“Dark Money” and Education

BY AARON BARLOW

The reasoning behind the choice of “Media and the Faculty” as the theme of the current issue of Academe can be gleaned from David Daley’s interview on Salon with Jane Mayer about her new book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Concerning Lewis Powell who, before being appointed to the Supreme Court, was a lawyer for the tobacco industry and author of the 1971 “Powell Memorandum” that Mayer refers to as the “Rosetta Stone” for the rise of the Koch-powered right, Daley commented:

He identified the enemy as the universities and the educated elite.

Mayer responded:

Right, the enemy for big business in America was the intelligentsia. The educated elite, the media, the scientists specifically, judges were very key. They wanted to change the whole judiciary and influence opinion-makers. And so they set out to build this counter-intelligentsia and Scaife describes in his memoir how he put — what he reckons by modern dollars — $1 billion into this project, which is a stupendous amount of money. It comes from the Gulf Oil fortune that he inherited and he’s working with Powell. Powell then gets on the Supreme Court, but they build the early foundations, literally, that created, and they use private philanthropy, which gives these families huge tax deductions to essentially propagate theories that serve their personal interests, their personal financial interests.

All of this, essentially an ideologically driven alternative to the American university system, arose while those who should be seen as the real intellectuals sat and twiddled their thumbs. In fact, it’s worse: The Koch brothers have even taken their battle to the strongholds of the “enemy.” Mayer observed:

I think one of the things that’s most important that the Kochs have done is to subsidize programs in universities and colleges all over the country. It’s hard to count because they’re not transparent particularly, but there’s somewhere between 220 and maybe 300 universities and colleges now that have Koch-funded programs.

What they would say, of course, is, well, the universities are left-leaning and liberal — but the thing is what they’re doing is subsidizing one point of view, whereas the others have grown organically because it’s academic freedom, and that happens to be what the scholars are teaching and believing. They instead are waging a war of ideas, but one in which they push their own point of view by paying for it, and paying universities to push it. And it’s growing at a very fast clip at this point.

Read the book, but start with the interview. Here, again, is the link.

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