TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, May 21, 2018

Faculty Views On The Koch Brothers' Influence At George Mason University

George Mason University (2018)Following up on my previous posts (links below): 

Washington Post op-ed:  I Teach at George Mason. The Kochs Didn’t Cause Our Ideology Problem, by Steven Pearlstein (George Mason):

Thanks to a group of courageous and persistent students, George Mason University was recently forced to acknowledge that it had accepted millions of dollars from billionaire Charles Koch and other conservatives under arrangements that gave the donors input into appointments at the university’s famously libertarian economics department. These arrangements violated traditional norms meant to insulate academic institutions from donor influence and come two years after similar gifts led to the naming of Mason’s law school after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The story fits neatly into the liberal narrative that the Koch brothers, Charles and David, have used their inherited oil wealth to fund the development of radical economic theories at Koch-funded universities. This, the narrative goes, translated into concrete policies at Koch-funded think tanks and legislation implemented by Koch-funded Republicans. For many liberals, this brainwashing of the American mind explains the ascent of the tea party and the election of President Donald Trump.

There is some truth to this narrative of the rich, all-powerful puppeteers. But at Mason, the story is more complicated.

For the past seven years, I’ve been a professor at Mason. Although I teach economics and economic policy, I’m not a member of the economics department — they wouldn’t have me. But over the years, I’ve gotten to know and admire many of the economists there. For the most part, I have found them to be good economists and teachers, incredibly smart, intellectually honest and curious. Yes, the lavish support of Charles Koch and many other conservative donors has surely been a big factor in the department’s success and prominence. But any time someone makes a big donation for a particular purpose, it influences a school’s priorities and identity. ...

If there is a problem here — and I think there is — it is that rules and norms of university governance give faculty the power to hire people who think like they do. This problem extends beyond the economics department and the law school — and well beyond Mason. There is ample evidence that feminists prefer to hire other feminists; behaviorists like to hire other behaviorists; “crit lit” scholars hire other “crit lit” scholars. Sorting by political or academic ideology is a naturally occurring phenomenon.

This lack of ideological diversity is bad for students.

Wall Street Journal op-ed:  ‘UnKoch’ Attacks Academic Freedom, by Daniele Struppa (President, Chapman):

There has been a lot of hand-wringing lately, throughout the academy and in the news, about donations the Charles Koch Foundation has been making to universities. In the heat of the debate, many details of these donations have been described inaccurately or distorted purposefully. But after the allegations, irate commentaries and internal academic battles, the actual outcome of opposition to these gifts is to limit the academic freedom the protesters claim to champion. ...

The UnKoch people and their allies want universities to decline Koch money, and in so demanding they are asking administrators to curtail the academic freedom of faculty. ... As president, I am being asked to turn down donations from the dreaded Koch brothers, even when, as in this case, the proposal for funding was inspired, developed and fully fleshed out by my faculty, in the most important exercise of their own academic freedom. The demand that research funding be declined because of its origin poses a grave threat to academic freedom.

The protesters want administrators to exert ideological control over the kind of research that can be funded and which donations are acceptable. That would establish a very dangerous precedent. Those who really care about academic freedom must protect the freedoms of those with whom they disagree.

Prior TaxProf Blog posts:

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The 60's radicals that took over the universities over the past 50 years are hell-bent on not letting go of control and dominance. They'll come up with any reasons they can. Simple as that.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | May 22, 2018 4:09:54 AM