After decades of donating millions of dollars to colleges and universities in an effort to promote its own conservative world view, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation has just published its set of “academic giving principles.” Let’s look at the reality of the foundation’s giving before the fantasy principles.
For those who don’t know, Koch is one of two famous billionaire brothers — the other being David Koch — who have spent a mountain of money to promote their own anti-regulation, pro-business views of economics as well as their positions on social issues (they are climate deniers, for example.) Earlier this year, my Washington Post colleague Matea Gold wrote in this article:
The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors, according to an analysis of new tax returns and other documents. The filings show that the network of politically active nonprofit groups backed by the Kochs and fellow donors in the 2012 elections financially outpaced other independent groups on the right and, on its own, matched the long-established national coalition of labor unions that serves as one of the biggest sources of support for Democrats.
That’s the political arena. The Charles G. Koch foundation has also given gobs of money in education — with attached strings. For example, when the foundation was engaged in talks with Florida State University back in 2007 to make a donation worth millions of dollars, the organization had an agenda: The school’s Economics Department would get the cash if it taught economics to reflect the pro-business, anti-regulatory philosophy of Koch — and wouldn’t if it didn’t. Faculty members would be chosen in consultation with the foundation, and there would be more cash if the foundation-approved department chair would keep his job.
It was not a singular event. Inside Higher Ed reported in 2011 that foundation grant agreements with Utah State University included a provision that the Koch foundation be involved in reviewing candidates for jobs and requires that tenure-track professors hired with Koch money follow “Objectives and Purposes.” The same was true with the foundation’s grant agreements with West Virginia University and Clemson University in South Carolina. At George Mason University in Virginia, students have pushed the administration to reveal details of its relationship with Koch.
Then there was the $25 million that the United Negro College Fund accepted from the Charles Koch Foundation to establish a “Koch Scholars” program — which the foundation has funded at a number of colleges. The idea, according to the Web site of Utah State University’s School of Business:
The Koch Scholar program is a select group of intellectually curious faculty and students. We encourage students from any discipline to apply. We are especially interested in applications from students who are interested in how politics and economics affect individual freedom and responsibility. The Koch Scholars program is competitive and selects only the most promising candidates.
Salon reported in September 2014 that United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax attended a retreat held by the Koch brothers in June 2014, and Lomax was heard “mocking critics” of his “Koch scholars” partnership.
When the foundation gives money, it expects something back, which makes it interesting that in its newly published “academic giving principles,” the foundation says it wants to fund “scholars and students who are free to teach, learn, research, speak, critique, and receive support for their work without interference from anyone on or off campus.”
Here’s what the foundation published Oct. 31 (which was, perhaps appropriately, Halloween):
For more than fifty years, Charles Koch has supported research and educational programs focused on improving individual and societal well-being. The Charles Koch Foundation supports people and organizations that help advance an understanding of the conditions necessary to improve peoples’ lives.
We are committed to the highest standards of integrity in our philanthropy, and our Guiding Principles form the basis of a culture that extends throughout our organization and shapes our grant making.
The following tenets inform our university philanthropy and characterize our grants to universities.
- Academic Freedom: We are committed to advancing a marketplace of ideas and supporting a “Republic of Science” where scholarship is free, open, and subject to rigorous and honest intellectual challenge. We seek university partners who are committed to realizing this ideal.
- Academic Independence: Scholars and students who are free to teach, learn, research, speak, critique, and receive support for their work without interference from anyone on or off campus are in the best position to discover the advances that will help improve well-being.
Consistent with this philosophy, our grants are designed to promote independent exploration; as such, grant recipients retain full control over their research programs and other initiatives supported by our grants.
Our grants conform to the recipient university’s policy regarding hiring, research, and educational curriculum.
- Donor Intent: We fund those activities that a university proposes that match our philanthropic priorities and have the greatest likelihood of success.
- Public Benefit: A successful grant is one that benefits society by improving what we know about how people can live better lives. We do not make grants that would convey a special benefit to any specific individual, beyond the benefit enjoyed by society as a whole.
The “guiding principles” of the foundation include this, which makes the foundation’s real intent clear:
Value Creation: Contribute to societal well-being by advancing the ideas, values, policies, and practices of free societies. Understand, develop, and apply Market-Based Management to achieve superior results by making better decisions, eliminating waste, optimizing, and innovating.
Principled Entrepreneurship™: Apply the judgment, responsibility, initiative, economic and critical thinking skills, and sense of urgency necessary to generate the greatest contribution, consistent with the organization’s risk philosophy.
There is a student-led effort that is working to end college and university relationships with the Koch brothers, which you can learn about here.