Your reaction may be similar to mine when I hear or read "Koch money" -- I start thinking about the huge amounts of money the Kochs poured into the last presidential election in an effort to influence the electorate:
With most of the annual tax filings for nondisclosing nonprofits now in, it’s clear that no other conservative or liberal dark money network matched, in combined size and complexity, the constellation of Koch-linked groups that churned hundreds of millions of dollars into elections around the country last year.
In 2012 alone, $301 million poured into this system — $196 million of which was given, in the form of grants, to dark money groups that engaged in federal electioneering.
They'll obviously spend much more in 2016. But their money isn't just going to influence the near-term elections. When you examine their spending on colleges and universities in the United States, they're obviously interested in long-term influence. As the Atlantic recently noted:
Higher education has become a top Koch priority in recent years. And their funding—as well as pushback against it—is increasing. During 2013, a pair of private charitable foundations Charles Koch leads and personally bankrolls combined to spread more than $19.3 million across 210 college campuses in 46 states and the District of Columbia, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Internal Revenue Service tax filings.
And the Koch money is often given with strings attached. Florida State University, for example, received almost five million dollars from 2005 to 2013. But in doing so, the university relinquished some control of the university to the Kochs. As the Center for Public Integrity writes:
When, for example, the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 pledged $1.5 million to Florida State University’s economics department, a contract between the foundation and university stipulated that a Koch-appointed advisory committee select professors and conduct annual evaluations, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
And to be sure, the Koch foundations’ educational grants, regardless of whether they’re made with conditions, aren’t exactly supporting studies of, say, proletarian emancipation or historical materialism.
Instead, they routinely support academic programs or centers that teach theories and principles aligned with the Kochs’ convictions about economics and public policy.
This long introduction leads me to West Virginia University which received $1.7 million of Koch money from 2005 to 2013. (WVU has been moving up in the rankings - it finished eighth in the country at $146,000 in 2014.) And in terms of academic hiring and subject matter, the Koch stipulations for WVU are similar to those for Florida State as a Green Peace investigation documents:
West Virginia University’s Koch contract makes “human freedom” and “free market economics” the central objective of WVU professors hired on Koch’s dime. The Charles Koch Foundation explicitly required supervision from Professor Russell Sobel (now at Citadel College), and gave Koch preferential power over which professors to hire at WVU, naming J. Lamcombe and Andrew Young as prospects for tenure-track professor hires, threatening to revoke money if those men were not hired on. Both Lamcombe and Young currently work at WVU.
The Kochs made the hiring process clear, contracting WVU to follow specific protocol:
“Prior to the extension of any offer for the Donor Supported Professorship Positions (professors hired with Koch grants), the Dean of the College of Business and Economics, in consultation with professor Russell Sobel or his successor, shall present the candidate’s credentials to CGK Foundation.”
As with Utah State University and Clemson, WVU’s contract explicitly leaves the school responsible for continuing to fund professors hired on by Koch grants if the Koch foundation pulls out.
Out of these Koch hires at WVU emerged the Center for Free Enterprise and the Bureau of Business & Economic Research. The latter recently produced a study which is the basis of today's News-Register editorial, "Right-to-Work Would Help W.Va." The editorial is a rehash of their usual right-to-work arguments this time referencing the Bureau's recent study:
Union bosses hate the idea, of course. They insist both workers and the state economy would be worse off under right-to-work.
But a new study by the Bureau of Economic Research at West Virginia University concludes that is not so. In fact, it suggests more jobs could come to our state if right-to-work is enacted.
So after taking Koch money, WVU abdicates its responsibility to its students to hire the best available candidate, allows the Kochs to determine who gets hired and then attaches the WVU name to what they will predictably produce. So much for the university's academic integrity. This works because the Kochs know that as higher education costs continue to rise and state-related institutions get less and less from state funding, it gets easier and easier to buy them off -- what's a couple of million dollars to the Kochs? And for the final step in this process, they also know that there are newspapers and other news sources out there which are too lazy or, in this case - like-minded, that will print anything that has the WVU stamp of approval on it because it gives the news source's otherwise unproven arguments credibility.
It should be noted that two of our local higher learning institutions also play the Koch game (although on a much smaller scale): the database for Koch funding (2005-2013) referenced above lists Wheeling Jesuit at $8,000 and West Liberty at $5,000. Both institutions have received much larger amounts from BB&T for adding Ayn Rand studies and courses like "The Ethics of Capitalism." (I plan to write about this at a later date.)
Wheeling Jesuit University's Hal Gorby will be speaking tomorrow (Monday) at noon on the right-to-work issue as part of the Appalachian Institute's "Jobs with Justice" series. The free lunch discussion will start at 12pm in the RATT pub in Swint Hall on Wheeling Jesuit's campus.