The UT System has invested $10 million in MyEdu, a commercial business providing students information — and maybe advice — about the choices they make in working toward an academic degree. The information MyEdu relies on, as its senior vice president told The Daily Texan, comes from public sources and from “key university contacts.”
So why is anyone questioning a program that seeks to help students complete a satisfactory college career? Here’s why: MyEdu is a profit-making enterprise and owes its first duty to stockholders not to students. Many kinds of profit-making enterprises seek students as customers. There’s nothing wrong with that. But a problem comes when a public university takes a position as a stockholder in an enterprise engaging in activities where the university has a first duty to students.
It is no answer to this problem to say that MyEdu wants to help students just as much as does the university. It does not. If MyEdu says it can help students find an “easy” course and the University would like to explain why a hard course might be more worthwhile in the long run, there is conflict. MyEdu’s first duty is to its stockholders, and if MyEdu gains a bigger database of students to sell to advertisers by listing easy courses, it has a duty under corporate law to do just that.
Second, the University should not play favorites among competing businesses. If the University were not providing anything to MyEdu, the only issue would be whether the University should be offering the service itself rather than opening its students to the commercial market place. But if UT decided to defer to the market, companies should compete on equal terms. No favorites. No one company getting access to “key contacts.” No $10 million of UT funds invested in a company headed by the son of a former UT System chancellor, who may himself have a financial stake in the enterprise.
Francis D. Fisher
Senior Research Fellow, LBJ School