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May 16, 2011

A Campaign Against the Koch Foundation

By James Piereson

t1larg.david.koch.jpg

There is an old saying in politics that "They don't scream unless you hurt them."  When your adversaries scream, it is a good sign that your measures have been effective. Judged by this standard, the Koch Brothers (David and Charles) have been very effective in recent years in advancing their causes of limited government and classical liberalism, much to the discomfort of liberal foes promoting business regulation, higher taxes, and ObamaCare.

The Koch brothers have been on the receiving end of non-stop attacks from liberal journalists and academics ever since Jane Mayer published a hit piece on them last year in The New Yorker purporting to show that their contributions were behind the rise of the "Tea Party" movement.  This wildly exaggerated claim was meant to cast the Koch brothers as great villains, but villains possessed of a satanic combination of power and tactical brilliance.  In a predictable course, Mayer's fairy tale was circulated by the columnists and editorial writers of the New York Times and from there through a network of second-level columnists and political magazines until at length it came to the attention of the credulous foot soldiers of the liberal-left who have kept the pot boiling in recent months with ever more inventive and exaggerated versions of the original lie.     
 
The latest controversy surrounding the Kochs arises from an article published last week in the St. Petersburg Times titled, "Billionaire's Role in Hiring Decisions at Florida State University Raises Questions."  The author insinuates that the Koch Foundation was trying to "buy off" the Economics Department at Florida State University through a $1.5 million grant (paid over six years) to hire new faculty and to support graduate fellowships under a program in "political economy and free enterprise."  Under the grant, a three-person faculty committee was set up to review candidates for the positions, including one member designated by the Foundation.  The paper suggested that by designating a member of the review committee the Foundation was undermining academic freedom by interfering in the faculty's right to appoint colleagues on the basis of professional competence.   

Fortunately, the president of the university and members of the Economics Department have stepped forward to set the record straight and to defend the grant. The faculty of the Economics Department unanimously approved the grant and viewed it as a vehicle for expanding and strengthening its undergraduate course offerings.  The complaints about the grant originated from two faculty members at Florida State who are not even affiliated with the Economics Department and whose motives were political and not academic.  The faculty screened applicants and then passed a short list of 50 candidates to the review committee, which recommended a final list of 16 candidates. In the end, two assistant professors were hired, but neither came from that final list of candidates but from an expanded list recommended by the faculty and approved by the committee.  It is obvious that this layered process protected the faculty’s responsibility to make appointments while also protecting the donor’s intent in awarding the grant. 

The Economics Department at Florida State is one of the nation’s best and includes many eminent scholars on its faculty roster.  To suggest they could be “bought off” by a donor, or that the Koch Foundation would even want to “buy them off,” is a slander both against the Department and the donor.   It may be safely predicted that this particular controversy will soon pass away for want of substance, no doubt to be succeeded by another equally implausible.
 
This kind of grant is in no way unusual in higher education. Donors constantly enter into agreements with colleges and universities to make gifts for particular purposes, often with detailed conditions attached, which affect the hiring of faculty or the kinds of research undertaken on campus.  If donors could not attach such conditions, then they would not make the gifts This is well understood by both parties to the transactions.
 
Occasionally these agreements are broken, leading to disputes or litigation between donors and universities.  Some years ago the Bass family asked Yale University to return a substantial gift when it became obvious that the faculty had no intention of implementing a liberal arts curriculum as required by the deed of gift.  Academic freedom, while an important principle in academic governance, should not be expanded to mean that faculties have a right to misspend a donor’s money.
 
For decades now liberal foundations and the federal government have been trying to use grants to shape college and university faculties in a left-wing direction.  They have done so by forcing institutions to adopt gender and racial preferences as conditions for grants and by requiring faculties to adopt new programs in gender and racial studies – all of which have a pronounced left-wing bias.  For decades the Ford Foundation has pushed gender and racial studies in college curricula as a means of turning the college campus into a base for left-wing politics.  These efforts have largely succeeded in part because the funds available for left-wing causes dwarfs the funds controlled by conservative or libertarian donors. Recent studies show that liberals and leftists outnumber conservatives on academic faculties by a ratio of about 10 to 1.   In many fields, there are hardly any conservatives to be found at all.
 
For years at the John M. Olin Foundation, we asked academic partners to run the names of faculty candidates by us before attaching John Olin’s name to them.  This was always done in an informal way.  We rarely rejected any candidate put forward on this basis (I can recall only one such occasion).  The point of this exercise was not to tell faculty who and who not to hire but only to make certain that the Foundation’s funds were spent in a manner consistent with our aims.  In many cases this was done to protect our partners against the influence of colleagues who wanted to re-direct the funds to other purposes.  I always trusted the judgment and the competence of the faculty members with whom we worked and so always gave them a wide berth in running their programs as they wished.  If we did not like the way things were going, we could always terminate the grant after the initial period, which occasionally happened.
 
