Education

UK board accepts $10 million for controversial free enterprise institute

The atrium in the the new University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics, at the intersection of South Limestone St. and Administration Dr. on the UK campus in Lexington, Ky., Friday, October 7, 2016.
The atrium in the the new University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics, at the intersection of South Limestone St. and Administration Dr. on the UK campus in Lexington, Ky., Friday, October 7, 2016. cbertram@herald-leader.com

The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees gave final approval Friday to a controversial center for the study of free enterprise that many faculty have opposed.

The John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise in the Gatton College of Business and Economics was funded with $6 million from the John H. Schnatter Family Foundation and $4 million from the Charles Koch Foundation. Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s Pizza, also donated $2 million to name the atrium in the newly renovated Gatton school.

Charles and David Koch have donated millions of dollars to universities with the stated aim of building a pipeline of libertarian-leaning students who will influence public policy. The Koch Foundation’s numerous gifts in higher education have caused alarm among some, especially since the donations have come with strings at some schools, such as giving the Koch Foundation authority to approve or reject hiring.

The UK board’s only no vote came from faculty trustee Lee Blonder, who said she was opposed to the mission statement, which says the new institute will study how free enterprise “promotes the well being” of society, and a clause that allows the donors to pull funding with 30 days notice.

“This mission statement has the potential to discourage critical focus on free enterprise,” Blonder said.

The University Senate approved the academic content of the institute, but did not endorse the administrative structure. They added a provision that will require a review of the center after two years.

Gatton Dean David Blackwell said he carefully safeguarded academic freedom in crafting the agreement with the two foundations.

“The vote was controversial because many of their gifts are controversial,” he said. But “as long as I’m in charge, we will do nothing to hurt the integrity of this institution.”

The gift will allow the business college to hire five new faculty, as well as fund research and graduate fellowships. Blackwell said all faculty will be hired through the normal process and promotion will depend on publication in prestigious journals. He said the provost has assured him that if the donors pull their money, the university could still pay for those faculty hires.

Gatton professor John Garen has already been appointed director.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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