Recently, a small protest group, unKoch My Campus, appeared at Ball State.
This group is funded by billionaire (and convicted insider trader) George Soros, through a grant to Greenpeace. This group clearly aims to intimidate into silence any faculty and students with whom they might disagree.
This is a serious accusation; how do I know it is about free speech and not about Koch Foundation funding, as they claim? It’s simple really; they targeted me. Their representative told the local paper I am “among their (Koch’s) most trusted academics.”
Flattering as that may be, there’s just one problem with that claim. I’ve never submitted nor received a grant from the Koch Foundation, never been paid by the Koch Foundation nor received any gifts or honoraria from it. Though I give about 50 talks per year, I’ve never knowingly given a speech to or attended a Koch-sponsored event.
The reason for this is simple; the Koch Foundation doesn’t typically fund the type of research my research center performs.
My apparent connection is having a co-author whose employer took about 1 percent of its funding from the Koch Foundation. By the way, that research was instrumental in ending a failed $1.4 billion corporate give-away program in Michigan.
Ironically, among those recipients were several in which Soros had financial interests. Now there’s a story.
So, make no mistake about it, this is merely an effort to intimidate people with whom the Soros Foundation disagrees or finds intellectually (or financially) inconvenient. The stunning hypocrisy of this new McCarthyism suggests they are a short-lived phenomenon.
Still, this offers a great opportunity to explain what universities do with private grants, contracts and donations.
The research center where I work receives contracts or grants to answer a research question such as “what happens to household location decisions when a tax rate changes?” Typically, we’ll use the bulk of this money to hire students. For graduate students we usually offer nearly free tuition and a stipend. For undergrads we offer pay, experience and mentorship. None of the center’s staff receive extra pay for this.
The work we do is challenging and fast-paced. We have no time for an ideological litmus test on employment. We care about work ethic, skills and almost nothing else.
I am very proud to say that in my 16 years as a professor, I’ve helped support the education of more than a hundred students. My university needs more, not less of this.
Here at Ball State, the Koch Foundation along with “Papa John” Schnatter are funding entrepreneurial education. While some folks might tremble at the thought of thousands of American college graduates starting their own business, I don’t.
But, against this notion the Soros-funded youngsters offer neither an opposing argument, nor money to support education, research or free speech.
This isn’t about ideas, it is about intimidating faculty and students into rigid intellectual conformity. It is exactly this sort of intolerant nonsense that any honest faculty and student body must vigorously reject.