On Monday afternoon, University of Kentucky faculty will vote on a critical matter: the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise, to be led by John Garen of the Bluegrass Institute with funding from the Charles Koch Foundation and Louisville businessman “Papa” John Schnatter.
These centers are of central importance to the conservative political agenda of Koch Industries and their network of corporate partner donors. I urge the faculty to reject the proposal.
The contract cedes control to the donor, granting Koch “the right to terminate this Agreement and to discontinue or withhold any Contributed Amount” with only 30 days notice. The funding is not given all at once, but is renewed annually, allowing the donor to withhold or approve programming on a line item basis.
The Koch Foundation’s model for donor-funded policy change is called the “Structure of Social Change,” which guides the joint funding of universities, think tanks and astroturf groups with the end result being “the implementation of policy change.”
Earlier this year, my organization, UnKoch my Campus, published recordings of a 2016 conference with several panels featuring Koch foundation officials and the faculty they support, including Garen.
The Koch foundation’s Charlie Ruger, on a panel with Garen, described how their academic programs have “got to do with taking those ideas, taking that research, and bringing them out of the academy,” including “arranging state legislative testimony to make sure that these kinds of ideas have a seat on the table in public policy.”
Ruger describes how “it’s not just the money ... we’ve got a constellation of network organizations that are focused on applying what comes out of universities to change the world ... that’s sort of the core of the partnership. Money plus the network.”
Specifically, Ruger is referring to a network of think tanks known as the State Policy Network. Kentucky’s member is the Bluegrass Institute, an organization whose purpose is “promoting free‐market capitalism, smaller government, and the defense of personal liberties.” Garen chairs of the Bluegrass Institute’s Board of Scholars.
On the panel, Garen disparaged several aspects of UK’s economics program as overly “narrow and technical,” including the economics Ph.D program, its faculty and requirements for tenure track hires.
At the same 2016 conference, Ruger described the motivations of their partner donors, made up of “a network of business leaders from across the country who see our system of free enterprise as being in great peril” and are “willing to put all of their ... fortunes on the line to help that not happen.”
Kentucky is the location of Papa John’s legal troubles with labor regulations, including a six-state class-action lawsuit for an elaborate system of wage theft and violating minimum wage laws.
Faculty at other schools, most recently George Mason University and Western Carolina University, have attempted to assert their rightful control over curricular and hiring decisions, only to be bulldozed by administrators more interested in bringing in outside money than in faculty governance.
At UK, the dean spearheading the effort to approve the center also stands to benefit as one of its initial hires. This leaves faculty in an awkward position of institutional intimidation, similar to that reported in other states.
There is no compromise to be had with the Koch foundation. Their money is a Trojan horse.
Ralph Wilson, of Tallahassee Fla., is a senior researcher with UnKoch My Campus. Read the organization’s letter to faculty about the UK/Koch contract at ow.ly/zMak304YKc6.
Related: Herald-Leader article, “Center funded by Koch brothers, pizza magnate splits UK council” and column by editorial writer Jaci Carfagno, “A lot of strings on $12M ‘gift’ to UK business college”