Individual responsibilities have declined and society expects more from organisation, which has generated the whole move towards corporate social responsibility. For the private sesctor, the business of business can no longer be just "business". It is expected that corporations also do something for the common good, before passing the profits to their shareholders. Now the movement seems to be touching universities. Education has traditionnally been seen as part of the public sector, or already in the actions for the common good, even if some institutions have a private structure. But some people believe that the huge endowments and fundraising capabilities of some of the great American universities should be used to help less favored countries or causes. An article in the New York Times entitled "Alumni Group Tries to Elicit Social Action from Harvard" describes such an endeavor by group of Harvard alumni to get the university to use some of its money to help education in Africa.
So, is it the Robin Hood mentality again, where anybody who has money is a target for people who have other uses for it? Or are we seeing a shift that all organisations, whether working for the common good or not, will have to have a program of social action? The interesting thing here is the participatory aspect of this endeavor, as it goes beyond the traditionnal earmarking. Is this the beginning of "donor activism" ? Whereby the donors try to redefine the objectives of a well known institution. And if this is so, how long before government will be subjected to this kind of pressure? The definition of common good will not be left to the elected officials, parlamentarians and other senators, but will actually be chosen by all constitutants, probably on a peer-to-peer popularity model. It will be well worth watching this development.