When your legacy is OT education and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act

I support free market capitalism, and respect ownership rights people have in the money they have earned through voluntary trade.  Since the money belongs to them they should be able to spend it or give it away at their own discretion.

This week we all learned that the University of Southern California Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy received a $20 million gift from the Chan family.  The gift creates the first named and endowed occupational therapy program in the nation, according to the school's website.

The article states that USC is a pioneer in occupational science and occupational therapy.  An interesting feature of occupational science is that it purports to be an interdisciplinary field that is intended to inform the occupational therapy profession by providing basic research knowledge about the occupational nature of human behavior.

Since the inception of this 'new science,' several scholars have pursued studies relating to the social and political nature of occupations (Wilcock, 1998; Townsend and Wilcock, 2004; Pollard, Sakellariou, and Kronenberg, 2008).  These authors have all been proponents of a concept of occupational justice, which is loosely equivalent to the political concept of social justice, except focusing on the occupational nature of the issue.  Embedded within these beliefs are concepts including occupational apartheid, occupational deprivation, and occupational alienation.  The solutions to these perceived problems is proposed as the political activation of the occupational therapy profession.

These initiatives have not gone unchallenged.  The social justice debates within the profession have focused on whether or not ethical requirements to follow specified political initiatives is a proper scope for a professional health care field.  Some people, myself included, don't believe that politics is the proper field for a health care profession.  Others disagree.

The social justice thread has also been evident through the profession's literature including  a special issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (Braveman and Bass-Haugen, 2009) and it has been infused into the AOTA Code of Ethics and Occupational Therapy Practice Framework.

This heavy interest in social justice that was birthed at USC is what makes the $20 million gift all the more interesting.

 The gift was made by Ronnie C. Chan, who is also a USC TrusteeMr. Chan is a Chairman of a major Hong Kong real estate firm, and was also a Director of Enron Corporation and a member of its audit committee when it filed for bankruptcy as a result of fraud.  Enron became infamous in the early 2000s for its well publicized bankruptcy that was necessitated because of accounting fraud.  Deceptive accounting practices caused average people to lose billions of dollars while Enron insiders, including some of its senior management and Board, sold their shares before the bankruptcy filing.  According to the Washington Post, many of the Directors of Enron remained largely unscathed by the bankruptcy, but they did collectively have to pay a combined $13 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit alleging insider trading.  Mr. Chang was one of the Directors in that group.

 Chan also resigned from the Motorola Board after the Enron collapse. The AFL-CIO, which represented the interests of many Motorola shareholders, called on Procter and Gamble to reject Chan's re-nomination to the Motorola Board.  As reported in Bloomberg Businessweek, the AFL-CIO was motivated to block former Enron Directors from other public boards because its members lost more than $1 billion on their 3.1 million Enron shares.

The occupational science scholars have been concerned with social forces that contribute to limitations on people's ability to engage in occupations, including oppressive political forces, oppressive economies, oppressive banking systems, oppressive sociocultural practices, and so on.  This is what makes the USC/Chan alliance so unexpected.  The Enron scandal epitomizes the kinds of structures that many occupational scientists point to as constituting primary sources of oppression in society.

In the week prior to the announcement of the USC gift, the Chan family announced an even larger gift of $350 million to Harvard University's school of public health.  Commenters and bloggers were quick to note that Ronnie Chan was not mentioned in many of the Harvard news releases.  Some commenters wondered why money allegedly made off of the backs of poor renters in Hong Kong should go to support elite private colleges in the United States.  Others reflected on "Ronnie’s Teflon status [that] also allowed him to emerge unscathed from the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong when Amoy Gardens, a middle class housing development, became the epicenter of infection with 321 cases and several deaths. The high number of cases in this one location was attributed to poor maintenance of water pipes. Hang Lung was the developer of Amoy and managed the buildings."


Hang Lung Properties is Mr. Chan's company.  That is quite a notorious historical record in consideration of a hefty donation in the interest of public health.

The acceptance by USC of this gift, however, tells me quite clearly that I should no longer accept the proselytizing of do-gooder occupational therapists who claim to be concerned about structures that contribute to problems with social or occupational justice.  If they are going to hold out their hands and accept money like this while promoting an opposing agenda, then their message cannot be taken seriously.

I am not a social/occupational justice proponent, but point out these facts so they can be considered for intellectual and ethical consistency.

References:

Articles linked above.

Braveman, B. and Bass-Haugen, J.D. (2009). Social justice and health disparities: An evolving discourse in occupational therapy research and intervention. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63, 7-12.

Pollard, N., Sakellariou, D., & Kronenberg, F. (2008). A political practice of occupational therapy, Edinburgh: Elsevier.


Townsend, E. & Wilcock, A. (2004). Occupational justice and client-centred practice: A dialogue in progress, Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71(2), 75-87.

Wilcock, A. (1998). An Occupational Perspective of Health, Thorofare, NJ: Slack, Inc.

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