In the past I have served on an advisory committee for a prestigious New York foundation that awards grants to colleges and universities for professorships and graduate fellowships.  The program, while neither liberal nor conservative, does have an “agenda” of sorts.  One of the requirements of its grants is that recipient institutions must submit the resumes of candidates to the advisory committee for approval before allocating the designated funds.  The institutions that have received grants under this program include many of the most influential and prestigious in the country. This program has operated smoothly for more than two decades with nary a peep of protest heard from any institution about academic freedom, the independence of faculty, or underhanded efforts by a foundation to “buy off” academic departments. 
 
The controversy surrounding this particular grant by the Koch Foundation has nothing to do with the substance of the case and everything to do with the high profile the Koch brothers have achieved in the political imagination of the American left.  Kudos to them for putting their money behind their principles!   Those screams you hear are evidence of success. 
 
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James Piereson is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and director of the Center for the American University.


Comments (24)

That Jim Piereson felt it necessary to compose such an eloquent defense of the extraordinary generosity of the Koch Brothers speaks to the strangle-hold that the activist left has on the academic life of the modern college campus. Fortunately, the leadership at Florida State University showed a backbone that is missing from far too many administrative time-servers. The problem, in my view, is far worse at elite liberal arts colleges than at state universities.

I might add that thanks to the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation more than seventy gifted students from Hamilton College and the University of Rochester participated in a two-semester program that intensively studied the works of Friedrich Hayek, including the cover-to-cover reading of The Constitution of Liberty. Imagine that! I should add that these clusters met off campus and were administered by the independent Alexander Hamilton Institute.

Alex Bensky:

The left goes into a frenzy about the Koch brothers who are supposedly using their money to fund what they like and promote their own ideas. I see this not only in various articles and on various blogs but it is a frequent reference on some of my liberal Facebook friends' pages.

George Soros? Oh, yeah, he was a utility infielder on the late forties St. Louis Browns.

Senor:

I'm in Tallahassee and the only people who care about this are in the St. Pete Times newsroom and the usual suspects in the left-wing media.

The lefts' cynical jihad against the Koch brothers is designed to deflect attention from the massive, insidious Marxist influence of George Soros.

B. Samuel Davis:

PLEASE READ THIS:

This is more dirty politics from the Democrat party left - George Soros and other pro-Democrat billionaires poison the political atmosphere through a layered web of organizations, which taint much of our media, and educational institutions, with monies approaching the hundreds of millions of dollars every year - and the Democrats (that's the real issue here - party not persuasion) scream at the Koch's relatively small influence?

The hypocrisy is stunning, just stunning.

I'm a member of a well known Tea Party group, and I can tell you right now that I never even heard of the Koch brothers before the New Yorker article. I'd love to see a donation from them since our bank account is little or nothing since we depend on very small donations from individual members. How unlike the phony grass roots organizations set up by the Democrats which not only rake in millions from donors but get grants from the GOVERNMENT as well!

But the big difference between our organization and the Democrat organizations is that we really are grass roots and we truly believe in what we are doing. No one is driving around BMW's at the groups expense as I've seen with the head of Democrat organizations - they do it through love of money. This was exemplified though Air America radio which in the end was nothing more than an organization devoted to separating donors from dollars which was then put into the pockets of the people who ran the organization. That's the Democrat playbook - greed!

And the Democrats get away with it through an almost total and complete control over the traditional media - which has no problem with lies and manipulation to get what it wants. Until we saw the Fox articles on the connections of major media to Soros organizations there was no way to comprehend why these very public companies were biased in favor of the less than 20% of Americans who call themselves liberal, rather than the 60% who identify themselves as conservative. How to understand that, when the object is ratings, sales and ultimately money? The answer turned out to be money again - the Soros taint is everywhere today, and we won't get away from it until that hateful, evil man finally goes away. One wonders why he hates his adopted country so much. But I digress...

Ultimately, we in the Tea party are confident that the American people will recognize the the lies, cheating and manipulation from the Democrat left for what it is. The assault on the Koch Brothers is truly a side show. Since the Koch's have little or nothing to do with the Tea Party,even assuming that the Democrats get their way, it won't make a bit of difference. But, I doubt making them go away is the point - it has more to do with making an example so that others who might contemplate the same thing will not get involved. Just like what the Democrats have done to Sarah Palin, and are doing to Republican candidates for President.

What hateful people Democrats are!

B. Samuel Davis:

PLEASE READ THIS:

This is more dirty politics from the Democrat party left - George Soros and other pro-Democrat billionaires poison the political atmosphere through a layered web of organizations, which taint much of our media, and educational institutions, with monies approaching the hundreds of millions of dollars every year - and the Democrats (that's the real issue here - party not persuasion) scream at the Koch's relatively small influence?

