investing more than $792 million in at least nine major universities in the United States.” Many of these contracts are written to give corporate sponsors a right of review before publication. In a $500 million grant spanning over ten years, BP retains veto authority over projects taking place at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Illinois and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories.

Corporate influence on “independent” researchers is not limited to university-based research. Pharmaceutical corporations have buried studies that do not yield the desired results. A registry of clinical trials has been created to address the issue, but the problem of corporate censorship continues. (For more information, see Melody Petersen's Our Daily Meds.)

Industries can also obtain influence through academic conferences hosted by schools. The Global Energy Management (GEM) Program at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, which runs an annual energy forum, is sponsored by the oil and gas corporation Encana. The 2011 keynote address at the annual GEM conference is aimed to “debunk many of the myths about ‘green' energy and explain why the fuels of the future can be summarized as N2N: natural gas to nuclear.”

The Powell Memo on Secondary Education:

“While the first priority should be at the college level, the trends mentioned above are increasingly evidenced in the high schools. Action programs, tailored to the high schools and similar to those mentioned, should be considered...the control and direction − especially the quality control − should be retained by the National Chamber.”

(Direct link to this quote in the Powell Memo)

Lewis Powell considered college and university faculties as the most high value target, but did not neglect the old tobacco maxim, "get 'em while they're young."

The U.S. Chamber's Institute for a Competitive Workforce partners with large corporate members to build K-12 educational material through its STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program series. STEM programs include an online math program for elementary students financed by ExxonMobil, 4th grade career recruitment by a subsidiary of Southern Company, and science teacher workshops courtesy of Northrop Grumman, a military contractor. The Institute for a Competitive Workforce also has programs for preschool children and postsecondary education students.

The U.S. Chamber partnered with Scholastic for their “Shedding a Light on Energy program out of the Institute for 21st Century Energy. Six million students were expected to be influenced by the program. In a similar deal, the American Coal Foundation partnered with Scholastic to create “The United States of Energy”, a set of lessons aimed at 4th graders. Scholastic was forced to pull the material off their website after the program was criticized for ignoring the destructive consequences of coal mining and burning.

References and More Information:

Corporate influence over colleges and universities:

Jennifer Washburn, University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2006. More information available at: http://books.google.com/books/about/University_Inc.html?id=_l6mLQgzhT8C.

Geoffrey White (ed.), Campus Inc.: Corporate Power in the Ivory Tower. Prometheus Books, 2000. More information available at: http://www.amazon.com/Campus-Inc-Corporate-Power-Ivory/dp/1573928100.

Martin Kenney, Biotechnology: The University-Industrial Complex. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. More information available at: http://books.google.com/books/about/Biotechnology.html?id=1I-HNRT7YKoC.

Noam Chomsky, “Academic Freedom and the Corporatization of Universities,” speech to University of Toronto Scarborough, April 6, 2011. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwjt5cxFtvg&feature=player_embedded#!.

Melody Petersen, Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs. Picador, 2009. More information available at: http://www.amazon.com/Our-Daily-Meds-Pharmaceutical-Prescription/dp/0312428251.

"Pill Pushers: Pharmaceutical Marketing in an Overmedicated Nation," interview with Melody Petersen, Multinational Monitor, Vol. 30, No. 1, Jul/Aug 2008. Available at: http://www.multinationalmonitor.org/mm2008/072008/interview-petersen.html.

Henry A. Giroux, The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial Academic Complex. Boulder, CO: Paradigm (2007). More information available at: http://www.amazon.com/University-Chains-Confronting-Military-Industrial-Academic-Imagination/dp/1594514232.

Henry A. Giroux, "Beyond the Swindle of the Corporate University: Higher Education in the Service of Democracy," Op-Ed, Truthout, January 18, 2011. Available at: http://www.truth-out.org/beyond-swindle-corporate-university-higher-education-service-democracy66945.

Amy J. Binder & Kate Wood, "Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives," Princeton U. Press, 2013.

Corporate Targeting of Children:

Joel Bakan, Childhood Under Siege: How Business Targets Children. New York: Free Press, 2011. More information available at: http://www.joelbakan.com/childhoodundersiegebook.htm.

Alex Molnar, Giving Kids the Business: The Commercialization of America's Schools. Westview Press, 2001. More information available at: http://books.google.ms/books/about/Giving_kids_the_business.html?id=sG3c-VU0TLgC.

Susan Linn, Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children from the Onslaught of Commercialism and Marketing. Anchor, 2005. More information available at: http://www.consumingkids.com/.

Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood:



Corporations and Health Watch:



Rethinking Schools: