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“Koch Funding Of Universities Shrouded In Secrecy”: Trying To Reshape Public Education To Match Their Libertarian Ideology

In a recent column entitled “The Campus Climate Crusade,” The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel spent over 800 words arguing the basic conceit of UnKochMyCampus, a campaign uniting students at universities around the country who are working to increase transparency on their campuses and fight attempts by corporate donors like Charles and David Koch from influencing their education.

Her core arguments? The left is wielding transparency as a “weapon,” and efforts to access information through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are “shutting down debate across the country.”

Unfortunately for Strassel, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our work with UnKochMyCampus has shown us that transparency removes the smoke and mirrors that cloud the debate, leaving ordinary people ill-equipped to develop informed opinions on research and policy around the most important issues of the day. Our policy is being shaped by corporations, for corporations – and that’s a huge problem.

There was a time when the public engaged in a seemingly-legitimate debate about whether smoking caused cancer. Then we learned that the studies claiming cigarettes were safe were funded by the tobacco industry. Once the cat was out of the bag, people saw that “debate” for what it was – a farce.

Just as tobacco companies had a vested financial interest in keeping the public in the dark about the dangers of smoking, today’s fossil fuel companies are stoking denial about the realities of climate change and masking the positive impact of regulations and renewable energy programs to protect their bottom line.

One of the key strategies they use to accomplish this is unleashing a flood of money into think-tanks and universities around the country to help disseminate their message. That money comes with strings attached that give corporations more and more influence over education and research at both public and private universities around the country.

Just weeks ago it was revealed that Harvard-Smithsonian’s Willie Soon – whose climate change studies the scientific community have long claimed to be inaccurate – received almost all of his funding from fossil fuel interests. Were it not for public disclosure laws, this information would have been hidden from the public, making it much more difficult for those who are not members of the scientific community to discern whether Soon’s research was above board or just corporate PR disguised as science.

While this is an egregious example, it’s by no means an aberration. Between 2001 and 2013, the Charles Koch Foundation has provided nearly $70 million to almost 400 campuses across the country. This money goes to researchers like Soon or think-tanks like the Beacon Hill Institute housed at Suffolk University in Boston that produce content designed to further climate denial and attack policies they oppose, like the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon rule or state renewable portfolio standards.

But that’s not all the money buys. As students at Florida State University and Clemson University discovered in 2011, grant agreements (Memorandums of Understanding, or “MOUs”) between universities and the Charles Koch Foundation often give the Kochs influence over the hiring of professors and development of course curriculum. In other words, on top of reshaping scientific studies to further their bottom line, the Kochs are also trying to reshape public education to match their libertarian ideology. This strategy has been in effect for decades and was even referenced outright by Charles Koch during a 1974 speech he delivered to a room of businessmen at a seminar on “The Anti-Capitalist Mentality”: “We should cease financing our own destruction…by supporting only those programs, departments or schools that contribute in some way to our individual companies or to the general welfare of our free enterprise system.”

Bringing to light the MOUs between the Charles Koch Foundation and universities exposed the Kochs’ dark money campaign on college campuses around the country and rightfully caused an uproar, which explains why Koch Industries is so vehemently opposed to further efforts by students involved in the UnKoch My Campus campaign to increase transparency. Case in point: Koch Industries is currently paying legal fees for University of Kansas professor Art Hall who sued the university following a Kansas Open Records Act request submitted by a student who sought to gain more information into his hiring. It sure looks shady: From 1997 to 2004, Hall was chief economist of Koch Industries’ lobbying subsidiary, Koch Companies Public Sector and currently serves as the director of KU’s conservative Center for Applied Economics, which receives funding from the Kochs.

But perhaps no other university in the country serves as a better example of the corporatization of education than George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. GMU has received more than $34 million from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2011. But the real impact of the Kochs’ funding on campus remains a mystery. Despite repeated attempts by students to obtain information about the grants and MOU with the Foundation, the school refuses to comply because it has housed the grants under the private George Mason University Foundation instead of the university itself in an attempt to prevent any potentially damning information about their source from being subject to the rules governing public universities like GMU.

