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Virginia: University Admits Koch Foundation Bought Control of Key Decisions

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After years of denying that the Koch Foundation exercised control of hiring and firing professors by giving millions of dollars, George Mason University was compelled by the release of documents to admit that it was true. 

“Virginia’s largest public university granted the conservative Charles Koch Foundation a say in the hiring and firing of professors in exchange for millions of dollars in donations, according to newly released documents.

“The release of donor agreements between George Mason University and the foundation follows years of denials by university administrators that Koch foundation donations inhibit academic freedom.

“University President Angel Cabrera wrote a note to faculty Friday night saying the agreements “fall short of the standards of academic independence I expect any gift to meet.” The admission came three days after a judge scrutinized the university’s earlier refusal to release any documents.

”The newly released agreements spell out million-dollar deals in which the Koch Foundation endows a fund to pay the salary of one or more professors at the university’s Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank. The agreements require creation of five-member selection committees to choose the professors and grant the donors the right to name two of the committee members.

“The Koch Foundation enjoyed similar appointment rights to advisory boards that had the right under the agreements to recommend firing a professor who failed to live up to standards.

“Cabrera emphasized in his note to faculty that the “agreements did not give donors control over academic decisions” — an apparent reference to the fact that the Koch Foundation did not control a majority of seats on the selection committees.

“A university spokesman said Cabrera was unavailable for an interview. On Monday night, Cabrera issued a statement saying he is ordering a review of all the university’s donor agreements that support faculty positions to “ensure that they do not grant donors undue influence in academic matters.”

“Cabrera’s admission that the agreements fall short of standards for academic independence is a stark departure from his earlier statements on the issue. In a 2014 blog post on the issue, he wrote that donors don’t get to decide who is hired and that “these rules are an essential part of our academic integrity. If these rules are not acceptable, we simply don’t accept the gift. Academic freedom is never for sale. Period.”

“In 2016, in an interview with The Associated Press, he denied that the Koch donations restricted academic independence and said Koch’s status as a lightning rod for his support of Republican candidates is the only reason people question the donations.

 “The documents were released to a former student, Samantha Parsons, under a Freedom of Information Act request she filed earlier this year after years of having similar requests rejected.“Parsons, who now works for the activist group UnKoch My Campus, said the documents are strikingly similar to agreements the Koch Foundation made with Florida State University that caused a similar uproar.

“She said provisions giving the foundation a say in which professors are chosen are especially alarming.

“The faculty is supposed to have the independence to choose the best-qualified candidate,” she said.”

The University recently renamed its law school for the late conservative Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia. This occurred following a Koch gift of $10 Million, plus $20 Million from an anonymous donor.

Some 300 colleges have accepted Koch funding.

When Duke historian Nancy MacLean wrote “Democracy in Chains,” criticizing the Koch-funded economist James Buchanan, she was viciously attacked by libertarians for her portrayal of Buchanan as anti-democratic and unduly influenced by Koch libertarianism. She must be smiling as the mask of impartial scholarship is stripped away by student activists.


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