Koch Brothers’ Culture Grab: Latest Donation, to Western Carolina University, for “Center of Study of Free Enterprise” Despite Faculty Vote “No”

Yves here. In ECONNED, we discussed how the bedrock notions of law, that of equity, which predated the institutionalization of courts, was undermined by a systematic attack from right wing interests starting in the 1970s, via the aggressive promotion of “law and economics”. This effort, led by Henry Manne, had as its explicit aim to change how law was taught in order to make the judiciary more business-friendly.

As this article explains, the Koch Brothers are operating from the same playbook with their educational purchases, um, donations.

By run75441. Originally published at Angry Bear

What does a public university do when a donation to it comes with strings? This is the situation Western Carolina University finds itself in today as a $2 million donation is being given to it by a Charles Koch Foundation to establish a Center for the Study of Free Enterprise under BB&T Bank sponsored department chair Dr. Robert Lopez.

Just to be clear, this is not the only donation ever made by a Charles Koch Foundation to a college or university, the “Koch brothers and their various funding arms awarded $108 million to 366 colleges and universities from 2005 to 2014 — with $19.3 million across 210 college campuses in 2013 alone — according to political funding analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies and Center for Public Integrity.” More and more, we can see moneyed and political interests making large donations no longer tied to just a name on a building in memory of that person: but, the donations are tied to a particular and current interest with an active participation. This is not only happening at universities or colleges, you can see conservative or other groups showing interest in think tanks such as CAP and Brookings for topics such as student loans and changing the law with regard to “mens rea.” The later being a direct attempt to change the law so as to protect their business. It is difficult for a college or a university, much less a think-tank, to accept a donation from an outside interest with ties to an ideology or interest without favoring it in the future.

In answer to WCU Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar questioning whether Faculty Senate Leader opinion really reflected the overall view of the faculty. “The Faculty Senate voted in majority opposing the establishment of this new center, which is consistent with what I have heard from the general faculty,” said Dr. Bill Yang, chair of the faculty senate rules committee. There does not appear to be a conflict here to what WCU Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar and what Senate Faculty Chair Dr. David. MCord said; “It is not a small stakes issue here. This is the academic integrity of the institution over the long run” and suggesting it is “fairly unique” to have the overwhelming majority of faculty take a stand one-way and the administration do the opposite.

In a subsequent interview WCU Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar claimed “the majority of written comments from faculty support the creation of a free enterprise center. She said only one-third of those who submitted comments opposed it.” According to an analysis of the written faculty responses by The Smoky Mountain News; “The written comments showed 20 were against the center, 14 were for it and three were in the middle.” Still a majority against the donation.

The Free Trade Center was originally pitched in August 2105 and Dr. Lopez was given the go-ahead to pursue the Center and construct a proposal with only the Provost’s and the Dean of the School of Business’s knowledge. Coming up for a vote to approve, both the Dean and the Provost came to “finally” realize they would need faculty input before the meeting and the planning stage. Coming out of the October 1st Provost Council meeting, it was decided to present the proposal to the faculty and on October 14 (don’t they have documented rules [like Robert’s] for this stuff?) it was accomplished with a stipulation a decison was to be reached by the next Provost meeting November 1. The failure of the Dean, the Provost and Dr. Lopez to notify faculty members left something to be desired leaving a bad taste in the mouths of some as the process was hurried and not transparent.

One email as disclosed by the Smokey Mountain News gives the impression the center was a foregone conclusion as the administration was on board from the beginning or shortly after Dr. Lopez was given the go ahead. Dating back to late September, the email states; “The Chancellor would like for the proposal to be to the Board of Trustees by the last meeting of this semester. That means we will have to get this turned around and back to the Provost Council in a timely manner,” Dean Darrell Parker wrote in an email to Dr. Brian Kloeppel, the dean named to handle the faculty input process.

Ahhh, but there are University policy rules to be followed. The email “predates several steps outlined in university policy governing the creation of a new center or institute. Administration was already angling to have the center on the desk of trustees within a couple months, despite two rounds of faculty input still needed and a two-phased approval by the provost council.”

“I am not aware of criticisms the policy wasn’t followed,” Lopez said. “This decision is the end of a process that from the very beginning was transparent and inclusive.”

– Wardell Townsend, chair of the WCU board of trustees, said university policy related to the center’s creation was followed, based on what he was told by the provost.

Provost “Morrison-Shetlar said in an interview the policy was ‘followed to the letter.’”

