July 13, 2010; Source: Fair Warning | The relationship between a donor and grantee can get sticky, especially when the grantee feels honor bound to publicly criticize the donor. Toyota is a donor to Southern Illinois University where an engineering professor, David Gilbert, did research that he said proved that the spontaneous acceleration problem attributed to some Toyota models might flow from faulty wiring rather than problems with the gas pedal or floor mats.
According to the Associated Press, Toyota, subsequent to Gilbert’s appearance on ABC news, tried to get to him before his testimony before Congress, and mounted a campaign to express their displeasure and even apparently to get the researcher fired. Also in the midst of the skirmish, two Toyota representatives resigned from an advisory board of the school’s auto-technology program, and the automaker took back its commitment to fund two spring-break internships.
Both the automaker and the university insist that the relationship is still “strong” and the car company says that the resignations were simply to avoid a perception of conflict or undue influence. The prof who had earlier tried to take his claims to the company said he felt that this was not a situation in which he could be inactive.—Ruth McCambridge