Home > Uncategorized > An Insidious Link: Gwinnett Post Op-Ed, NYTimes Report on Koch Brothers Funding of George Mason Professors

An Insidious Link: Gwinnett Post Op-Ed, NYTimes Report on Koch Brothers Funding of George Mason Professors

May 6, 2018

Yesterday the NYTimes ran an article describing the impact of the Koch Brothers decision to underwrite the professor’s salaries at George Mason University (GMU). Thanks to the dogged work of a group who called themselves “Transparent GMU” it became clear that the donations to GMU from the Koch brothers were conditional. After reviewing a stack of documents the University was compelled to release after a fight in court, Transparet GMU released their findings:

The documents reveal in surprising detail that for years, as George Mason grew from a little-known commuter school to a major public university and a center of libertarian scholarship, millions of dollars in donations from conservative-leaning donors like the Charles Koch Foundation had come with strings attached.

As early as 1990, entities controlled by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch were given a seat on a committee to pick candidates for a professorship that they funded, the records show. Similar arrangements that continued through 2009 gave donors decision-making roles in selecting candidates for key economics appointments at the Mercatus Center, a Koch-funded think tank on campus that studies markets and regulation. The appointments, which also created faculty lines at George Mason, were steered to professors who, like the Kochs, embraced unconstrained free markets.

More recently, in 2016, executives of the Federalist Society, a conservative national organization of lawyers, served as agents for a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor, and were given the right to terminate installments of the gift at their discretion. Emails disclosed by the university show that Federalist Society officials were also involved in hiring discussions and had suggested a student for admission. In turn, a professor at the law school wrote the society asking for help securing recommendations for prestigious federal judicial clerkships for students active in the society.

But, as the Times article reports, the Koch brothers’ impact went beyond one “little-known commuter school”:

The exact amount of Koch donations to campuses across the country, which frequently are earmarked for programs fostering capitalism and free markets, is unknown. But it is estimated at nearly $150 million from 2005 to 2015, benefiting more than 300 schools. An estimated $50 million of that went to George Mason.

Arrangements between universities and organizations funded by Koch money have come under scrutiny partly because of the work of an activist organization called UnKoch My Campus, the national affiliate of Transparent GMU.

The group and its campus affiliates around the country have pressured universities to reject or rescind Koch-funded agreements and also have demanded disclosures about Koch funding. The movement has recently gained steam on several campuses where faculty members and students have protested Koch-funded centers or professorships, including recent actions at Wake Forest University, Montana State University and the University of Utah.

The conditional appointment of a few professors at a few colleges may not seem problematic, but those professors are cranking out reports and sought after by like minded opinion makers who want to make their case in the media… which brings us to an op ed written by GA college professor Rob Jenkins that appears in this weekend’s edition of the Gwinnett Daily Post. In the article, Mr. Jenkins quotes an authoritative source on the condition of public schools, George Mason University economist Walter Williams:

In April, the U.S. Department of Education released its 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, otherwise known as The Nation’s Report Card. The results, as George Mason University economist Walter Williams observes, are not pretty.

Nationwide, only 37 percent of seniors were found to be proficient or better in reading. In math, the number was 25 percent.

To counter such clear evidence of educational fraud (as Williams calls it), administrators and elected officials point to healthy graduation rates. That may be true: The graduation rate in 2017, according to the NAEP, was over 80 percent.

Unfortunately, rather than contradicting the narrative of school failure, this statistic merely reinforces it. To quote Williams, “That means high school diplomas … are conferred when 63 percent (of students) are not proficient in reading and 75 percent are not proficient in math.”

Never mind that an economist is hardly an authoritative source when it comes to analyzing standardizer test results, and never mind that these same standardized test results have shown for decades that a school’s zip code determines their ultimate test scores, and never mind that those high scoring schools are typically the highest spending schools… editorialists like Mr. Jenkins have a narrative and they know that they can find an authoritative source by Googling any GMU economist. I imagine any libertarians reading this will say that such bias exists among the liberal elites, but I know of no circumstances where a mega-donor to a university requires  that professors hired as a result of their gifts reflect a specific viewpoint.

And here’s what I find to be the ultimate irony: I cannot imagine any member of the “liberal elite” who doesn’t seek complete academic freedom in their research and writing and doesn’t advocate for such freedom on the campus where they work… Yet we find a libertarian donor who seeks to restrict the academic freedom of the university he is donating funds to. This is what money the money of libertarians ultimately wants to buy: a society of like-minded individuals who see the world as a Darwinian marketplace.

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