Disney Chief’s Gift to College Draws Students’ Ire, Briefly

Campus protests appear to have become more virulent lately. Students at Columbia University stormed a stage earlier this month to disrupt a speaker who supported tightening immigration policy, raising questions about free speech on campuses.

But at Ithaca College, a planned protest of the appearance on campus of Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, raised another question: Why would students want to protest the low-key Mr. Iger?

The answer is money and politics. Mr. Iger, a 1973 graduate of the college, was at the school last week to kick off its $115 million fund-raising campaign, for which he is honorary chairman. According to John Haurin, a protest organizer and a junior at the school, roughly 30 students posted fliers around campus and distributed pamphlets at Mr. Iger’s lecture, raising questions about Disney’s labor practices and environmental record, and revisiting allegations of media bias, particularly in reference to “The Path to 9/11,” a docudrama that came under attack when it was broadcast in September on ABC, a Disney property.

Mr. Haurin said that accepting Disney money would send the wrong message about the importance of objectivity to the school’s journalism and communications students. “Our basic complete, ultimate goal is to get people to question where this money is coming from,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Disney characterized the protesters as “people who can’t distinguish between fact and fiction.”

Peggy R. Williams, the president of the college, said she was delighted that students were voicing their concerns but pointed out that Mr. Iger’s donation was not a corporate one. It was a personal gift.

“His involvement with this campaign does not buy Disney any influence on campus,” she said. “Our curriculum decisions are our own, and an organization like Disney plays no role at all.” Dr. Williams would not disclose how large a gift Mr. Iger gave the school.

Regardless of the source of the gift, Sarah Brylinsky, a sophomore at Ithaca, said she was “really glad that we did something because it just got people to ask some of the right questions in a larger perspective about globalization practices and media bias, even if it wasn’t related to this campus.” Still, she said that when the students organizing the information campaign learned that Mr. Iger’s gift was personal, “it alleviated our fears.”


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