NPR reports:

John Allison, CEO of banking giant BB&T, calls Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged "the best defense of capitalism ever written." He says that Rand changed his life, and he's working to ensure that the deceased author isn't left out of the nation's college curricula.

Since 2005, the BB&T Charitable Foundation has given 25 colleges and universities several million dollars to start programs devoted to the study of Rand's books and economic philosophy. In January, the company announced it was donating $1 million to Marshall University in West Virginia.

The money would establish a course dedicated to Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, and help create the BB&T Center for the Advancement of American Capitalism on campus.

I'm not sure I see the problem, here. Hell, my alma mater had classes on pornography, the Beatles, and the music of Frank Zappa (note: I consider this a good thing). It would be one thing if BB&T were establishing an entire econ department staffed only with Objectivists. But an elective class on the virtues of capitalism that exposes students to Rand's ideas doesn't seem all that nefarious. Of course, some people disagree:

Rick Wilson, a sociology instructor at Marshall and head of the West Virginia Economic Justice Project, says that Rand's philosophy, objectivism, is based on the view that selfishness is the only moral value.

"[Objectivism] goes against the collective wisdom of the human race, I think, pretty much everywhere," says Wilson. "I think it's a curious interpretation of philanthropy to use corporate money to promote, really, an extreme philosophy."

I'm not sure when it became accepted logic that corporate philanthropies should only fund ideas and causes that are hostile to free markets. But that certainly seems to be the prevailing sentiment in the philanthropy world. And Rand's weaknesses aside, I'd say you could make a pretty good case that capitalism, the economic system that accepts and harnesses self-interest, has served humanity pretty darned well.

Jeff Taylor blogged about a similar Allison gift to UNC-Charlotte last March, and wrote about BB&T's lead-by-example capitalism in 2006.