Koch Network’s Student Protest Ban Disguised as “Campus Free Speech”


This is the latest report from UnKoch My Campus. Although it does not entirely align with other recent discussions of this topic posted to this blog, I think that it contributes some new elements and details to that discussion:


In the past month, state lawmakers across the country coordinated an effort to file “campus free speech” bills. These bills make it illegal for students to protest in a way that “disrupts” the speech of anyone who has been invited onto campus.

In a familiar twist, the free speech being protected is that of private donors and corporations, rather than students.

So far, bills have been filed (in some form) in CO, NC, VA, TN, ND, UTIL, and WI, with FL possibly next. These bills have found bipartisan support, and very little resistance, sailing smoothly through committee after committee. In Utah and Colorado, the ACLU has come out in support of the bills.

Most appear unaware of the origins or expressed intent of this legislation. It is based on a model bill, the “Campus Free Speech Act,” developed by two organizations affiliated with the Koch network; the Goldwater Institute and the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

See the model bill language here.

Punishing Protesters for “interrupting”

Despite a provision that appears to protect protests and free speech, this bill actually bans protests. It is not a defense of free speech:

Any person lawfully present on campus may protest or demonstrate there. Such statement shall make clear that protests and demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity shall not be permitted and shall be subject to sanction. (Section 1.4)

This would prohibit a plethora of protected expressive acts, for example, a chant, or a song that could be construed as infringing. The authors claim “[t]his means no more shouting down of visiting speakers, and no more obstruction of legitimate meetings and events.” The model bill stipulates that student demonstrators “shall be subject to sanction.” Not only would disruptive protestors be removed as they are now, they would face legal and academic sanctions:

the bill would authorize a range of disciplinary sanctions for those who interfere with the speech of others, with particularly strong penalties for anyone who commits a second offense.

On campuses that are already overly militarized, this bill calls for harsher policing of students protesters.

The “Milo Bill”

In another provision that more clearly demonstrates the intended effect of the bill, it would “prevent administrators from disinviting speakers, however controversial, whom members of the campus community wish to hear from.”

The announcement of the model bill was released the morning that Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley. Supporters of the Tennessee bill have called this the MILO bill, and even read a statement from Yiannopoulos at a press conference:

We are winning the war. And we will continue to win as long as students, and now defenders of free speech within the government, stand up to ivory tower intellectuals and left-wing administrators intent on shutting up any speech they don’t find convenient.

The authors of the model legislation describe how it is meant to eradicate campus safe spaces, citing how “trigger warnings” and “speaker disinvitations” are the reason that “the core constitutional value of free speech is now under siege.”

The authors characterize safe spaces as “idea-free zones staffed by thought police, where disagreement is prohibited,” while their bill literally exemplifies their own criticism.

The Money Trail

Milo was not a student, nor faculty at UC Berkeley. His talk was sponsored by David Horowitz’s Freedom Center (in Los Angeles). Interestingly, there is a large overlap between the funders of the Freedom Center and the two groups who developed the model legislation; the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Goldwater Institute.


According to 990’s, between 2002 and 2014, the Goldwater Institute received $2,357,112 from the Koch network’s DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, while the Ethics and Public Policy Center has received $873,000. The Freedom Center who sponsored Milo’s UC Berkeley talk received $628,000


The second largest common donor involved was the Bradley foundation, which gave $25,000 to the Goldwater Institute, $7,964,210 to the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and $8,438,000 to Horowitz Freedom Center.


The Goldwater Institute received $75,000 from Koch family foundations (since 2004), while the Ethics and Public Policy Center has received $199,124 (since 1997).

Goldwater is also a member of the State Policy Network, and has received $149,349 from SPN, which itself has received $100,361 from Koch foundations since 1997.

Paid Speech vs. The First Amendment

The bill’s sponsors use a  flawed assessment where free speech is no longer a universal right, in direct contradiction to the U.S. Bill of Rights. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects our freedom of speech, as well as peaceful freedom of assembly:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Much like a campus version of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, these bills bend the definition of free speech to favor corporate funded speech (campus speakers sponsored by outside groups, or corporate funded student groups). Spontaneous protest will be pre-empted by sponsored speakers.

Texas A&M made it clear that white supremacist Richard Spencer was invited to campus by an anonymous private citizen, rather than by faculty or students:

To be clear, Texas A&M University–including faculty, staff, students and/or student groups–did not invite this speaker to our campus nor do we endorse his rhetoric in any way. In fact, our leadership finds his views as expressed to date in direct conflict with our core values.

