The University of Maryland plans to announce the creation of a research center to study the nexus of business and society Monday following a $6 million gift from foundations formed by Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider and Koch Industries chief executive Charles Koch.
The Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets will be housed in the university’s business school but call on academics from across campus to study how financial markets and institutions influence the capacity for people to conduct and benefit from business.
“The center’s mission is to conduct an interdisciplinary exploration of markets and institutions that effect human enterprise, and therefore impact the well-being of individuals and societies,” said Rajshree Agarwal, a professor of entrepreneurship who will serve as the center’s first director.
The Snider Foundation put forth $5 million for the center. The foundation serves as a philanthropic outlet for Ed Snider, the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team and chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, a marketing and entertainment conglomerate.
“I’m very much interested in entrepreneurship and how markets function to foster entrepreneurs or impede them, and I’m also interested in the results of entrepreneurial efforts,” Snider said in an interview. “The benefits to society as a whole, basically.”
Snider is an entrepreneur himself. The product of working-class roots, Snider graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Maryland in 1955 and a few years later began a record-distribution business from the back of a friend’s car.
“I’ve been looking to get involved for years and finally found the way to do it,” Snider said.
The remaining $1 million comes from the Arlington-based Charles Koch Foundation, which grants millions each year to universities for academic and scientific research. Locally, the foundation lists American University, Catholic University of America, George Mason University, George Washington University and the University of Virginia, among its grant recipients.
The foundation’s involvement is likely to draw attention at Maryland, the flagship university in a state dominated by Democrats. The foundation’s gifts have been sharply criticized by those who say that the money is used to impose the right-wing views of its namesake on institutions of higher learning. At Catholic University, for example, 50 educators called on administrators there to return its $1 million donation from Koch.
“We believe that academic freedom is absolutely important for . . . the advancement of knowledge,” said John Hardin, a program officer at the Koch Foundation. “We believe very strongly [faculty] must be free to pursue whatever questions, theories, data they believe are most relevant.”
Hardin, who earned his doctorate from the University of Maryland in 2011, first became aware of the center after a chance meeting with Snider’s son last year, he said. That triggered discussions about how the two foundations might jointly fund the initiative.
“For us, it was really just the mission of the center that was most exciting,” Hardin said. “Our role is to provide resources and support for the faculty to pursue their interests.”
Officials at both foundations said they will play no role in determining the center’s research priorities or selecting its personnel, which is expected to include three professors, doctoral students, fellows and support staff.
“The university actually has a very clear policy that prohibits any outside influence on the selection and interests of the personnel,” Agarwal said. “This policy was very clearly communicated as part of the gift-giving process.”
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