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Showing Alumni The Love

Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article on the influence that third-parties can have on academic research. It noted the worrisome trend that researchers—especially in the medical sciences—are increasingly possessing conflicts of interest between their research and professional ties.

Cornell psychology professor David Dunning was quoted in the article, asserting that even when other peer-reviewers are aware that such conflicts of interest exist, they “don’t kick into a higher gear of criticism.” This is particularly troubling, as studies by of pharmaceutical researchers with a financial conflict of interest are almost five times as likely to find positive “results” as researchers who don't receive money from industry. Matters affecting life and death are often decided by this line of research, and it is not comforting to know that the research may be being influenced by Big Pharma.

However, I can’t help but think that such tendencies in human behavior might be advantageous to another aspect of academia: alumni development.

Max Bazerman, of Harvard Business School, is also quoted in the article, claiming that receiving gifts and money creates the desire, often unconscious, to give something back. He cites a study that found that customers who are given a 50-cent key chain at a pharmacy spend substantially more in the store.

Cornell should take these findings to heart—not in its research practices, but in its interactions with its students, young alumni, and future donors. By immediately asking recent alums for money and not providing us with any token gifts, the University is turning off a future generation of donors. Granted, Cornell may have provided its alums with a great education and a phenomenal investment, but sometimes it is the little things that will stick in our memory—like a keychain, a free t-shirt, or maybe even a lifetime subscription to an alumni magazine.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on August 10, 2006 (#)

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