By Ryan Johnson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 3, 2005
Last fall, the UA and Alltel announced a seemingly perfect partnership. Alltel would become the official cell phone provider of the university in exchange for giving discounts to students and departments. This agreement benefits both parties, and the university would do well to pursue other agreements like it.
Under the terms of the agreement, students receive a 10 percent discount off Alltel services, and university departments receive a 20 percent discount. The discount even works for the studentís entire family.
Alltel also returns 5 percent of the money generated from the program to the university. Last year, Alltel gave away $120,000 in grants in the form of Alltel Connect Me grants and Alltel Fund for the Arts. Alltel representative Jeff Cuthbertson, who worked with the UA to start the program, trumpets Alltelís civic engagement and efforts to improve the university experience.
This may be true, and the program saves students and departments money, but donít discount the value in it for Alltel. The company gets to expand its market share in one of the most coveted market segments ó college students. Alltel has years and years ahead of it to continue selling services to UA students.
Also, other cell phone companies are prohibited from being on campus. The UofA Bookstores now only sell Alltel phones, and when there are fairs on the Mall, Alltel is the only cell phone company that can be there. The five-year agreement, for which Alltel beat out other companiesí proposals, is a great idea. The only groups it harms are other cell phone companies.
Of course, the main critique of corporate partnerships is obviously the potential for corporations to influence the classroom experience.
And indeed, corporations have vastly different interests than students and professors.
One complaint about Alltelís program is that the $120,000 that Alltel gives away annually in the form of grants is given in a somewhat disorganized manner; organizations applying for money want fewer hoops to jump through.
A quick glance at the projects that have been approved shows an obvious bias toward events that can gain Alltel more publicity. Any time marketing takes precedence over education, there are potential problems. Indeed, the money would be better used if given to departments or used for class availability.
However, according to Anthony Skavakis, chairman of the committee that distributes the Alltel grants, the university still maintains a decent amount of control over the grants, even if it canít simply use the money for more important issues.
With the UA constantly cash strapped, this begs one question: What are other opportunities for the university to improve the student experience and the financial situation without jeopardizing the classroom environment?
One example that comes to mind is increasing the number of automated teller machines on campus. Currently, students have a few choices in the Student Union Memorial Center, but not much beyond that. And anyone at the student union during lunchtime knows how long the line can get. The ATM situation is so bad that most students just use ATMs at off-campus locations.
Increasing the number of ATMs wouldnít harm anyone. Students already wish there were more ATMs, and it would provide one more reason to be on campus.
Another example would be better use of the space in the student union. The student union is already having budget problems, with the university considering an ill-conceived mandatory meal plan just to help it break even. What about opening up a little more space for commercial interests?
Maintaining control of the classroom experience will be a top priority when considering future corporate partnerships, but that shouldnít deter the university from pursuing them. Take one walk down McClelland Hall, and the success the Eller College of Management has had with corporate partnerships is obvious.
It seems like every classroom is sponsored by one corporation or another. Phelps Dodge, Shamrock Farms, Coca-Cola. Do these sponsorships deter from the classroom experience?
No, but the money certainly benefits it. Granted, most departments donít have their own buildings from which they can sell parts.
But there are certainly opportunities out there. UA departments, go get that money.
Ryan Johnson is a senior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at email@example.com.