Private citizens are permitted to reserve space available to the public as we are a public university as is the case here. Public groups must cover all rental expenses so that state resources are not burdened.

He was allowed to speak. Spencer’s publication Alternative Right has called for its readers to consider “black genocide” as a solution to conflict between Black people and White people.

Or in Vermont, at Middlebury College, where the political science department is standing by an invitation to Charles Murray, a white nationalist most well known for his book, The Bell Curve, which argues that the intelligence of white people is genetically superior to that of minorities.

Murray, a favorite guest of Charles Koch’s donor summits, was invited by a student group run by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). AEI, also a favorite of Koch’s donor summits and Charles Murray’s current employer, AEI has received over $1,807,999 from the Koch foundation, and $25,626,714 from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund since 2002.

Since the proliferation of these “Milo” bills, the conservatives behind them have been less than tolerant, ironically disinviting Milo from speaking at a recent meeting of CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee).
This report was prepared by Ralph Wilson, Senior Researcher, UnKoch My Campus.


11 thoughts on “Koch Network’s Student Protest Ban Disguised as “Campus Free Speech”

  1. I’m curious, Martin Kich – How do you reconcile your frequent promotion of UKMC’s conspiracy theorizing with the AAUP’s recent statement denouncing groups that (a) surreptitiously record professors and (b) maintain politically motivated watchlists of faculty and programs?

    Seeing as UKMC does both of these things, you should probably take a moment to review your organization’s own policy on these subjects: https://www.aaup.org/news/targeted-online-harassment-faculty#.WL8A7zsrJPY

    • Hey Phil, Connor Gibson here with Greenpeace, I co-founded UnKoch.

      First, readers should know you work for the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. Charles Koch is the chairman of the IHS, and he has provided IHS over $28 million since 2005, on top of $58.8 million to GMU, and yet another $8.6 million to the Mercatus Center at GMU, which Mr. Koch co-founded and still directs.

      Charles Koch owns your professional opinion, essentially, so please be clear about who you are speaking for.

      Now that your disclosures are provided, let’s get to your accusations.

      You talk about recording professors. For UnKoch’s part, you must be talking about the private meeting in Las Vegas last year.

      That event was in a casino, NOT a classroom. It was an event that the Koch Foundation puts on for the professors that it (and other donors) fund to “advance liberty,” which apparently means whatever you all want it to mean at any given time. Usually, it’s an excuse to cut Mr. Koch’s taxes and kill regulations that encroach on his company’s profit. (Many credible authors and reporters have covered this thoroughly, you choosing to ignore it doesn’t make it a “conspiracy theory.”)

      You appear to falsely assert that UnKoch is helping students spy on professors in the classroom. That’s a serious accusation. That is not what we do, and the sloppy accusation reflects your lack of familiarity with the subject matter.

      You pasted a link, so let’s talk about that (great story!). In Troy’s case, that professor broke his own university’s rules of conduct. Sorry if that’s inconvenient to your mission. We didn’t ask the university to enforce its own policies, that was their decision. We, in fact, thought they overreacted, and wouldn’t ask a university to order professors to cease their political speech.

      But keeping to the point you brought up: The comments were recorded off-site, in a speech the professor gave to an audience that included his benefactors at the Koch Foundation. That’s not a classroom, it’s a sponsored political event (although the two are increasingly one and the same with these Koch professors).

      What I find most hilarious is that you all shout “DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT” and “ENGAGE US ON THE IDEAS,” but once we do engage you with different perspectives, those of you working for Charles Koch become increasingly shrill.

      Why are all of the Koch surrogates so afraid to compete with our ideas, if that’s what you constantly ask for?

      I think it reflects the house of cards you have all built together. My opinion, of course.

      I should ask – do you support these student protest bans? Do you agree that paid speech should be protected under the First Amendment but that free assembly should now be punished? Careful, if you contradict the U.S. Constitution, that will create a PR challenge for the people you work with who love to use the Founding Fathers as a shield against criticism.

      Thanks for engaging,

      • Hi Connor – Seeing as my institutional affiliation and university are publicly shared on my CV and most of my scholarly publications, your insinuation that I have somehow obscured them is both bizarre and disingenuous. That noted, I assure you that my opinions here are entirely my own – just as you claim your opinions are your own, and not the product of some nefarious backroom scheming by the donors to Greenpeace. While I am certain you will insist that the donor influences over your causes are somehow “different” than my own, I’d simply note that if you wish to have an honest discussion of the issues that either of us have raised here, supposition about our respective motives is unlikely to take us in a productive direction.