Transparency is one of the last avenues available to concerned members of the public, including students, professors and alumni, who have serious and well-founded concerns about the motives of major financial donors like the Kochs. If transparency is seen as such a threat, only one logical question remains: what are they so afraid of disclosing?

 

By: Kalin Jordan, Co-founder of UnKochMyCampus; Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, April 20, 2015

April 27, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Koch Brothers, Public Education | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Juicy Target For Budget Cutters”: To Balance Budgets, Governors Seek Higher Education Cuts

Governors in nearly a half-dozen states want to cut state spending on colleges and universities to help close budget shortfalls, often sparking vehement opposition among state lawmakers of both parties.

Republican governors in Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin, and Connecticut’s Democratic governor have proposed higher education cuts for the coming fiscal year. Higher education spending traditionally is a juicy target for budget cutters because schools can make up the lost revenue by raising tuition.

But students and their families already are being squeezed by steadily rising college costs. In fiscal year 2013, schools got about 47 percent of their revenue from tuition, up from about 24 percent in fiscal year 1988, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut has suggested a tuition hike to compensate for the cuts, but the Republican governors are urging the schools in their states to find the necessary savings by trimming bureaucracy and consolidating campuses.

University officials argue that past budget cuts have pushed them to the breaking point, forcing them, for example, to rely heavily on adjunct professors and teaching assistants instead of full professors. During the recession, 48 states cut higher education spending. Alaska and North Dakota didn’t. They are the only two states spending as much or more on higher education than they did before the recession, when the numbers are adjusted for inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington, D.C.-based research group.

Some critics have urged the Republican governors to roll back recent tax cuts to spare the colleges and universities. But so far the governors have balked, arguing that lower taxes have helped working families and attracted businesses.

Nowhere is the controversy greater than in Louisiana, which has a complicated higher education system and a Republican governor who is considering running for president.

Governor Bobby Jindal proposed a budget that would reduce higher education spending by $141 million in fiscal 2016. In recent weeks, he has proposed offsetting some of the cuts by getting rid of some refundable business tax credits, which have a total value of $526 million. But the business community is strongly opposing that idea. That leaves the Republican-dominated legislature in a bind, forcing members to choose between education and low taxes, two priorities they generally support.

State Senator Conrad Appel, a Republican, said in an interview that if the higher education cuts Jindal proposed all go into effect “it would be really serious” and a big blow to colleges and universities. He said he wants to scale back the proposed cuts, but wasn’t prepared to say exactly how.

“If we vote to replenish, some of the cuts will be mitigated to some extent,” he said. But, he noted that the Louisiana public university system has “structural inefficiencies” that will mean more budget cuts in the future. He said he told college administrators last week that they should take steps to cut their budgets, whether that means consolidation of campuses or other methods.

“What I don’t recommend is for higher education to ignore the opportunity to fix the problem,” he said. “Either they are going to fix it or we are going to fix it for them and they won’t like it.”

Robert Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, said that since Jindal became governor in 2008, the number of full-time employees at state colleges and universities has decreased 23 percent due to budget cuts, and that schools have been raising tuition along the way. But now, he said, “they are about to price themselves out of the market.” He said the flagship school, Louisiana State University, “still has some headroom” to continue tuition increases, but most of the small schools in the state system don’t have that luxury.

John Griswold, a fine arts professor at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, said his state is a test case for cuts to higher education.

“The conditions in Louisiana were perfect for testing an assault on state-funded higher education,” Griswold said. He noted the state has a conservative governor, legislative rules that preclude cuts in most spending except for higher education and health care, and an economic downturn prompted by the drop in oil prices.

“Similar conditions exist in other states, so conservative politicians elsewhere can also demand deep cuts to higher ed, based on populist appeals to ‘good business’ and an end to ‘welfare mentality,’” he said.

Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a potential presidential candidate who has cut state income and property taxes by $541 million during his tenure, has proposed cutting $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system.

According to Walker, that amounts to a 2.5 percent cut, but other analysts have put the figure as high as 13 percent. The fact-checking service PolitiFact split the difference, assessing the reduction at about 6 percent. The cut would be exacerbated by the fact that there is a tuition freeze in place.

