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Nothing dark in the support for the Smith Institute

Guest column by Daniele Struppa, president of Chapman University

Smith Institute

Daniele Struppa, president of Chapman University

I was pleased to read what was a fairly good, balanced representation of the differing views that faculty have on the Charles Koch Foundation gift. However, I want to make sure readers of The Panther are familiar with how the gift came around, because some of the statements attributed to my colleagues are, at a minimum, misleading.

In 2010, two of our colleagues, Bart Wilson and Jan Osborn, developed a new course in humanomics. The course had great success and an elective course was added in 2012 at the request of students. Wilson and Osborn then sought the support from the faculty senate to expand the offerings and possibly develop a minor. The review from the Long-Range Planning Council was extremely positive, and the senate asked me to support the project.

It was at this point that professors Vernon Smith, Wilson and Osborn had additional conversations about building a program that would allow our students to pursue inquiry across disciplines and points of view. As students asked for more humanomics classes, these professors realized that they needed more faculty to make that happen. They then sought the support from the Charles Koch Foundation. As a result, they received a significant grant from the foundation (as well as from other donors).

At no point has the foundation asked Smith, Wilson or Osborn to alter their project, modify their intent or hire anybody in particular. From the beginning, this has been a faculty-driven project, and in fact, a very high-quality project.

We agree that we all have “a problem when money corrupts the university,” but this statement has no relationship with the situation at hand. The Koch money supports a faculty project, not the other way around.

This is not the first time that Chapman has made requests for funds from the Charles Koch Foundation. As with any source of funding, we sometimes succeed, and we sometimes fail. But in all cases, the discussion has always been on our terms. We tell the foundation what we would like them to support, and it decides whether or not it likes the project.

I will repeat what I wrote to the chair of the English department, Joanna Levin, in September: “Chapman University has not and will not accept donations that require the university to hire faculty dictated by the donor. Nor would we ever agree to engage in research whose outcome is predetermined by any donor. This would not only violate IRS regulations, but more importantly, would violate our commitment to the institution’s intellectual independence. Most of you have known me for more than 10 years, and you have been witnesses to my curiosity, intellectual engagement and openness toward faculty holding diverse viewpoints. No amount of money will change Chapman’s commitment to this approach, and I believe that my actions over the last 10 years speak louder than my words can.”

Finally, I will address the issue of transparency. One faculty member interviewed by The Panther makes it appear like the origin of the funding had been kept a secret. This is laughable. I announced the gift and its origin last November, when the gift was received, and then again in the spring. Most importantly, I communicated with the English department and its chair with full detail about how the gift developed, and the topic of the Koch funding was explicitly discussed during the search process for the new provost. Only by sleeping under a stone could anybody claim to be unaware of the funding behind the Smith Institute.

2 Comments

  • Great column by Struppa!

    Just like with the Russia “investigation,” there are people at Chapman who are so obsessed with creating hysteria and breaking a big story that journalistic standards are greatly compromised and eventually sacrificed altogether. It is a very sad and disturbing phenomena to witness.

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