Don't Worry, Be #APEE2017
(The Paranoia of Late Capitalism)
by UnKoch researcher, Ralph Wilson, Apr 12, 2017
For the second year in a row, I registered for the annual conference of the Association of Private Enterprise Education, or APEE (pronounced like “happy”).
This event is passed off as an academic conference of a “an association of teachers and scholars from colleges and universities, public policy institutes, and industry with a common interest in studying and supporting the system of private enterprise.”
APEE is funded directly by the Charles Koch Foundation. Not only is the conference organized and attended by Koch funded academics, but Koch officials typically moderate at least five panel discussions each year. The 2016 conference was in Las Vegas, while the 2017 conference was in Maui.
One day before the start of the conference (and one day after getting to Hawaii) I received notification that my registration had been “refunded.” Though no further explanation was given, I could guess pretty clearly why they unregistered me.
My recordings of last year’s conference exposed some ugly truths about how the Charles Koch Foundation uses APEE to integrate academic programs into the “integrated strategy” of Koch’s political network. (See those recordings in a newly expanded portal here.)
Among the things documented last year were Koch officials describing the political objectives of their academic network. The Koch foundation’s Charlie Ruger explained how:
So we want these great ideas of the APEE network to be applied the way we think about it at least, across sort of an integrated structure of production for culture change.
They can also play an interesting role in engaging with different kinds of stakeholders in these social institutions. That can mean arranging state legislative testimony to make sure that, you know, these kinds of ideas have a seat on the table in public policy.
we’ve got a constellation of network organizations that are focused on applying what comes out of universities to change the world. And so, that’s sort of the core of the partnership. Money plus the network. (Successful Models of Programs in Private Enterprise)
Also at the 2016 conference, Koch funded professors described their Koch funded activities all too candidly. Dr. George Crowley from Troy University (my alma mater) described how Koch’s donor partnership was able to “take over” curriculum, majors, and hiring, and how faculty have been using it as “recruitment grounds” for Koch’s “liberty movement.” Crowley highlighted how Troy faculty engage in Alabama policy “fights,” including an attempt to “bring down the state pension system” and to address the “teacher union’s influence.” (See the media fallout from these recordings.)
So, despite my conference credentials being rejected, I was naturally still curious about the event. Much to my amusement (but not surprise), a wave of paranoia and secrecy had swept APEE 2017, making it more like Koch’s secretive Freedom Partners donor summits, rather than an actual academic conference.
Posted outside of every room was a large sign letting attendees know that they were not allowed to record. Having attended countless academic and industry conferences, I have never seen any comparable measures by organizers that prohibit the flow of ideas out of a conference.
Toward the end of the first day, I decided to make my way through the undergraduate poster competition, to distribute fliers explaining to attendees why there was so much secrecy and security at their “academic conference.”
Despite their constant obsession with “intellectual diversity” and the “marketplace of ideas,” the conference organizers had me removed from the event.
In fact, Jeff “J.R.” Clark, APEE’s treasurer (from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), grabbed my arm and escorted me out by force.
ATTN: J.R. Clark - keep your hands to yourself next time.
The next day, the conference organizers appeared desperate to renew their sense of secrecy and control, by putting up even larger signs next to their anti-recording signs.
It is my hope that the attendees of APEE 2017 understand that the conference organizers’ excessive paranoia is not typical for any academic or industry conferences. It is strictly a consequence of the overtly political activities coordinated by the Koch network, and nothing else.
If the Charles Koch Foundation and their network of academics had nothing to hide, they would not be so afraid of a little transparency, or a small slip of paper documenting their own conference.