Uni bosses say they cannot reveal who is behind massive donations in excess of £100k because of data protection legislation.
A York Vision investigation has confirmed just seven people or organisations were responsible for donating at least £1.2million between them to the university in the last two years, though that figure could actually be as high as a staggering £12million.
Additionally, the University has received 48 gifts of between £10k and £100k from only 31 parties since August 2014.
While the University will name companies, including arms manufacturer BAE Systems, who pay money towards research or consulting, they say privacy laws protect the identities of those who donate gifts – including large corporations.
Last night secretary of Socialist Society Katie Smith said big donations from anonymous sources were an “example of how the marketisation of education fails students.”
She added: “Accepting money from companies that act against the moral interest of the student body is unacceptable in my opinion.”
The University said they owed a “duty of confidence” to the donors to keep their identities secret. “In this case, further disclosure of donors’ identities and gifted amounts would be unfair and incompatible with the purposes for which the data was obtained.”
However, York Vision has seperately learned the university does receive money from individuals associated with arms companies in the form of donations.
Victor Chavez, a former York undergraduate, donates “at least £500” to University funds each year, although the actual figure is unknown. He is now the CEO of defence company Thales UK.
Thales UK is involved in manufacturing the Watchkeeper drone with Israeli company Elbit. Anti-poverty charity War on Want have alleged an earlier model of the aircraft was “field tested” by killing Palestinian civilians.
In his top role, Mr Chavez is responsible for the “strategic direction” of Thales UK, which employs more than 7,000 people.
Donating any amount over £500 annually affords Mr Chavez access to the Deramore Circle, an “exclusive club” for big donors run by the University. The University website says the group’s members are “specially recognised for the impact of their generous support.”
Mr Chavez will have been invited to “exclusive Deramore Circle receptions” with University staff.
Since Mr Chavez became its CEO in 2011, Thales has forged a strong relationship with departments at the University.
Over the past two years Thales UK has run several events on campus to talk to “graduates about a career working for one of the world’s leading engineering and technology firms working across defence [and] security.”
In October their presence at a careers fair prompted a protest lead by Palestinian Solidarity Society, who demanded the University end its relationships with arms manufacturers.
At the time, PalSoc accused Thales of “war crimes” and claimed they had forced a Thales UK graduate recruiter to leave the careers fair early. However, the University insisted this was “not unusual.”
These new revelations about donor anonymity will add to mounting concerns about how companies align themselves with the University, and which businesses are afforded access to top brass.
Adam Sutherland, chair of PalSoc, said: “It is very disappointing that the University are forging ties with a company that plays an integral role in sustaining the occupation of Palestinian land and the human rights abuses that are perpetrated there.”
Sutherland said Thales UK had been involved the production of a drone associated with the “deaths of over 2000 civilians in Gaza.”
He added: “The University should be more open with students as to which companies are forging relationships with their departments and the influence they have over University policy.”
Mr Chavez can be identified because he has chosen to be listed on the publicly availible University donor roll. However, any donor can choose to remain anonymous.
University registrar David Duncan admitted the Uni is keen to keep big donors on side: “We look after them very well.” But he insisted “there is no prospect of large donors influencing University policy or shaping academic activity at York.”
Duncan added: “The vice-chancellor has to approve gifts of a value greater than £100,000.”
Ben Leatham said: “It is concerning that the University doesn’t release who it’s largest donors are.
“It is so important that that they are open and transparent about matters like this. When they aren’t it looks like they have something to hide.”
A Thales UK spokesperson did not respond to repeated requests for comment by the time of going to print.