The DSA's corrupting influence on academia
The Chronicle of Higher Education has just published an article by Francie Diep on "Multilevel Marketing has a 'goodwill ambassador' in the Classroom." The article explains how the Direct Selling Education Foundation was created by the Direct Selling Association in order to burnish the reputation of the MLM industry. Part of the burnishing involves the DSEF funding fellowships for academics willing assist the MLM industry in exchange for supporting their research with cash and data. There are excellent quotes by Stacie Bosley and Bill Keep, questioning whether any academic should accept support from the DSEF. The issue deserves wider circulation than the presumably limited academic audience of this journal.
One frustrating issue is when the writer states that “Numbers published by the Direct Selling Association state that only a small minority of people involved with association member companies are truly seeking an income.” For support she links only to a one page handout from the DSA that fails to explain how the data was collected, who was surveyed, what they were asked, or how they determined whether a respondent was seeking income or just products. That handout in turn refers to a “DSA 2022 Growth and Study,” which does not appear to be publicly available (not even on the DSA’s website where some reports are available for purchase). This is in contrast with the AARP, which reached very different conclusions, and which provides detailed information on how the survey was conducted. Nevertheless, the DSA has been successful in using this handout to bolster its narrative that very few MLM participants actually care about making money.
When considering what industry partnerships are appropriate, Beck-Dudley thinks
in terms of what the partner wants in return for access to students. The things that
the Direct Selling Education Foundation wants — like having fellows teach about
direct selling, use the foundation’s curricular materials, and treat multilevel
marketing as a mainstream business model — are “pretty standard,” she said. Many
associations come to business schools seeking similar benefits, and perhaps all, to
some extent, are looking to polish their reputations. It’s up to professors to teach
subjects in a balanced way.
So, to me, it sounds like there needs to be a foundation providing fact-based curricular materials to... supplement (all puns intended, all the time) this.