“Through flexibility and empowering current leaders from across the system, (University of Wisconsin) System and campus leadership will have the tools necessary to deliver a high quality education in a strategic manner while saving taxpayers $150 million a year,” Walker’s spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said.

Meanwhile, two Republican state lawmakers have called for changes in the governor’s budget that would lessen the cut, including raising out-of-state tuition and requiring the university to spend down reserve funds.

“We will work toward a smaller, more manageable cut instead of the $300 million cut proposed in the governor’s budget,” the two, Reps. Dean Knudson and John Nygren, said in a press release last week.

In Illinois, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner recommended a reduction of nearly 6 percent in direct spending on state colleges and universities. Despite the cut, Rauner argues that “this budget proposal continues to offer state support to our public universities” through contributions to the universities’ retirement system and insurance benefits for university employees.

But Rauner faces strong opposition from the Democratic-controlled legislature and from the state’s universities.

Senate President John Cullerton said on his Facebook page that the governor’s budget cuts will “undermine access to health services, child care, affordable college and retirement security for working- and middle-class families” and vowed that the legislature will amend it. While Rauner has proposed cuts in a range of areas, the education chunk is drawing the most attention.

In Arizona, the Republican-led legislature went further than Republican Governor Doug Ducey in cutting higher education, agreeing to a $99 million cut, down from an earlier legislative proposal of $104 million. Ducey had proposed a $75 million reduction as a way to pay for business tax cuts. Universities and proponents of higher education fought the governor’s cuts so doggedly that they prompted a backlash in the legislature, which upped them.

Arizona State University President Michael Crow called the action a “drastic remedy to the state’s budget troubles” and one that will come back to haunt the state when it has fewer college graduates contributing to the state’s economy.

In Connecticut, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy proposed cutting $10.6 million from the University of Connecticut system and an additional $20.6 million from the state’s regional universities. Malloy has expressed support for tuition hikes, after several years of urging that tuition merely keep pace with inflation.

In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback since 2011 has pushed through a 25 percent reduction in the state’s top income tax rate, lowered sales taxes and eliminated a tax on small-business income. As a result, state revenue has declined by $685 million. Brownback now is looking to make cuts in education and elsewhere in an effort to balance the books.

Walter McMahon, professor emeritus of economics and education at the University of Illinois said cutting higher education to close budget gaps is “very, very shortsighted.”

“Spending on education is really an investment,” McMahon said. “As money is invested in human capital formation, each graduate is in the labor force for over 45 years and contributes increased earnings and tax revenue to state coffers.”

He added that statistics show that more educated people live longer, healthier lives and commit fewer crimes, allowing states to spend less on health care and prison costs.

 

By: Elaine S. Povich, The National Memo, March 30, 2015

March 31, 2015 Posted by | Governors, Higher Education, State Budgets | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What A Deal!”: Koch Foundation Proposal To College; Teach Our Curriculum, Get Millions

In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.

First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.

Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.

And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.

The Charles Koch Foundation expressed a willingness to give Florida State an extra $105,000 to keep Benson — a self-described “libertarian anarchist” who asserts that every government function he’s studied “can be, has been, or is being produced better by the private sector” — in place.

“As we all know, there are no free lunches. Everything comes with costs,” Benson at the time wrote to economics department colleagues in an internal memorandum. “They want to expose students to what they believe are vital concepts about the benefits of the market and the dangers of government failure, and they want to support and mentor students who share their views. Therefore, they are trying to convince us to hire faculty who will provide that exposure and mentoring.”

Benson concluded, “If we are not willing to hire such faculty, they are not willing to fund us.”

Such details are contained in 16 pages of previously unpublished emails and memos obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

While the documents are seven years old — and don’t reflect the Charles Koch Foundation’s current relationship with Florida State University, university officials contend — they offer rare insight into how Koch’s philanthropic operation prods academics to preach a free market gospel in exchange for cash.

In 2012 alone, private foundations controlled by Charles Koch and his brother, David Koch, combined to spread more than $12.7 million among 163 colleges and universities, with grants sometimes coming with strings attached, the Center for Public Integrity reported in March.

Florida State University ranked a distant second behind George Mason University of Virginia as a recipient of Charles Koch Foundation money. In a tax document filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the foundation described its Florida State University funding for 2012 as “general support.”

