Opinion | The Koch agreement: There are no strings

koch agreement

Daniele Struppa, president of Chapman University

Recently, I met for almost 90 minutes with Rebeccah Glaser, the incoming editor-in-chief of The Panther, and David Pincus, the president of the faculty senate, to go through the donor agreement between Chapman and the Charles Koch Foundation. We read every detail, and we compared the clauses in the Koch agreement with donor agreements used by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Science Foundation and other foundations.

By the end of the meeting, I felt like there was unanimous agreement around the table that there was not a single hint of threat to academic freedom in the agreements. I was also under the impression we had agreed that the Koch Foundation agreements were very much in line with agreements from other foundations.

[Related: President Struppa disagrees that George Mason contract with Koch Foundation violates academic freedom]

Having now read The Panther’s article entitled “7 things to know about Chapman’s agreement with the Charles Koch Foundation,” I was disappointed to see the article gave great weight to opinions gained secondhand from co-founder of UnKoch My Campus, Ralph Wilson, who was not at the the meeting. His comment that “the usual strings are all there” could not be further from the truth. In fact, our agreements with the Koch Foundation are consistent with common practices in academic grants and gifts.  

The foundation’s request for an annual report is not a “string attached” – it exists in virtually all grant or targeted gift agreements. The same is true about updating the foundation when the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy’s director changes. Donors give grants on the basis of the ability of the grantee to accomplish their goal and it is absolutely standard for a foundation request to be informed, or even to terminate their funding, if the main staffing changes.

[Related: Opinion | Examining undue donor influence at Chapman]

It appears that The Panther article employed Wilson’s opinions to cast further doubts on the integrity of the document. The standard nature of our agreement with the Koch Foundation was made clear to the editor, as she was given a hard copy of the guidelines for National Science Foundation grants, and she viewed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation guidelines online. Both require notification for changes in leadership and annual reports, and both have termination clauses, as well.

I am concerned that the representation of the agreements in the article could be misleading, based on Wilson’s opinion, who was not part of my discussion with The Panther and Pincus.

As I have previously told Chapman faculty, the Koch agreement does not mention the names of faculty to be hired, and it does not challenge the control and agency of the faculty. Despite what another source in the Panther article implies, there are no strings whatsoever.

My position on this is clear and consistent: If I had stopped our faculty from submitting proposals to the Charles Koch Foundation, I would, in fact, have violated their academic freedom. I have always been and continue to be a fierce advocate of academic freedom. This means supporting the pursuit of knowledge across all ideologies, not just those I personally agree with. I remain absolutely committed to that ideal and will not restrict the ability of faculty to seek external financial support while I work to maintain academic integrity across all donor agreements.