The hypocrisy is stunning, just stunning.

I'm a member of a well known Tea Party group, and I can tell you right now that I never even heard of the Koch brothers before the New Yorker article. I'd love to see a donation from them since our bank account is little or nothing since we depend on very small donations from individual members. How unlike the phony grass roots organizations set up by the Democrats which not only rake in millions from donors but get grants from the GOVERNMENT as well!

But the big difference between our organization and the Democrat organizations is that we really are grass roots and we truly believe in what we are doing. No one is driving around BMW's at the groups expense as I've seen with the head of Democrat organizations - they do it through love of money. This was exemplified though Air America radio which in the end was nothing more than an organization devoted to separating donors from dollars which was then put into the pockets of the people who ran the organization. That's the Democrat playbook - greed!

And the Democrats get away with it through an almost total and complete control over the traditional media - which has no problem with lies and manipulation to get what it wants. Until we saw the Fox articles on the connections of major media to Soros organizations there was no way to comprehend why these very public companies were biased in favor of the less than 20% of Americans who call themselves liberal, rather than the 60% who identify themselves as conservative. How to understand that, when the object is ratings, sales and ultimately money? The answer turned out to be money again - the Soros taint is everywhere today, and we won't get away from it until that hateful, evil man finally goes away. One wonders why he hates his adopted country so much. But I digress...

Ultimately, we in the Tea party are confident that the American people will recognize the the lies, cheating and manipulation from the Democrat left for what it is. The assault on the Koch Brothers is truly a side show. Since the Koch's have little or nothing to do with the Tea Party,even assuming that the Democrats get their way, it won't make a bit of difference. But, I doubt making them go away is the point - it has more to do with making an example so that others who might contemplate the same thing will not get involved. Just like what the Democrats have done to Sarah Palin, and are doing to Republican candidates for President.

What hateful people Democrats are!

jake b:

I think one has to remember that the Left are always looking for an enemy to energize their base. The biased American Media are more then willing to carry the Left's hate agenda. The Koch Brothers are the latest incarnation of this strategy.

JohnR22:

The Left has long known that demonization of your enemy is much more effective if you can put a face to it; preferably a face that's already not too popular. In the past, they demonized Bork, Gingrich, Bush/Cheney, and Palin. They tried to do it to Limbaugh, but it wasn't effective. So apparently the bogeyman of the day are these minor players named Koch. The Left will keep it up until a more effective target appears on the horizon. Too bad for them that Palin isn't running.

Gnirol:

When your adversaries scream, it is a good sign that your measures have been effective.

Considering all the trouble you went to, to write this, I guess the left wing is becoming effective on this front, and that makes me smile contentedly. Thank you for providing the opportunity.

subframer:

Gnirol -

congratulations on taking pleasure in such a thing. as a member of the brain washed daddy state smarmy and hypocritical progressive left, i'm sure you see nothing wrong with slandering people, vilifying your opponent personally and not on the issues, all while wearing your "tolerance" snuggy to bed every night. luckily, most of the sane world easily observes your ideological double standard, and that is why "progressive", notwithstanding their many university degrees and loud voices, remain a sorry 15% voting block. have a nice day in obscurity. that makes me smile....

Ron1311:

I've always thought that the only reasons to side with Republicans were 1. you're rich (i.e., Kochs), 2. you think you're going to get rich or 3. you're not very bright.

This list proves at least one of the three.

lance sjogren:

I have a hard time understanding the Koch Heads.

There is something sinister about a wealthy person creating institutions to advance his or her political and economic views?

What is different about what the Kochs do compared to George Soros is unclear to me.

The only main difference I can see is that the Kochs became rich by creating genuine businesses and jobs, while Soros got rich by being a brilliant speculator, a parasitic occupation.

I figure that explains the ideology of both. Kochs have respect for the rich because they view the rich as people like themselves who have actually created wealth for society.

Soros views the rich as parasites, understandable since the rich person he is most familiar with his himself.

Corey:

Actually Ron1311, you left out, 4) not easily led around by the nose by kindergarten level propaganda... I bet you still believe in the hoax of man made global warming.

Alan Soulis:

I went to FSU in the early 90's and this grad student Jim Kuypers tried to flunk me out because I had a few good things to say about Ronald Reagan. Donna Nudd and judy Vogt were two "professors" that were so nutty it is amazing they could work anywhere but a Lilith Fair concert. In regards to just about anything but hard science our universities are worthless "gay rights" propaganda machines. I learned a lot in Tallahassee in spite of my teachers.

