REPORT: Koch Fueling Far Right Academic Centers At Universities Across The Country

An interesting post at Think Progress By Lee Fang on May 11th, 2011.

Corporate takeover of academic freedom!  You would have to conclude that Florida State University President Eric J. Barron needs to do a little deep thinking about what his institute stands for. He wouldn’t want to end up as the president of Florida State University of Petroleum Products (FSUPP) would he?

Yesterday, ThinkProgress highlighted reports from the St. Petersburg Times and the Tallahassee Democrat regarding a Koch-funded economics department at Florida State University (FSU). FSU had accepted a $1.5 million grant from a foundation controlled by petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch on the condition that Koch’s people would have a free hand in selecting professors and approving publications. The simmering controversy sheds light on the vast influence of the Koch political machine, which spans from the top conservative think tanks, Republican politicians, a small army of contracted lobbyists, and Tea Party front groups in nearly every state.

As reporter Kris Hundley notes, Koch virtually owns much of George Mason University, another public university, through grants and direct control over think tanks within the school. For instance, Koch controls the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, an institute that set much of the Bush administration’s environmental deregulation policy. And similar conditional agreements have been made with schools like Clemson and West Virginia University. ThinkProgress has analyzed data from the Charles Koch Foundation, and found that this trend is actually much larger than previous known. Many of the Koch university grants finance far right, pro-polluter professors, and dictate that students read Charles Koch’s book as part of their academic study:

– West Virginia University: As ThinkProgress reported last year, Koch funds an array of academic programs at West Virginia University, a public university. One Koch-funded academic at WVU, economics professor Russell Sobel, has written a book blasting regulations of all types. He even argues that less mine safety regulations will make coal miners more safe. As the St. Petersburg Times reported, a similar arrangement has been made with WVU as with FSU in accepting at least $480,000 from Koch.

– Brown University: The Charles Koch Foundation funds the Political Theory Project at Brown, which provides funding for “Seminar Luncheons for undergraduates, academic conferences, research fellowships for graduate students, support for faculty research, and a postdoctoral fellowship program.” Amity Shales, a pop-conservative writer who argues that the New Deal made the Great Depression worse, an odd theory promoted by Charles Koch himself, has been a featured speaker at the Koch-funded Project at Brown. Moreover, Koch’s donation of at least$419,254 to Brown has underwritten a number of research projects in the Economics and Political Science deparments, including a paper arguing that bank deregulation has helped the poor.

– Troy University: The Charles Koch Foundation, along with the Manuel Johnson and the BB&T Foundation, provided Troy University, a public university, a gift of $3.6 million to establish the Center for Political Economy last year. The Center’s stated goal is to push back against the belief following the financial crisis that markets need regulation. Notably, the entire Advisory Council for the Center is made up of Koch and BB&T-funded professors at other universities, including Russell Sobel at West Virginia University and Peter Boettke at George Mason University. Currently, the Center’s only staffer, Professor Scott Beaulier, is a board member of the ExxonMobil-funded attack group, American Energy Alliance, and a former staffer for Koch’s think tank at George Mason.

– Utah State University: The Charles Koch Foundation has given nearly$700,000 to Utah State University, mostly for the Huntsman School of Business. The money has been used to hire five new faculty members, and establish a program for undergraduates to enroll and learn about Charles Koch’s “Science of Liberty” management theory. Professor Randy Simmons, the “Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy” at the school, helps select students — who must provide information about their ideological interests in their application form — to the Koch program. Simmons also works for several Koch-funded front groups, and writes papers against environmental regulations. Charles Koch’s book, “The Science of Success,” a book Forbes mocked for proclaiming a “Marxist faithin ‘fixed laws’ that govern ‘human well-being,’” is part of the required reading list for the program. A representative for Utah State did not return ThinkProgress’ calls about conditional strings attached to the Koch grant.

Charles Koch Foundation grants, along with direct Koch Industries grants, are distributed to dozens of other universities around the country every year, to both public and private institutions. Some of the programs, like the Charles Koch Student Research Colloquium at Beloit College, are funded by grants of little over $130,000 and simply support conservative speakers on campuses. We have reached out to several of the schools to learn more about the agreements, but none so far have returned our calls.

Budget constraints and other problems at universities have allowed a small set of oligarchs to use school donations to interfere with academic integrity on campuses. A group of hedge fund managers, working through the Manhattan Institute’s Veritas Fund, have created entire departments dedicated to advancing failed supply side ideas and climate skepticism. John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T Bank, a bailout recipient, has used his corporation’s money to force college campuses to adopt Ayn Rand readings into their programs.

Overall, Koch is still a dominate player when it comes to meddling with academic integrity. Part of the effort is coordinated through operatives like Richard Fink, who doubles as a vice president at Koch’s corporate lobbying office. Through an organization called the Association of Private Enterprise Education, Koch organizes these corporate-funded university departments into a powerful intellectual movement. The organization allows Koch staffers in Washington DC to request certain types of studies, interfere with hiring decisions, and reward loyal free market academics with hefty research grants.


6 thoughts on “REPORT: Koch Fueling Far Right Academic Centers At Universities Across The Country

  1. could you please explain the difference between Koch funding universities in the US and WotIf co-founder, Mr Graeme Wood, funding your Global Change Institute Sustainable Building?

    • Easy, Janama. On one hand, we have Graeme Wood who has generously donated money to the University of Queensland for establishing an innovative building on campus which will have a very low carbon and waste footprint. Graeme does not play a role (or want to play a role) in choosing academics being hired by the University. On the other hand, we have a foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch giving funds ($1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department) and expecting to then screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting “political economy and free enterprise.” This is rather than let the experts in economics make those decisions (Koch hardly known for his academic excellence!). On one hand, you have genuine philanthropy aimed at inspiring students. On the other, you have donations being made in return for perverting academic freedom … look at the long list where these corrupt individuals have been operating – a very different situation.

  2. I say again – a wealthy philanthropist in the US sponsoring a group of universities is no different than a small philanthropist in Australia sponsoring your fancy building.

    • If you use abusive language – what do you expect. Anyway – the point stands … there is a big difference between untied gifts to a university for student education versus an oilman giving money to plant his own people in the university system.

  3. Janama, does Graeme Wood fund political parties like the Koch’s do with the TEA party & speak at their events?

    Or does he own or fund lobbying firms that specifically lobby governments with the specific purpose of providing misinformation, securing continuing subsidies or preventing legislation that would affect his profits like the Koch do?

    There is a difference between donating money for the purpose of benefitting mankind & funding organizations who’s whole purpose is to provide misinformation or lobby the public & governments for the purpose of their donors business wishes.

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