Opinion | Students should be concerned about the Koch scandal


Ian Barnard, English professor

Most Panther readers are probably aware of the scandal that has erupted on campus regarding a $5 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation to Chapman, and the way in which this money has been used to hire faculty. The scandal has been documented in the pages of The Panther, The Orange County Register, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere.

I won’t go into the politics of the Koch Foundation, since its funding of climate-change deniers, racist and homophobic organizations and individuals, and anti-union initiatives, has already been well-documented. Instead, I want to draw readers’ attention to the impact of the Koch brouhaha and its affect on Chapman students, a side of the story that hasn’t received much attention so far.

In Chapman’s English department, where I work, two candidates partially funded by the foundation’s donation were brought to campus as the only options for two open faculty positions. Faculty have the responsibility to consider candidates and the right to vote against hiring particular candidates. When my department voted against hiring these candidates, we were chastised by Chapman’s president, Daniele Struppa, and provost, Glenn Pfeiffer. The same candidates were then hired in another Chapman department.

Clearly, it had been decided that these candidates would be hired at Chapman no matter what. The show of faculty input was just that – a show. The donations have often been used to hire faculty with political views that coincide with the Koch brothers’ libertarian economic philosophy (one of the hired professors is a contributing editor of the Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism). Is anyone at Chapman naive enough to think that this is a coincidence?

There are many reasons for Chapman students to be concerned. They should be confident that the faculty members who have been hired to teach and mentor them are the “brightest and the best” who have been hired following wide-open and transparent searches, not faculty who have been recruited through secret channels without competing against a large pool of candidates. Even in the cases of big name “star” hires – or renowned academics – these stars should be scholars and teachers who are sought after by Chapman faculty in their respective fields.

Chapman’s reputation has been on the rise lately, and the Koch scandal could damage Chapman’s standing – damage that would negatively impact the credentials of students who graduate from the university, and its potential to recruit the best students in the future.

The 2016 donation will run out in a few years, unless the foundation decides to donate again, but most of the professors who have been hired with that money will be with us long into the future, since some have tenure or are on the tenure track at Chapman, according to the Chapman faculty directory.

Who will foot the bill for these professors’ salaries and benefits after the Koch money runs out? Chapman students, of course, since tuition paid by students (along with other sources) contributes to faculty’s salaries.

I wonder if future students would prefer to see their fees pay for more classes, more student scholarships, more counseling services, better salaries for Chapman’s lecturers and custodial staff, rather than toward the salaries of partially Koch-funded faculty who were hired under suspicious circumstances?

To be clear, I have nothing personal against the faculty members who have been hired. I have met some of them, and they are lovely people. I am sure that many are terrific teachers and scholars. But what I oppose is the corrupt process that has been used for these hires and the impact that process has.

Recently, The Panther reported on a request made by seven Chapman faculty members to the faculty senate to issue a report on Chapman’s Koch predicament, including a set of recommendations for the future.

I hope that such a report will happen, that the recommendations will include a protocol for all future faculty hiring at Chapman that uses outside funding, and that this protocol will have input from and be approved by all stakeholders: students, faculty, staff, administrators and trustees.

Hopefully this protocol will also specify that all donor agreements (applicable to donors of all political persuasions) be made public, and that the best and brightest faculty should be hired using transparent hiring procedures. Now is the time to bridge the divisions that have been caused by the use of the Charles Koch Foundation’s funds and to agree on how to move forward.