Some schools’ professors and students were aghast at the funding, arguing that such financial support wasn’t widely known on their campuses and could threaten schools’ academic freedoms and independence. Others argued that colleges and universities — long bastions of liberal academics — would be well served by more libertarian courses of study.

Separately, Charles Koch is the financial force behind a “curriculum hub” for high school teachers and college professors that criticizes government and promotes free-market economic principles. He’s also funded programs for public school students, and this year, his foundation donated $25 million to the United Negro College Fund.

At Florida State University, Benson noted in a November 2007 memorandum that the Charles Koch Foundation would not just “give us money to hire anyone we want and fund any graduate student that we choose. There are constraints.”

Benson later added in the memo: “Koch cannot tell a university who to hire, but they are going to try to make sure, through contractual terms and monitoring, that people hired are [to] be consistent with ‘donor Intent.’”

A separate email from November 2007 indicates that Benson asked Charles Koch Foundation officials to review his correspondence with Florida State associates about potential Koch funding.

Trice Jacobson, a Charles Koch Foundation representative, did not respond to questions, although Benson and Florida State University spokesman Dennis Schnittker each confirmed that the emails and documents are authentic.

But Benson noted that the documents were meant for internal use and reflect the “early stages of discussion” well ahead of a 2008 funding agreement signed by the university and the foundation.

That agreement, initiated in 2009, has earned Florida State $1 million through April, according to the university. Until it was revised in 2013, an advisory board would consult with the Charles Koch Foundation to select faculty members funded by the foundation’s money.

Benson also said that while he continued serving as Florida State’s economics department chairman until 2012, Charles Koch Foundation money wasn’t a factor.

While the foundation initially discussed providing money to help fund Benson’s salary, “that idea was taken off the table very early in negotiations,” he said. “I continued as chair because I felt I could still make a valuable contribution to the department.”

The 2008 agreement between the school and the foundation nevertheless faced harsh criticism from some professors and students who argued it indeed gave the foundation too much power over university hiring decisions.

The school and foundation revised their agreement in 2013 “for clarity” and to emphasize the “fact that faculty hires would be consistent with departmental bylaws and university guidelines,” Schnittker said. “Our work with CKF [Charles Koch Foundation] has always upheld university standards.”

Those guidelines, spelled out in a Florida State University statement about the foundation from May, say the money will not compromise “academic integrity” or infringe on the “academic freedom of our faculty.”

Ralph Wilson, a mathematics doctoral student and member of FSU Progress Coalition, doesn’t buy it.

Florida State University “willfully and knowingly violated the integrity of FSU by accepting funding meant only to further Koch’s free-market agenda,” said Wilson, whose student group works to “combat the corporatization of higher education.”

The Charles Koch Foundation, meanwhile, “is using our universities solely to further their own agenda and plunder the very foundations of academic freedom,” Wilson said.

At the end of 2012, the foundation reported having almost $265.7 million in assets, according to its most recent tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

In his 2007 memo to colleagues, Benson acknowledged the school’s relationship with the foundation would invite blowback.

“I guess I am trying to say that this is not an effort to transform the whole department or our curriculum,” Benson wrote. “It is an effort to add to the department in order to offer some students some options that they may not feel they have now, and to create (or more accurately, expand) a cluster of faculty with overlapping interests.”

Benson also predicted entering into an agreement with the foundation carried some risk.

“There clearly is a danger in this, of course. For instance, we might be tempted to lower our standards in order to hire people they like,” Benson wrote, in advocating that the university not do so. “We cannot expect them to be willing to give us free reign to hire anyone we might want, however, so the question becomes, can we find faculty who meet our own standards but who are also acceptable to the funding sources?”

The Koch brothers are best known not for their educational efforts but for controlling a constellation of conservative, politically active nonprofit corporations.

For example, this election cycle alone, six nonprofits connected to the Kochs have combined to air about 44,000 television ads in U.S. Senate races through late August, with the ads typically promoting Republicans or criticizing Democrats.

 

By: Dave Levinthal, The Center for Public Integrity, September 12, 2014

September 14, 2014 Posted by | Education, Koch Brothers, Libertarians | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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