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This is an alarming article about the invasion of corporate and philanthropic money into higher education, not to underwrite the purposes of higher education, but to buy control of policy and thinking.
The most obvious example is the millions donated by Charles Koch to spread the gospel of free markets and individual responsibility.
All told, the Charles Koch Foundation has invested some $200 million in higher education activities since 1980, with more than $140 million of that money allocated since 2005, funding over fifty free-market research centers and institutes at universities. And these beachheads of private campus cash have become lush islands of ideological purity by partnering with like-minded philanthropists such as Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter and the recently deceased Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider.
But all this high-profile private funding has also provoked a backlash. Groups such as Kochwatch and UnKoch My Campus have galvanized public attention and even sparked protests at campuses nationwide. So the Kochtopus has rebranded. Starting in 2014, Charles Koch introduced the “Well-Being Initiative” with a blog post under his signature and a conference at the Charles Koch Institute in Washington, D.C.
One speaker was Koch beneficiary James Otteson, a philosopher and executive director of the BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism. BB&T is a bank holding company formerly chaired by a man named John Allison, who retired in 2010 and now serves as “executive in residence” at the center. He was also president and CEO of the libertarian Cato Institute. In 2011 he caused a stir by promising through the BB&T Charitable Foundation to provide grants as high as $2 million to schools that established courses on the first principles of modern capitalism with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as required reading. That novel, of courses, preaches naked self-interest as a virtue. At conferences like these, however, the candid celebration of capitalist predation doesn’t always align so cleanly with the institutional interests of the Koch Foundation. So the focus has been rejiggered to explore “what enables individuals and societies to flourish and how to help people improve their lives and communities.”
Koch is far from alone. Read the article and see how many other billionaires have stepped into the game to buy scholars and whole departments.
This is the auctioning off of academic freedom and intellectual pursuit. It is a scandal. Call it intellectual corruption.