Editorial | Where there’s Koch, there’s fire

Koch

Illustrated by Gaby Fatone

At George Mason University, University President Angel Cabrera said that donations, including those from the Charles Koch Foundation, fell short of standards of academic freedom. At Wake Forest University, a faculty senate committee moved to prohibit all Koch network funding because of the foundation’s “attempt to co-opt higher education for ideological, political and financial ends.” Matthew Garcia, a former director at Arizona State University, wrote in The Washington Post April 22 that a Charles Koch Foundation investment advanced an agenda that “undermines faculty governance and the integrity of the humanities and social sciences in public universities.”

Chapman has received $5 million from the foundation to establish the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy, but President Daniele Struppa told The Panther that he doesn’t care about what happens at other universities.

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

But what’s become abundantly clear over the past few weeks is that universities taking money from the foundation, which has donated millions of dollars to colleges across the nation to create a “talent pipeline” of libertarian-minded students, has become a nationally controversial issue – and Chapman is in the midst of it.

The New York Times even quoted Chapman professor Dan Kovenock, who has been a familiar source in The Panther’s coverage in an article about the strings that accompanied donations, as shown in newly released donor agreements between the Charles Koch Foundation and George Mason University. These are the same documents that prompted George Mason’s president to call for an investigation into undue donor influence within academics.

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

Not only does Struppa disagree that the donations violate academic freedom – he isn’t concerned. In an hour-long interview with The Panther May 2, Struppa, who was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at George Mason until he came to Chapman in 2006, said that he’s only concerned with what happens at Chapman, where he says donations from the foundation don’t come with any conditions.

This may be true, but it’s dangerous to ignore what’s taking place at other schools. This money has spurred lawsuits and inquiries, caused student activist groups to form and angered professors. The controversy has broken out at public and private institutions, small and large, liberal and conservative.

We can understand Struppa’s explanation for why his signature was on a 2003 donor agreement with Menlo F. Smith Trust when he worked at George Mason, which stipulated that a donation was contingent upon hiring a specific person, – the donation was made to hire a person that the department had chosen. But seeing our president put blinders on when it comes to influential and controversial money in the name of academic freedom is hard to accept.

Rebeccah Glaser, The Panther’s 2018-19 editor-in-chief, will have the opportunity this week to look at Chapman’s donor agreement with the Charles Koch Foundation. The foundation has allowed her to meet with Struppa and David Pincus, the faculty senate president, to ask questions and learn about the contract.

We appreciate the effort that Struppa has taken to increase transparency, especially since it has been a common criticism of the administration regarding these donations. But it’s crucial to care about what’s happening at other universities, especially when accepting money from as controversial an organization as the Charles Koch Foundation. Even if we learn that what Struppa says is true – that there has not been any unethical donor influence at Chapman – it’s impossible to deny what’s going on at other campuses. The longer we refuse to accept that, the more we are at risk of complacency.