So much for the complaints of the faculty about not following policy and it being truncated.

The process to start a Center for Free Enterprise was well on the way by the time the faculty was informed. In early October, Distinguished Professor of Capitalism Dr. Lopez had already penned a job description “two months before the free enterprise center would come before the board of trustees for a vote” and the position would “participate in a new interdisciplinary center for free enterprise research.”

The position would be a part of the Center for Free Enterprise as the Gimelstob-Landry Distinguished Professor of Regional Economic Development. The position was also announced the previous year with no candidates found to fulfill the role. It was thought at the time the mention of a Free Enterprise Center may prejudice candidates and only those candidates of this mindset might apply. A concern by those opposing the center was the funders might influence who was selected to fill the professorship.

As far as I’m involved, there is no chance that any donor will appoint any university personnel, full stop,” Lopez said.


“WCU leaders, faculty at odds over Koch-funded free enterprise center” Smoky Mountain News, Becky Johnson

“WCU community grapples with academic pursuits in the face of politically-charged outside funding” Smoky Mountain News, Becky Johnson

” WCU chancellor pledges transparency, faculty involvement to vet controversial Koch money” Smoky Mountain News, Becky Johnson

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  1. Left in Wisconsin

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out over time. Faculty strike, anyone? My experience with university faculty is that they are overwhelmingly liberal but also overwhelmingly timid. (Except the economists, who are only culturally liberal but not at all timid.) I would expect some angry faculty resolutions to follow. And that would be it.

    1. Uahsenaa

      Liberal but timid is probably the most apt description of Anglo-American academics. They may have liberal political views resulting from their education and training, but their livelihood is entirely dependent upon the survival of the institution, and so in that respect there are a number of small c conservative tendencies that rear their ugly heads when push comes to shove.

      The truly subversive thing to do, and I’m surprised no one has ever thought of this, would be to take the money, create the center, but then staff it entirely with labor historians, people who do research on workers cooperatives, MMT theorists, and what have you. Those all easily fall under the rubric of “free enterprise,” and hiring is one area in which faculty can flex their political muscle under the radar.

      But in my experience, academics have little stomach for that kind of guerilla warfare.

      1. run75441


        You do not think Dr. Edward Lopez is at WCU for a reason, heh? He gets to pick the profs.

        1. Uahsenaa

          There are still plenty of ways faculty can gum up the hiring works, in tenure review, internal grant proposals, generally make their lives hell because so much of the day-to-day functioning of a university relies upon a low grade consensus, go along to get along.

          Which is why, and Left in Wisconsin is right to point this out, it would never happen. Consensus governing in academia results in mutually assured destruction, so the worst thing that ever happens is a sternly worded letter, a toothless no confidence vote, or a few days of picketing.

          But you’re right as well, the game is rigged from the get go.

  2. flora

    If this follows the their standard playbook, once the Center is established it will have a handpicked single, or perhaps several, “researchers”. The “researchers” will be invited by state lege to present their relevant “findings” to various lege committees that are considering changes to law or regulation. The “findings” so presented will come with the imprimatur of the university, appearing to be neutral and unbiased. ( It’s kind of like buying a ratings agency seal of approval.)
    The universities, for their part, have been starved of funds by the legislatures for so long they are reduced to this, selling their good names in a way that further undermines their reputations, in my opinion.

    1. flora

      oh, and if the “findings” are challenged and the university questioned about the qualifications of the “reseacher”, the university will disavow that said researcher is faculty or a university employee and instead insist that the endowed chair is a token position, not actually part of the university’s mission at all.

      1. run75441


        The head of the Center for Free Enterprise will be Dr. Edward Lopez who will also receive a nice increase in salary by the Koch Bros. The NC legislature is Republican. I do not believe they will be demeaning the university.

        1. flora

          I just visited his webpage. see. Dr: Edward Lopez WCU and click the links.
          Looks like he’s presenting a paper at the
          September 19, 2016, Mont Pelerin Society General Meetings
          in Miami.
          Research Presentation, “The Roads to Success in the Academy for Think Tanks”
          Edward J. López

          Mont Pelerin Society. (Hayak, Friedman, Mises)

          1. run75441


            I have no issues with salt water vs fresh water economists. If this was all this was about, I would not have much of a story. This is about Ayn Rand (Ms. O’Connor) who called people moochers, looters, and parasites because they took government benefits.