        I’m skeptical that anything I say about the APEE conference or the events at Troy will elicit much more than conspiratorial appeals to nefarious motives or ad hominem attacks on both from you. For persons interested in either issue though, I’d call their attention to the AAUP statement, which denounces “the surreptitious recording of classroom discourse ***or of private meetings*** between students and faculty members.” It also – correctly in my opinion – denounces the use of those recordings in ways that result in threats being directed at the recorded faculty members – something that absolutely happened as a result of UKMC’s activities.

        The incident at Troy seems to have elicited a strange enthusiasm from UKMC, particularly given that the affected faculty member was attacked for criticizing the poor fiscal management a group of predominantly-Republican political figures in the Alabama state pension office. But that’s not the most interesting feature by any mark. I point to it here because the university policy he was accused of violating almost certainly runs afoul of the AAUP’s stated principles of academic freedom. It would be odd for the AAUP to side with much of anything that the university did in that case, UKMC’s position notwithstanding. But that’s precisely why I’m interested in hearing what the AAUP has to say about it.

        • Hey Phil,

          Good conversation and debate and challenges here, let’s keep it going.

          You are right, I do see a clear difference between my funding – which comes from a nonprofit that gets its money from many thousands of distinct people who believe in the cause – to your funding – which comes from one billionaire in Kansas who runs an industrial conglomerate, and some of his friends.

          I can’t imagine what comparison you’d be able to make in terms of how my work is enriching Greenpeace’s donors, because it isn’t. Nobody donates to Greenpeace to get rich. But Koch’s interest is much more clear. He funds hundreds of positions outside of his actual company, often to advance his own tax cuts, or attack regulations that make his business less profitable.

          That doesn’t mean I believe you are Charles Koch’s pet zombie, even if I do believe your position ultimately serves his political and business interests. Many people he pays already were inclined to sympathize with him anyway, and many people can still advance their own interest while being paid to advance his.

          I continue to dispute your characterization of APEE meetings as something private between students and professors. The Charles Koch Foundation, Charles Koch Institute, Mercatus Center, and Institute for Humane Studies are all there too. It’s basically students, professors, and Charles Koch’s various staff.

          Plus, APEE is open to the public…sort of. If you can pay $500 to register. That was even tough for UnKoch, almost beyond its budget.

          For the students there, I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that means a host professor used some grant funds from Koch to pay for students. That, or all of the only students who attend APEE are just rich, which I doubt is the case. (If it is, so much for “diversity of thought,” right?)

          If you sense “enthusiasm” about fallout at Troy from these recordings, that’s probably because you felt that we recognized the gravity of comments made by Troy professors. These guys talked gleefully about doing things that violated Troy’s policies, and even violated their contract with the Koch foundation. They brag about lobbying Alabama legislators, about attempts to “bring down” the state retirement system, how they “sort of took over” other departments…

          What about their students? Did these guys sign up to teach, or to run Alabama’s legislature from behind and seek connections to DC that make them feel more powerful? The Koch money comes with Koch’s mission, and in their ambition to play that game, these professors seem to have left their real job behind.

          It’s fine to lobby for Koch Industries. It’s not fine to do that while pretending to be a public servant.

          But all these words about Troy betray the things that I find most concerning. While he’s funding groups who are attempting to claim ownership over the definitions of our fundamental rights, like free speech and freedom to assemble, and academic freedom, Charles Koch is also helping bring public institutions to their knees, and then coming in with private money he uses to create political leverage from his so-called philanthropy. What a selfish thing to do!

          The net effect is that his paid, promoted way of thinking has more opportunity on campus. The administrators need the money, they are willing to sign away their souls if it means they can keep their programs and staff funded. So suddenly, fringe viewpoints in areas like law, economics, and “law and economics” are the places where steady outside funds are reliable, and displace other disciplines or opportunities to study other areas. A fringe viewpoint favored by a few billionaires slowly becomes more mainstream, even though its intellectually weak and has only thrived by starving state budgets.

          My ideology is this: I want universities to crank out smart people, so that they can craft smart solutions to real problems for large amounts of people. I do not want universities to spiral into consulting for the highest bidders and advancing public relations for a few billionaires. Academics should inform our politics. Our politics shouldn’t drive our academics, beyond what is practical.

  2. And for reference, Martin Kich, here is an instance where UKMC’s surreptitious recording of a faculty member at an academic conference directly resulted in him being denied a promotion as well as subjected to online political harassment.