Alan Soulis:

I went to FSU in the early 90's and this grad student Jim Kuypers tried to flunk me out because I had a few good things to say about Ronald Reagan. Donna Nudd and judy Vogt were two "professors" that were so nutty it is amazing they could work anywhere but a Lilith Fair concert. In regards to just about anything but hard science our universities are worthless "gay rights" propaganda machines. I learned a lot in Tallahassee in spite of my teachers.

David in Dallas:

The Koch brothers scare me as does the selfish attitude that is creaping to too many corners of American society.

If an individual has been fortunate to become obscenely wealthy, as these two men have, then they DO owe some of it to the country that provided them the opportunity to a life of luxury.

Or is their motto "Let them eat cake"?

Ryan:

This article PROVES the grant is effecting the hiring practices of the school and thereby PROVES the point that the Kochs are damaging the integrity of education in America.

B. Samuel Davis:

To David in Dallas - when charity is forced it is no longer charity - it is tyranny.

When Mark Twain was asked if Standard Oil's money was tainted, his reply was along the lines of, "It's twice tainted - taint yours and taint mine."

No one has any right to take property that belongs to someone else - it's called stealing. As for the Koch's - to see that in context look at my comment #3 above.

Jim:

Ryan,

For your statement to be proven, you would need to provide evidence of causality between the two statements and evidence that the "integrity" of education was being damaged. At best, it is a logical fallacy. By the way, it should be affecting not effecting.

Thanks

rich in Mesquite:

Ron 1311,

great comment. Liberals are often the embarassed to be rich category which makes you wonder why they keep working and can never be rich enough, ie Gates or Buffet. Although neither one of them are too active in politics they do supposedly lean to the left. While I admire some of their charitable efforts, in comparison to their actual wealth their charitable efforts are a small amount percentage wise.
Of course many of the super rich don't like competion either so will give to those who will put the most roadblocks in the way of their competion which liberals and the Democratic party do either knowingly or unwittingly, but the result is the same. We talk about the rich making over a 100 or 200 thousand a year but not about the ones making over a million dollars a year or the super billionaires who are giving Obama and the Democratic party millions in campaign donations?

Benedict@Large:

Goodness. As a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, James Piereson's job itself is at least partially funded by Koch money. I wonder why he is forgetting to mention that?

Come on now, Jim. You know quite well that the conditions on the FSU grant are extreme, and are in no way typical for grants to universities of this type. Why are you telling people otherwise? At least be honest with the folks when you're shilling for the bosses.

And Jim, don't bother saying someone else (pas moi!) is getting that money. Money is fungible at Manhatten, just like it is everywhere else.

P.S. @ Robert Paquette: You should have been a little clearer that YOU and your organization were the recipient of Koch money.

Barby Barone:

I am not convinced that my alma mater has cast aside its academic integrity by accepting the grant from the Koch Foundation. Clearly there there is a divergence of views along the thought spectrum of political and economic analysis as represented by a mosaic of nascent student views, faculty opinion and the experience of the Koch family. Any group which supports individual initiative, independent thought and enterprise will not compromise open and honest dialog about competing ideas. The Koch family recognizes and respects all the rights inherent in our open and democratic society.

Barby Barone
B.A., 1969 M.S., 1970

DontGetIt:

The fact that the grant is being given to a state funded university from Florida is suspect. Florida as a state, has a terrible reputation, going back to the 2000 election of being right-leaning, if not in cahoots with the republican national agenda. To establish a regime of right leaning, Koch defending faculty at one of the most prestigious public universities in the state is not pure - doesn't pass the sniff test in the least!!!

Andy Richter:

I am on the faculty at University of Illinois. Here the faculty senate worked feverishly to prevent formation of an institute: The Academy for Capitalism and Limited Government, which would have been a great boon to a university that has been downsizing in order to cope with the loss of revenue from the state. The institute was blocked, and so the organization went for the more limited objective of forming a Foundation (the ACLG Foundation). However, the faculty were unhappy with the fact that the foundation was too closely associated with the U of I Foundation (which oversees funding from external donors). They then voted to sever all connections between ACLG Foundation and the U of I Foundation (which is itself not even a part of the university). Injected into the debate was the fact that the new ACLG president once worked for the Koch foundation, and the New Yorker article was circulated to members of the senate. The official criticism of ACLG was that they had an ideological mission. When it was pointed out that we had centers, institutes, and COLLEGES who explicitly embraced left-wing causes as central to their missions and who were funded by the Ford Foundation, this was declared irrelevant to the issue at hand. Some of us claimed that we should cherish what (on our campus) is a minority viewpoint and that we sorely need the funds. The Senate declared its objectivity, claiming that the ACLG had behaved in underhanded ways and that their ideological intentions were inconsistent WITH FREE AND OPEN DISCOURSE! Most of the materials related to the debate are in the public domain (on the Senate website and in the local News-Gazette), and emails can be obtained through the freedom of information act. I'd love to see a national spotlight shown in this issue.

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