Originally created 05/28/98

Student protest fizzles



ATHENS, GA. -- About 15 students protesting the University of Georgia's acceptance of a $1.5 million gift from Coca-Cola won little support from faculty and students in the business school partly funded by the gift.

Chanting and waving signs, the students stood outside University of Georgia's new Coca-Cola Refreshment Center Tuesday and accused administrators of compromising the school's academic integrity. Part of the soft-drink maker's donation was used to build the lounge, decorated with the company logo, that opened this month.

The students said the company crushed a legislative bill last year for a 10-cent bottle deposit that might have encouraged recycling in Georgia.

University officials shrugged off the protest.

"The fact that there's a Coca-Cola lounge in the business school does not imply that they influence academics," said David Dodson, a spokesman for the college. "It's worth pointing out that Sanford Hall was completely privately funded."

The university relishes its ties to the corporation, now headed by University of Georgia graduate Doug Ivester, University of Georgia spokesman Tom Jackson said. At Georgia, Coke pays for a memorial scholarship, a $1 million marketing chair and a marketing center, among other gifts.

"Coca-Cola is one of our strong corporate supporters, and we appreciate the opportunity to work with them," Mr. Jackson said.

Following a nationwide trend, corporate donations to the state university are on the rise as the percentage of state dollars in the University of Georgia budget wanes, Mr. Jackson said. Corporate gifts rose from $6 million in 1995 to $7.5 million in 1997, he said. State funds, however, provide only 44 percent of the university's $1.1 billion budget for the next school year. But that doesn't mean the university is selling out to other, private interests, he said.

"We don't have anything like the McDonald's coliseum like Georgia Tech has," he said.