Penn State Pepsi pact assailed Nader decries 'commercialism' on campus.

July 06, 1992|By Jim Mackinnon | Jim Mackinnon,Knight-Ridder News Service

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Did Penn State get the right one with its $14 million Pepsi deal?

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader says uh-uh.

"Yes, soon, people may think of Penn State-Pepsi Cola University," Mr. Nader said in a sharply worded, three-page criticism of the agreement, sent recently from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for the Study of Responsive Law.

Mr. Nader said the 10-year Penn State-Pepsi contract takes commercialism on campus to a new depth. He learned of the contract through nationally circulated news stories, people at the Center for the Study of Responsive Law said. Copies of Mr. Nader's statement, the subject of one of his syndicated columns, were sent to local news media.

"Why not an official snack for Penn State? An official tranquilizer? An official personal computer brand? An official beer? (That one will land a big pile of annual dollars)," he said in his statement. "It will be interesting, now that the Big Business marketeers know Penn State can really be had, to see how President [Joab] Thomas is going to draw the lines."

But university officials say Mr. Nader is misinformed about the Pepsi contract.

Penn State announced in mid-May that Pepsi would have exclusive rights to sell its products and to advertise on campus. Pepsi will be the lone advertiser on the Beaver Stadium scoreboard, for example.

About $8 million of Pepsi's money will fund the 16,500-seat convocation center and arena, help expand Pattee Library and go toward a joint student union and black cultural center, with the remaining $6 million to help pay for other projects and needs, officials said.

Penn State's president, in announcing the contract, said the Pepsi deal will provide important income to the university at a time when traditional funding sources are being stretched to their limits.

"We are replacing Coke machines with Pepsi machines. This is hardly a threat to the future of higher education in America," William Mahon, Penn State's director of public information, said last week.

Universities sometimes have separate beverage contracts for vending machines, dining halls and sports arenas, Mr. Mahon said. Penn State simply gave Pepsi a consolidated contract for all three areas, he said.

Mr. Nader's statement said the agreement "degrades Penn State's prestige to the level of Pepsi."

"Starting at the mundane level, is it the business of a university to give a monopoly to a junk drink company and deprive students of their choice of beverages?" Mr. Nader asked.

"Commercialism on campus is not a win-win game. There is always a price to pay -- the subtle censorship of dissenting voices, distortion of university research priorities, diversion of time in commercial pursuits and bidding frenzies, and replacement of academic openness with trade secrets," he said.

"This agreement has nothing to do with the academics of the university and the prestige of the university," said Pepsi spokeswoman Anne Ward. "It sounds like Mr. Nader doesn't know the facts about Pepsi and Penn State. We're in the business of supplying a service to them."

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