1. Donation is an honest investment

By Nicholas Coleman

Administrators at the University of Utah announced plans for a new academic institute after receiving $20 million from the Marriner S. Eccles and George S. and Dolores Eccles Foundation, $10 million coming from the Charles Koch Foundation. These combined efforts will establish the Marriner S. Eccles Institute of Economics and Quantitative Analysis, which is intended to enhance the David Eccles Business School’s reputation.

As U professors attempt to restrict the Koch Foundation’s involvement, underpinnings of the liberal monopoly on education they hold are on display. Rather than supporting intellectual diversity, faculty members are revealing they are a threat to academic integrity.

Beyond thinly veiled promises of an unbiased education within social sciences, the U is teeming with leftist subscribers. Professor Mark Button, author of the infamous petition directed against the Koch Foundation, cites “Leaders of the Koch Foundation … have made it clear that the aim of the Koch Foundation’s widespread investments in higher education is to ‘leverage science and universities’ for their specific public policy agenda.”

Button does not admit his own personal motivations.

The petition has been signed by over 200 faculty members and students, and the perturbing desire to dramatize a donation made by a conservative organization exposes an irony that resonates among numerous universities. Imagine if the contribution was from George Soros. Would Button’s supporters condemn undue “liberal influence” at the U?

According to Time, “… private foundations led by liberal political bankroller George Soros — the Koch’s de facto Democratic foil who also heavily funds higher education — spent slightly more money on a smaller number of colleges and universities than the Koch foundations did during 2014.”  This is the same Soros who said, “I admit that I have always harbored an exaggerated view of self-importance — to put it bluntly, I fancied myself as some kind of god,” in his 1987 book, “The Alchemy of Finance.”

If there is an individual who is actually concerned about the academic integrity of this new institute, it’s Dean Taylor Randall, who leads the David Eccles School of Business. As he described to the Deseret News, “the idea for such an institute came about from brainstorming by top faculty about how to ‘raise the profile’ of the business school.” This assumes these individuals were not part of a maniacal conservative conspiracy.

When questioned about the donation, Randall rebuked criticism stating that “the economic analysis will not be done through a political lens.” This donation reflects the U’s desire to grow academically.

The Eccles Foundation’s involvement serves as an ideological balance to Koch’s involvement. Yet, there have been no protests made against the Eccles’ from the liberal faculty who “safeguard” students.

Knowledgeable members of the Utah Eccles Foundation explain why the new institute is being built with aid from Koch.

“What impressed us the most with what the Kochs were doing, and what made it feel so comfortable for this to be a fit, is that what we’re doing here isn’t an ideology,” said Hope Eccles, president of the Marriner S. Eccles Foundation, in the Deseret News. “It’s not an attempt to get students and train them in a specific thing. It is an opportunity to make sure that they’re exposed to a full range [of ideas] and that they have an opportunity to hear the best arguments.”

The chairman of the George S. and Dolore Eccles Foundation, Spencer F. Eccles,is also unconcerned, so if university leaders and nonprofit officials stand in support, who opposes progress?

There is one central group: the professors threatened by intellectual diversity.

Marxism has long flourished within the university’s economics department until one inquires about the curriculum. The individuals who stand against the Koch Foundation’s involvement are not foolish, they know money would never sway their research pursuits. The only tangible “threat” is an indication of change.

Button’s petition requests the U create an “independent faculty governance in this new institute, especially as this relates to future faculty hiring and the distribution of student scholarships and fellowships.”

Unless he intends to remove himself and the other signers of the petition from serving on this “independent council,” this is clearly an attempt to continue their existing hiring practices.

These individuals, who claim to protect academic integrity, are among the many liberal ideologues who control higher education. The Salt Lake City community is urged to believe there will be “undue ideological influence” from the Koch Foundation. A distinct lack of attention to the disproportionate influence of leftist ideologies on campuses is ironic, and it demonstrates the importance of Koch’s involvement.

U administrators, the Koch Foundation and directors of the Eccles Foundation agree students learn best when presented with differing viewpoints.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

2. Say no to Koch Money

By Connor Richards

Marriner Stoddard Eccles is a key figure of Utah history. In the years following the Great Depression era, the Logan native served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration and played a major role in implementing New Deal legislation. A defender of Keynesian economics — an economic theory in favor of government assistance during recessions and market crises — Eccles, who was once featured on the cover of Time, could hardly be described or remembered as a venture capitalist vehemently opposed to government regulation.

