The Koch Brothers’ Gifts to Higher Ed Come with Many Strings Attached

The New York Post recently ran a story by Carl Campanile under this headline: “College Liberals Spurn $10M Gift from the Koch Brothers.” Mitchell Langbert, a faculty member in the Business School at Brooklyn College, had been in extended discussions with the Koch Brothers Foundation about establishing a “financial center” within the Business School.

When the Brooklyn College administration decided to reject the gift, Langbert asserted, “’It’s political correctness. It’s intolerance about anyone who doesn’t toe the left-wing line.’”

I am not going to pretend that Progressives have anything but disdain for what the Koch brothers represent—that Progressives have any less bias toward Far-Right ideologues than those ideologues have toward Progressives. But as Langbert himself must know, there were much deeper issues at play in this discussion and decision than simple political bias.

The Koch brothers, the Walton heirs, and others classifiable as both ultra-wealthy and politically Far Right have established foundations through which they have been funding not just the whole gamut of “reforms” being imposed on public education at the K-12 level but also positions, departments, and think tanks at the university level that will insure that their ideology will be prominently represented in research on public-policy issues and in the policy discussions and decisions resulting from that research.

The funding from these foundations routinely requires that the institution defer to the foundations in hiring decisions, curriculum design, and the focus of the research being conducted. Accepting the funding under those sorts of conditions requires the abandonment of all sorts of principles of shared governance and academic freedom–a diminishment of the importance of faculty recommendations on hiring decisions, curriculum development and approval, and, ultimately, the determination of the value of research through peer review and scholarly consensus.

Recently, faculty and students at Florida State University have protested the process being used to select a new president of the institution.  The original search firm came under intense scrutiny when it seemed to be trying to narrow the possibilities to several Far Right political figures within the state government. Very notably, however, the student protests rather quickly expanded to the broader efforts of the Far Right to shape the campus culture, in particular through faculty positions funded by the Koch Brothers Foundation. Those protests have subsequently spread to several other large university campuses in states throughout much of the U.S.

So, contrary to the assertions that have figured prominently in the article published in the New York Post, the decision by the administration at Brooklyn College to reject the gift from the Koch Brothers Foundation was not arbitrary or capricious or simply a response to political pressure from Progressives. It was, instead, a recognition that the acceptance of such gifts is tantamount to selling the soul of the institution.

And, frankly, if an institution is going to sell its soul, it ought to be asking for a lot more money. These sorts of gifts from foundations may sound like a lot of money, but in the context of institutional budgets, they are attempts to purchase influence on the cheap. After all, it generally costs considerably more just to get one’s name on a new building.


6 thoughts on “The Koch Brothers’ Gifts to Higher Ed Come with Many Strings Attached

  1. Pingback: Koch Money at Colleges and Universities: Part II, N-W | The Academe Blog

  2. Pingback: Koch Money at Colleges and Universities: Part I, A-M | The Academe Blog

    • This is a convenient talking point, and it may have been true forty to fifty years ago. But over the last forty years, any Leftist bias in higher education has been more than compensated for by those on the Far Right who, from the Tea-Party wing of the GOP, have pushed for ideologically based curricular changes, and, from the money wing of the GOP, have pushed for increasing corporatization and privatization. Through organizations such as ALEC, the Koch Brothers and other Far Right ideologues have been manipulating both wings of the GOP on a level that if, it had occurred in a comparable way on the Left, would have been denounced as a wholesale subversion of American values. But, very clearly, that’s exactly what happens when extreme wealth and the preservation of the privileges of extreme wealth become conflated with those values.

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