    The AAUP was noticeably absent when that case happened. Will you finally condemn it now, or continue to exercise a double standard?

    • I don’t speak for the AAUP, but on that InsideHigherEd article I commented, “Faculty should not be punished–including the denial of chairs–for expressing their views. It appears that what really upset the administration was (accurately) calling Troy “third class,” not the political issues. Now, there is certainly a question here about Koch and its allies on campus imposing their ideology on programs and departments, to take over departments by discriminatory hiring. As Crowley said, “We had a big gift that let us hire a whole bunch of people all at once, and we kind of were able to take over.” But that doesn’t justify a university punishing a professor for speaking publicly.”

      It is pretty clear that the AAUP statement on secret recordings applies only to classrooms and private meetings with students, not public conferences and speeches. But the AAUP obviously condemns threats and harassment over comments, as well as punishment by the administration (the AAUP may never have been asked to comment in this case at the time).

      • Hi John – Thank you for taking a stand on the Troy incident. I believe several faculty attempted to alert the AAUP around the time it happened but without success. Perhaps this warrants the creation of a designated means to contact the organization for similar incidents similar to how the ACLU and FIRE handle complaints. It would be especially useful for faculty at smaller universities that do not have a very active local chapter.

        I’d push back against your grouping of academic conferences with public speeches, as they are definitely not in the same category latter. Most conferences are closed events that require registration and membership in the organization (in this case, Nevada law was also likely violated as it is an all-party consent state and a meeting of this type is not viewed as a public event). This makes them much more analogous to the classroom than a public speaking engagement.

        In any case, the recording that happened at the APEE conference was deployed no differently than what the AAUP has denounced in the case of similar incidents involving faculty on the left and Breitbart. It was used to attack specifically targeted faculty by name, and to foment online harassment of those faculty over their political beliefs and research interests. In the Troy case, UKMC’s activities directly cost a faculty member a promotion and subjected him to harassment by state political figures. That’s why it’s also deeply alarming to see the AAUP engaged in promoting an organization that regularly engages in the same harassment tactics you purport to denounce on the political right.

  3. Additional legal restrictions on the disruption of campus public lectures simply will not work, I fear. The next step is to bring the police on campus — to enforce the anti-disruption rule and becomes a victory for the totalitarians. Twp possible solutions: (1) that the student culture will change in support of free speech, or (2) large public meetings will be held on line without an audience present. Please persuade me that I am wrong!

  4. Hi Connor – Your perception of APEE is strange, to put it mildly. Perhaps you are simply unfamiliar with how academic conferences work but far from the conspiratorial designs you claim, it operates like just about any other professional association of scholars. The program chair issues a public call for paper and panel proposals on a specific theme, academics from around the country submit their work, and the selected submissions present at the conference in front of their peers. As with all academic professional associations it is a private event, which also means that by surreptitiously recording their meeting your colleague likely violated the law (Nevada is an all-party consent state). But I’m sure most of the people there will forgive your ignorance on that point.

    The $500 non-member registration fee may appear steep to you, although you should be aware that it is consistent with the price that many other conferences charges (the American Political Science Association, for example, charges $450 for early registration and $560 on site). Hotels don’t give away their conference space for free after all. Even the American Federation of Teachers, which held its own conference in the same hotel as APEE on the same weekend last year, had to charge its attendees to participate, and they have a much larger budget than APEE as well as far more corporate sponsors. That said, APEE – like most conferences – also has a discounted rate for students and other early-career scholars of only $80. You could even apply if you like, although to be eligible you would actually have to submit a proposal and present a paper at the conference. Of course you will probably find it highly objectionable that the conference is only able to offer discounted rates thanks to the sponsorship of multiple philanthropic foundations (I believe you call these Charles Koch and his friends) who, believe it or not, do actually care about providing an affordable conference for younger and lower-income scholars.

    I’m happy to hear that you believe universities should “crank out smart people” and I agree with you on that point. In fact you could even meet some of them if you were willing to attend the conference in good faith. Past APEE conferences have featured plenary lectures by 3 Nobel laureates and a host of other top scholars in economics, political economy, and moral philosophy. You might be able to learn something from them. Unless, of course, you think the Nobel prize committee has also been infiltrated by a conspiratorial network of academics whose secret purpose is to convince the Kansas legislature to cut the Koch brothers’ property taxes, in which case you will no doubt urge the denizens of twitter to bombard them with harassing emails.

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