Billionaire’s donations are costly to academic freedom

Donations costly to academic freedom

To the editor:

Ball State University is the most recent school to experience controversy around grants from Kansas billionaire Charles Koch. UnKoch My Campus — a campaign to expose Koch-funded political activity on U.S. college campuses — recently responded to local concern about a $3.25 million grant from Koch and “Papa” John Schnatter.

In response, a Ball State University professor named Michael Hicks published false information in several Indiana newspapers regarding UnKoch, as well as my employer, Greenpeace USA. Without providing a source, professor Hicks made the claim that George Soros is funneling money through Greenpeace to UnKoch My Campus.

George Soros is not funding UnKoch My Campus, directly or indirectly. Furthermore, neither Mr. Soros nor his foundations have ever contributed funds to my employer, Greenpeace USA. Unfortunately, the misinformation remains on BSU’s website.

The incident illustrated our point. Public university professors financed by private political interests may abandon academic integrity to advance the donor’s perspective, under the university’s name. Our concerns aren’t theoretical.

Since 2012, Charles Koch enlisted professors in Kansas, Ohio and North Carolina, working in parallel with Koch Industries lobbyists to attack subsidies for clean energy. Those professors authored reports that inflated the costs of renewable energy programs, a clear sign that the research had no independent fact check. The professors failed to disclose their payments from the Charles Koch Foundation as they presented their flawed research to state legislatures considering repeals of clean energy laws.

Paying professors to engage in lobbying does not seem fitting with the mission of educating the American population.

Neither does indoctrinating students, another aspect of Mr. Koch’s higher education spending.

Four years ago, students at another school approached Greenpeace because of our research on Koch-funded climate science denial campaigns. Some students were explicitly taught to disregard science by their professors in Koch-funded economics departments, including research on climate change, acid rain and the ozone hole. The textbooks for the class included “Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths,” by a Koch-funded think tank in Washington, D.C.

Ball State could find itself in a similar situation. The same conditions that have created problems at other universities are present in BSU’s multi-million-dollar contract with the Koch Foundation.

BSU will hire tenured professors with Koch’s funds, with an implicit threat that Koch funding can be pulled if mandatory annual evaluations go poorly. To maintain Koch’s pledged funding, professors know that free market theories need explicit glorification. That flies in the face of academic freedom, according to professors around the country who study the issue.

Universities are struggling to balance academic freedom and shared faculty governance with the “donor intent” of the Koch Foundation. Public funding for higher education has dwindled, no thanks to lobbying and electioneering advanced by Charles Koch.

We urge administrators at BSU to review the documentation of how professors are instructed to advance Koch’s donor intent at the expense of an impartial education for tuition-paying students. Protective measures can and should be established to avoid contracting a department out to Koch Industries.

Connor Gibson

Researcher for Greenpeace

co-founder of UnKoch My Campus, Oakland, California