            A two pack a day smoker Rand did not believe the scientific evidence that smoking was dangerous. She caught cancer and had surgery for it. In the end she signed on for SS and Medicare. The other two founders of American Libertarianism Rose Lane and Isabel Patterson rejected SS on principle. Ayn accepted it in the end, hypocrite as she was.

            Dr. Lopez is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism at WCU. Once the Center for Free Enterprise gets going, he will receive an additional $45,000 from the Koch Bros. His MA and PhD in economics at George Mason University in 1997. While at George Mason, he was a Mercatus Center PhD Fellow. And yes he is very familiar with Randian Objectivism. In 2008 BB&T required the reading of Atlas Shrugged in order to receive funding. This has since been set aside.

            This is not about setting up an Economics Degree program at WCU, it is more a program to teach Libertarianism and the Kochs are buying their way in while WCU surrenders their curriculum.

  3. Wade Riddick

    Maybe like with the mandatory fees for the unions, the Supreme Court will rule that all this money the Kochs gave away was an unconstitutional taking from their customers. (Of course, that would imply that Scalia makes sense to Scalia.)

    Why is it when a union does it, it’s coercive but when a corporation does it, that’s “free speech?” What about the customers, lenders, employees and bond-holders? Did each of them approve this donation in writing?

    If their speech is all free then how come their customers are paying the bill for it? What about a free market approach where there are two prices at the gas pump and if I don’t want to pay for the global warming propaganda, the lobbying fees and campaign donation then I can pick the cheaper price for gas?

    Think that’s an unfair comparison? Okay. When the guy tells you the bill for gas tell him you have to lop off 30% for the price-fixing in the commodities market. Then you got a cousin running for office. That’s another 10% for campaign donations. Then you got to pay back Eric Cantor for all those favors he did you so you got him clipping your hedges for $100K a year. Take off another 10%. See if you don’t go to jail when you don’t pay. So how come they don’t go to jail when they take from you?

    Easy. Scalia’s a communist. He doesn’t believe in your private property rights. Corporations are his citizens. The rest of us aren’t.

    1. run75441

      Actually Wade, it appears SCOTUS is preparing to strike down Public Union fees. Google up SCOTUS Blog and read it there.

  4. James McFadden

    The prostitution of our universities – the selling of their formerly good names to billionaire capitalist donors in order to generate increasing overhead to fund bigger salaries and budgets for administrators – is a most disheartening aspect of the corporatization of our educational institutions. I regularly see emails from the University of California administration promoting public-private ventures. Sacramento no longer wants to fund public education (the former gem of CA) and would rather channel tax dollars into prisons. We are no longer an institution of higher learning, preparing people for life and educating students with an eye to improving the world. Rather we have become another corporate takeover whose new purpose is to generate worker bees to maintain capitalist enterprise and generate more private profits. One of the most blatant examples of this university prostitution is at the private USC. The USC Price School of Public Police and USC Global Energy Network churned out the Big Fracking propaganda piece titled “Monterey Shale and California’s Economic Future”. This shilling, funded by Western States Petroleum Association, claimed that fracking the Monterey Shale would increase CA per capita GDP by $10k and create 2 million jobs in CA (more than twice the total number of fossil fuel jobs in the entire US). The utter nonsense in this report was repeated by ignorant, duped, or colluding politicians, including our very own Gov. Jerry “Oily” Brown. In this case, it appears that the real scam was to dupe investors into buying shares in Occidental Petroleum which had bought up most of the fracking drilling rights. Claims about reserves were exaggerated and the scam was revealed when a government study reduced the recoverable reserve to only 4% of the claims (and that was when oil was >$100 barrel). Of course the scam was continued in an Occidental spin off. I guess P.T. Barnum was right – “a sucker (investor) is born every minute.” It’s a very sad development that our university administrators have become the pimps for this prostitution – blinded by neoliberal ideology.

    1. Kokuanani

      Is it really named ” The USC Price School of Public Police and USC Global Energy Network”?

      Not “Public Policy”?

      1. James McFadden

        Oops – damn auto correct — of course Public Policy – thanks.
        Interesting how are brains fail to see obvious typos (I reread it twice before posting) – but others have no trouble seeing it.

  5. Knute Rife

    Well, they certainly bought my alma mater, Utah State, although given the politics of the place, I’m not sure what was left that needed bought.

    1. run75441

      It is hard to understand what is in this section of NC they would want other than it is in a Repub state nestled in the mountains were politics are in their favor. It is safe for them; but, will they add to their legions?

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