Gifts not freely given

The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation is under fire for requesting the e-mail addresses of Whitman College students who attended a lecture the conservative organization funded. (The foundation has a reputation for attaching strings to its gifts to colleges and universities.)

Inside Higher Ed has more:

The “Classical Liberalism Lecture Series,” funded by Koch, brought Gary Liebcap, a professor of economics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, to campus last month to give a lecture on “The Tragedy of the Commons Revisited.”

Faculty members started to get worried when they heard that the foundation, as part of its grant, asked for the e-mail addresses of students who attended the lecture. Faculty members objected to the idea that a funder was entitled to know which students attended and to get private information, such as their e-mail addresses. Ruth Wardwell, a college spokeswoman (to whom faculty members also referred inquiries), confirmed that the foundation asked for the students’ e-mail addresses, but said that Whitman didn’t provide them. She also said that the college hasn’t decided whether to honor the request of faculty members not to seek additional Koch money.

According to a statement from the Koch Foundation, the request was designed to help students. “In addition to sponsoring speakers series, the foundation provides resources to expand students’ educational opportunities and career development. This includes connecting them with more information about conferences, events and seminars where they can pursue their area of study, in addition to internship and employment opportunities to help them start a career after graduation, which is particularly important with high unemployment in an economically challenging time,” said Tonya Mullins, director of communications for the foundation.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

So it sounds like the Koch Foundation wants to help students—at least those with an interest in conservative causes—network and find jobs. Now, if the Kochs are big proponents of free-market solutions, why don’t they simply recruit students openly by taking out ads that say: “Become conservative and get a job!”  I’m sure they’d have plenty of takers. Why ask a college to violated its standards and policies for money?  Maybe they got it confused with Congress.

This isn’t the first time the Koch Foundation’s practices have raised eyebrows on campus. In May, a controversy erupted at Florida State University over a gift from the Koch Foundation to the school, which had strings attached:

The agreement created a donor-approved advisory board for a gift to support the economics department. The advisory board can’t appoint anyone to a faculty slot or set up a new academic program, but it can veto a hire paid for with foundation funds.

The university insists that there are numerous protections in place to assure sound, faculty-led decision making on the program. But many faculty critics say that letting a foundation play this role gives away pivotal power that should rest with professors alone, and sets a dangerous precedent.

The Koch Foundation has a similar agreement with Utah State University. Inside Higher Ed has more.

And by the way …

On a somewhat related note, there’s a new poll out from a Fairleigh Dickinson sociology professor that indicates Fox News viewers know less about current events than people who don’t watch the news at all. In other words, that watching Fox News is worse than nothing. This may seem counterintuitive, unless you’ve seen Fox and Friends.

Hey, I report. You decide.

Update: Koch Industries (IP address has developed an interest in this website.


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