In the wake of the Faculty Senate’s symbolic vote, further investigation into the Ad Hoc Committee’s report show they made several unsubstantiated claims. After having the opportunity to speak with Dr. Jim Otteson, the Executive Director of the Eudaimonia Institute, Dr. Jay Ford, the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Senate Committee, representatives from the Charles Koch Foundation, as well as a number of concerned faculty and students, I came across a number of issues with the evidence that the report draws upon.
Last month, Wake Forest’s Faculty Senate convened for their monthly meeting where an Ad Hoc Senate Committee presented their report about their concerns with the Eudaimonia Institute (EI) following their investigation. EI is a new institute on Wake Forest’s campus whose mission “is to explore the elements of and institutions that support eudaimonia, or genuine human flourishing.” Following some debate after the Ad Hoc Committee’s presentation, members of the Faculty Senate voted 17-9 in favor of a resolution to strip the Institute’s funding from the Charles Koch Foundation and affiliated “Koch Network” groups.
According to the Committee’s report, “In September, 2016, the University announced that the Charles Koch Foundation committed $3.69 million to support the newly created Eudaimonia Institute over the next five years.” The report formulates its argument based on what Dr. Ford referred to as, “well-educated speculation.” Nonetheless, this speculation has no concrete evidence to back it up, because the Committee did not have access to the grant agreement between the Wake Forest and the Koch Foundation.
After evaluating the gift agreements of other universities that receive Koch Foundation funding, two of the major claims central to the Ad Hoc Committee report fall apart. Based on the reports and gift agreements from a number of schools including Florida State, University of Kentucky, West Virginia University, and Utah State University, the claims that the Charles Koch Foundation is trying to convert students, co-opt higher education, and control faculty hiring and curriculum are incorrect.
Claim 1: The Charles Koch Foundation is trying to “convert students to their free market ideology” while conducting a “strategic effort to co-opt higher education.”
The first major claim that the Committee makes is that Koch Foundation is trying to convert students to their free market ideology by “co-opting” higher education. This statement is one of the biggest stretches the Committee makes in the entire document. The report uses words that make it seem like the Koch Foundation is attempting to delegitimize education at Wake Forest and control students that are researching in the institute.
Dr. Otteson responded to this claim by explaining this institute has no ideological leanings. He pointed to their faculty advisory board as an example of the diversity of thought at EI. Indeed, the faculty members that serve on the board are from a diverse number of departments and disciplines that truly encompass all viewpoints. So, claiming that the institute is trying to teach a singular ideology and is “brainwashing” students into believing in the free markets is invalid.
The Ad Hoc Committee has yet to produce a single bit of evidence that proves any misconduct on the part of the Koch Foundation. Instead, they tend to base their conspiracies on the agreements from other schools that supposedly indict the Charles Koch for being the villains the report claims they are. However, after evaluating the agreements from other schools, there are clear protections for academic freedom that debunk the Committee’s claim.
In the first section of Utah State’s agreement with the Charles Koch Foundation, there is a clear declaration of academic independence from the foundation. The agreement reads:
“The parties expect that the research of the Professors will compliment, inform and build upon USU’s existing strengths in business, finance, economics, institutions and property rights as they relate to and inform the foundations of prosperity, social progress and human well-being. Nothing contained herein shall be constructed to restrict the academic freedom of USU or its faculty with respect to the activities of USU.”
In the University of Kentucky’s agreement, the lack of control by the Koch Foundation is again made clear in the first section of the agreement. The section is titled “Promoting Academic Freedom” and it states:
“The Donor’s grant is intended to help promote an environment a the University where ideas can be exchanged freely and useful knowledge will benefit the well-being of individuals and society. Thus, the Parties agree that the academic freedom of the University, the Institute, and their faculty, students, and staff is critical to the success of the Institute’s research, scholarship, teaching, and service.”
If a section labeled “academic freedom” is not enough for the Committee to be convinced, a third contract showed further proof of academic and institutional independence from the Koch Foundation. This includes evidence that pertains to faculty and staff being selected by University standards rather than Koch Foundation standards.
Claim 2: The Charles Koch Foundation controls hires, curriculum, and operations of the Eudaimonia Institute
Another conspiratorial claim the Committee makes is that the Koch Foundation has complete control over the hiring process, curriculum development, and general operations of the institutes they fund. Once again, the Committee made another overblown conclusion.
Building off Ford’s idea of “well-educated speculation”, the Ad Hoc Committee cites the Florida State agreement as an example of Koch Foundation overstep. However, Florida State University’s “Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee Review Report” (2011) contained findings that debunk the argument of the Wake Forest Committee.
One finding made by the Florida State Committee shows that the Koch Foundation had no inappropriate control over hiring:
“The committee finds that the faculty hiring to date associated with the agreement has been appropriately governed and managed by FSU faculty and administration.”
In other words, the Committee could find no evidence that the Koch Foundation was interfering with the hiring of faculty for the program they fund at Florida State.
In the sixth section of their report, the Florida State Committee investigated a course that concerned critics. The course was ECO 3131, “Market Ethics: The Vices, Virtues, and Values of Capitalism.” At first glance one can assume why critics took a problem with the course, but the committee looked into it and and found:
“That new course proposal was vetted through the regular university process, which includes department, college, and university curriculum committee approvals.”
An agreement from West Virginia University also has multiple provisions that combat the Wake Forest Committee’s claim. This agreement goes into an in depth analysis of how the hiring decisions will be made:
“All searches for Donor Supported Professorship Positions shall be conducted in accordance with the University’s established procedure for selecting faculty.”
“No funding for a Donor Supported Professorship Position will be released without the approval of the Dean of the College of Business Economics, in consultation with Professor Russell Sobel [program leader] or his successor.”
The first quote from the agreement set the standard for how professors will be chosen and ensures that the donor supported positions follow the same ] university policy that every other professor at the university must abide by. The second excerpt shows what steps must be followed in order for a professor to be terminated, guaranteeing that there is no chance that the Koch Foundation can terminate a professor for unsubstantiated reasons.
While the report laid out by the Wake Forest Senate Committee relies on no concrete evidence from the Wake Forest and Koch Foundation Agreement, their “well-educated speculation” is also false.
In another part of the West Virginia agreement, the two sides establish a clear method of operation:
“CGK Foundation acknowledges that it will have no right to direct such research, scholarship, teaching and service, or to receive the benefits thereof, separate from what is set forth in this Agreement.”
In the Utah State agreement, there is an entire section dedicated to the hiring process of professors. Some of the various provisions in this agreement include:
“All searches for the Professors shall be conducted in accordance with USU established procedures for selecting faculty of similar positions.”
“The candidates for Professors will be subject to the same rigorous standards and procedures as are required for similar positions at USU as outlines in the USU Faculty Handbook.”
These statements show that in all these agreements, the curriculum, hiring procedures and firing procedures are not controlled by the Koch Foundation and almost always controlled by the University.
While the report laid out by the Wake Forest Senate Committee relies on no concrete evidence from the Wake Forest and Koch Foundation Agreement, their “well-educated speculation” is also false. While the committee claims that the donor agreements at these other universities are what indict the Charles Koch Foundation, there was no backing in four gift agreements and reports for two of the major claims they make.
Could this be because of the Charles Koch Foundation’s ideology? Find out in the next installment of “The Eudaimonia Report.”