Philip Morris Awards $500,000 Grant To Restructure College of Education

By Jonathan Weisman — September 18, 1991 3 min read

The Philip Morris Companies this month gave a $500,000 grant to the University of Tennessee to completely restructure its college of education and to help other universities improve the way they train teachers.

While philanthropic attention on teacher education is heightening, observers say the Philip Morris grant is one of a handful that addresses the need for a comprehensive restructuring of teacher education.

“There’s a growing recognition that if you’re going to see changes in public education, the places that prepare teachers ought to turn the spotlight on themselves and look at what they ought to be like in a decade or two,” said Richard Wisniewski, the dean of the university’s education school. “This grant is one of the few out there that is allowing us to do this.”

Mr. Wisniewski said the grant will fund three year-long phases. The first, now under way, concentrates on finding faculty members, policymakers, and reformers--both national and local who are interested in generating ideas on restructuring.

The second phase, to begin in a year, will look at each existing component of education training and decide which to eliminate, which to revamp, and which to continue. General reform ideas and a blueprint for a restructured school of education should emerge, which would be approved and implemented during the effort’s third year. Mr. Wisniewski declined to give details regarding the direction of reform, saying he did not want the program to reflect his views alone. He hinted that more collaboration with surrounding school systems and the establishment of teacher-training facilities would be pursued.

He also said the way prospective teachers are taught should reflect the way the faculty feels that precollegiate students should be taught. That could mean the elimination of traditional college-lecture formats for more participatory exercises.

The grant stipulates that university officials hold at least two national symposiums on the blueprint they design. Already, U.T. administrators have set up an October meeting with the education researcher John I. Goodlad to get ideas about his teacher-education reform project and to plot ways to tap into his network, Mr. Wisniewski said.

Spreading the Seeds

“If this [effort] has implications for other schools of education, we would be more than happy to be able to seed a flower and help it spread,” said Anne Dowling, director of corporate contributions at Philip Morris, implying that similar grants may follow.

For now, however, she said the companies’ attention will be on the state of Tennessee, where she admits to a vested interest.

“We have 2,500 employees there, and the university’s school of education graduates 40 percent of all teachers in the state,” she said. “Their students are the ones we’re going to eventually have to hire to fill our plant facilities.”

Like many other corporate philanthropies, Philip Morris has made education a top priority. But targeting teacher education specifically is still a new idea.

Ms. Dowling said the firm will look for proposals on teacher education, efforts to raise the prestige of the teaching profession, and programs to lure more minorities into the profession.

Recent multimillion-dollar grants, including two separate $2- million awards from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund and a $1.25-million grant to Mr. Goodlad from the Exxon Education Foundation, have elevated the issue of teacher education in the philanthropic community. (See Education Week, March 27, 1991 .)

But philanthropy experts say the grants do not yet add up to a trend. Indeed, Ms. Dowling said, the Tennessee proposal was attractive because it put Philip Morris on the front end of “an emerging area.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 1991 edition of Education Week as Philip Morris Awards $500,000 Grant To Restructure College of Education