Seven professors requested that Chapman’s faculty senate create a “fact-finding” report by November about donations from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2016, according to an Aug. 16 email outlining the request that was provided to the The Panther.
The requested report, which would be put together by an impartial senate committee, aims to strengthen Chapman’s faculty manual procedures for “selecting, vetting and hiring faculty,” obtain a copy of Chapman’s grant agreement with the foundation and set guidelines for similar donations, according to the email.
“(If we continue to) get these (faculty) appointments that are made from a donor who’s highly involved and who has the history that the Charles Koch Foundation has of interference in higher education – we need to look at that,” said English professor Tom Zoellner, one of the faculty spearheading the effort. “We should not be afraid of finding out the facts.”
In December 2016, Chapman received a $5 million donation from the controversial Charles Koch Foundation to help establish the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy, which aims to combine the studies of humanities and economics.
Some professors have questioned the transparency and integrity of the donations at Chapman, as, up until May, administrators had only shown excerpts of the agreement during faculty presentations.
In May, The Panther and David Pincus, the 2017-18 faculty senate president, viewed the full grant agreement between Chapman and the Charles Koch Foundation, which includes a stipulation that the university couldn’t acknowledge that an agreement existed without written permission from the foundation.
Student group Transparent GMU sued George Mason in April, seeking access to its agreements with the Charles Koch Foundation, according to the Washington Post. Although the university released some documents, a Virginia judge ruled July 5 that the university’s private foundation isn’t subject to public records laws.
Chapman English professor Ian Barnard, who is also part of the group requesting the report, said he is more concerned with the proposed report’s impact on the future than on existing donations.
“What happened in the past, we can’t do anything about that. What I’m concerned about is going forward,” Barnard said. “We can say that in the future it has to be made public, and if someone’s not willing to make it public, then we don’t accept their money.”
In July, the foundation pledged to make all multiyear grant agreements available online, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Including a copy of Chapman’s grant agreement in the report likely won’t be a problem, President Daniele Struppa wrote in an email to The Panther, as the foundation has previously agreed to his requests to make it available.
“I believe the agreement itself will be posted on the (Charles Koch Foundation) website, visible to all,” Struppa wrote. “As I said many times, and as several people (including [The Panther] and the past senate president) have seen personally, there is nothing to hide in the agreement.”
Struppa wrote that he is aware of the request for the report and that he spoke to Zoellner about it over the summer.
Paul Gulino, the faculty senate president, said that if a senator is interested in creating a committee to generate the report, he or she can propose the idea to the senate’s executive board, which will discuss the proposal and decide whether to move forward. The board’s first meeting is Sept. 7.
“It’s very likely that we’ll be discussing it whether a senator brings it up or not,” Gulino said. “Seven respected faculty members have expressed a concern, and when people do that, that’s what faculty governance is for.”
Zoellner said his intent with requesting the report is not to “vilify” anyone.
“If we don’t do this, it’s going to be a kind of a perennial question. Was this done right?” Zoellner said. “This isn’t about people. This is about policies. If I had to underline anything, that’s what I’d put in darkest pen.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this article characterized George Mason as a private university, but it is public. The university’s foundation that handles its donations is private.