Juxtapose this legacy with that of Charles G. and David H. Koch. The Koch brothers control Koch Industries, the second largest private company in the United States. Under the leadership of the Koch brothers, Koch Industries has successfully donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various right-wing political causes, including Republican party candidates, libertarian and conservative think-tanks with the intention of diffusing free-market agendas into the public sphere. The effort has been successful. The influence of the Koch Institute over the Republican Party, and American politics in general, is said to be comparable to that of the Republican National Committee. Backed by a net worth of over $100 billion dollars, the Koch brothers have become arguably the biggest lobbying influence in the entire country.

The influence of the Koch brothers does not end at the political sphere. In recent years, the duo has made it a primary goal to establish a presence in American colleges and universities. The University of Utah is the latest target. It was announced in July that the Charles Koch Foundation would be making a $10 million donation, matching that of two Eccles family foundations, to establish the Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis.

The announcement was met with mixed responses. The Deseret News editorial board praised the donation for boosting the U’s reputation and diversifying its “Marxian” economics department. The board brushed off concerns that multimillion dollar donations might make universities beholden to donors with explicit political agendas.

“Most Utahns will recognize that along with the joint gifts from the Eccles and Koch foundations, the new institute, the new faculty and the new major will serve as windfalls for the state and will, at long last, allow for a full spectrum of economic perspectives to receive a fair hearing at the state’s flagship campus,” the editorial stated.

It is unlikely this statement, coming from a publication owned by the highly conservative and monolithic Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was written with any irony.

Others have treated the fear of ideologically driven research less flippantly. In a letter signed by over 200 faculty members and students, including the Department of Political Science chair Mark Button, the university community voiced its concern that the donation would undermine intellectual and academic freedom, and called on U administrators to “differentiate this new Institute from the mission and aims of the Economics department.”

“We do not believe that it is in the long-term best interest of our University to allow its talented professors and students to be strategically ‘leveraged’ by any outside entity, irrespective of its philosophical or political views,” the letter stated. “While we do not believe that it is any part of the University’s intention to align itself with the Koch Foundation’s ideological network and its specific public policy goals, by virtue of accepting funding from the Koch Foundation the University of Utah will become another vehicle of the Foundation’s broader political ambitions.”

Yet, the institute in question will not bear the Koch name or legacy, but that of Marriner Eccles. His grandson, Marriner C. Eccles, does not think his grandfather would approve of being associated with Koch money. He does not believe the senior Marriner’s “positions or accomplishments throughout his life remotely resonate with any policies or positions advanced by Charles Koch,” he wrote in a letter. “To attempt to name an institute in Marriner’s name, partially and conditionally funded by Charles Koch, may advance the standing of the Koch Family, but is antithetical to what Marriner stood for his entire public life.”

There are those who believe an economics institute that could potentially cater to the libertarian and conservative interests of the Koch brothers may not be a bad thing. It would be nice, the argument goes, to give voice to right wing ideas that are unpopular on the U’s left leaning campus. Defenders of this argument, who are concerned about a liberal-Marxist monopoly of intellectual and ideological thought in Utah, would be wise to look at the rest of the overwhelmingly conservative state and realize their concerns are marginal.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

1 COMMENT

  1. The “diversity of thought” argument is the one that Koch’s own PR is centered around, because it is a strawman that avoids discussing the reality of how Koch contracts are written to exert long term, permanent influence in the departments they fund.

    The irony of this argument is shown by the logical extreme – curricular diversity only comes from donor demand? So the university should drop all programs that don’t have a billionaire sugardaddy willing to design, fund, and pipeline into politics?

    The amount of educational diversity you lose by selling departments to donors with pay-to-play ambitions would certainly decrease. It’s like admitting ideas have no merits unless someone rich likes them, and that is not diversity, by any measurement.

    Since UU already has an economics program, what is the value of brining in classes that specifically focus on the viewpoints favored by Charles Koch? Will they, like Utah State has done, require students to read Charles Koch’s books, or even learn his trademarked management theory, Market-Based Management?

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