"Free Enterprise . . . At All Costs"?

The purpose of the free market programs proliferated by Charles Koch's network of donors is political, not educational. The donors are "leveraging science and universities"  for privately funded "policy change."  

A leaked program from 2010 Koch summit explained how:

free enterprise is more than an economic system, —it is a moral imperative, and we must defend it at all costs.

What are the costs, when “leveraging” universities for “policy change” requires bypassing or violating university procedures, often sneaking or forcing agreements into place?

Attacks on Academic Freedom and Faculty Governance

At Florida State University, the extent of donor influence has included the ability to veto tenure hires, or any programming, with as little as 15 days notice, aside from an annual donor review of curricular/extra-curricular programs and non-tenure track hires.

According to a faculty investigation, the Koch “gift” violated academic freedom and faculty governance. A “two-fold conflict of interest,” it was executed through “administrative dictate,” with the dean and department chair Bruce Benson (former APEE president) using “threats” to create an “atmosphere of intimidation.”

At Auburn University, a Koch center established under Dr. Robert Lawson (former APEE President, now at Southern Methodist University) was found to have been the result of a foregone hiring process that took place without faculty knowledge, largely outside of Auburn’s hiring procedures.

At Western Carolina University, Dr. Ed Lopez (former APEE president) misinformed faculty and administrators with his “campus version” of a Koch center’s proposal, omitting key deliverables shared with the Koch Foundation, including a student “pipeline.” Despite a faculty vote against it, administrators approved the center.

In May 2016, faculty governance at George Mason University was ignored after faculty voted to halt a $30 million Koch-backed deal under review.

In October 2016, administrators at the University of Kentucky disregarded  two consecutive faculty votes to reject the governance proposal of a new Koch center.

At Texas Tech Universityjournalists found that the Free Market Institute, under Dr. Ben Powell (former APEE President), was established in the business college after being rejected by three departments. Economics faculty said Powell “didn’t satisfy the minimum criteria for a tenure position,” had a ”weak vita,” and an “Austrian bent” that “wasn’t consistent with the culture in our department. We are mainstream economists.”

At Troy University, Koch, BB&T, and Manley Johnson (2010 Koch summit attendee) founded the Johnson Center in 2010. The mission statement mirrors the summit, touting “the moral imperatives of free markets.”

Troy’s now infamous George Crowley remarked at APEE 2016 how “We had a big gift…that let us hire a whole bunch of people all at once, and we kind of were able to take over, for lack of a better term.”

At Montana State University, there are concerns that a Koch center “bypassed the standard public review process and public input,” as the center is operational without having received Board of Regents approval.

It’s no wonder that organizations funded by the Koch network are frantically trying to redefine academic freedom and faculty governance.

Redefining Academic Freedom

In October 2014, seemingly in response to the increasing criticism of their academic programs, the Charles Koch Foundation published “academic giving principles” including a completely unique definition of academic freedom that is infused with Koch's own personal vision of a free market of ideas:

Academic Freedom: We are committed to advancing a marketplace of ideas and supporting a “Republic of Science” where scholarship is free, open, and subject to rigorous and honest intellectual challenge.  We seek university partners who are committed to realizing this ideal.

"Republic of Science" is a reference to an obscure philosopher, Michael Polanyi, who is prominently featured in Charles Koch’s 2005 book, The Science of Success. The “republic of science” is a reimagining of academia such that research funding is determined by a market based process. Koch’s book elaborates on this, as well as his own pet philosophy, “Market Based Management™.”

After this bizarre definition was exposed by the Washington Post, the Koch foundation changed their definition again. Their current site reads:

Academic Freedom: Universities thrive when there is a diversity of ideas and scholarship is subject to rigorous and honest intellectual challenge. We are committed to the ideal of academic freedom and seek university partners who encourage civil debate.

In 2008, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) wrote very clearly that:

Academic institutions relinquish autonomy and the primary authority of their faculty over the curriculum when they accept outside funding that comes with such stipulations attached. [We believe] that the solicitation and acceptance of gifts, conditioned on a requirement to assign specific course material that the faculty would not otherwise assign, is inconsistent with principles of academic freedom. (Jones, 2010)

A 2015 report defending free-market centers was published by a think tank founded by Koch insider, Art Pope's Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. The report quotes and rebukes the above AAUP statement, calling for the abandonment of their definition of academic freedom:

[N]ew developments have turned the AAUP’s definition of academic freedom on its head. Today, the issue of academic freedom is not only about protection against administrative intrusion into the objective inquiry of faculty but also about the faculty evolving over time into a special interest group that limits the range of ideas expressed on campus. In this new scenario, the faculty often are the threat to the free exchange of ideas. Surely the academy is not free if faculty are preventing relatively mainstream ideas from entering the campus dialogue. (Schalin, Renewal in the University, pg 7)

The report continues, spelling out that the preservation of the donor’s viewpoint is the true test of academic freedom:

Faculty claim that starting a program with an explicit viewpoint violates their academic freedom to follow the facts according to their conscience. This supposed violation of academic freedom gives faculty members a basis to demand control over the program because, with its predetermined perspective, it is not sufficiently neutral and open to free inquiry.
But free inquiry is not the faculty’s real objective—it is instead to keep certain views off campus. If the faculty is given control, they will replace the donor’s views with their own—meaning that the missing viewpoints will remain missing. This would defeat the spirit of open inquiry for without inclusion of those views in the intellectual discussion, there can be no truly open inquiry. (Schalin, Renewal in the University, pg 12) (Emphasis added.)

A 2016 Pope Center report, entitled Academic Freedom in the Age of Political Correctness, specifically takes aim at the AAUP’s definition of academic freedom (referring to “AAUP” over one hundred times in just thirty pages):

Academic freedom--the right to seek the truth without fear of retribution—is an enigmatic concept in the modern American university. . . . Competing claims about what academic freedom is and to whom it applies are nothing new.
Today, however, the need for redefinition is becoming clear as other interests push back. . . .This report argues that the health of the modern American university depends on deciding the proper limits, checks, and balances of scholarly inquiry, teaching, and commentary in academia. It reviews several methods that may empower administrators, students, and other higher education stakeholders. Legal action—in which all interests involved have an opportunity to present their cases—may be the best, most impartial means to balance the rights of faculty against other interests.


The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy was founded and is largely funded by Art Pope, a prominent member of the Koch network. Until 2015, Jane Shaw served as the President of the Pope center. Shaw also served as the 2003 president of the Association of Private Enterprise Education, the immediate successor of FSU’s Bruce Benson.

Open Call to Violate Shared Governance

Another organization funded by the Charles Koch Foundation and the Koch network is the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). In a 2014 report, entitled “Governance for a New Era,” specifically calls on university trustees to take drastic measures to ensure donor freedoms, including the willful violation of shared governance:

New realities require new strategies.
Shared governance—which demands an inclusive decision-making process—cannot and must not be an excuse for board inaction at a time when America’s pre-eminent role in higher education is threatened. [...] That is why trustees must have the last word when it comes to guarding the central values of American higher education—academic excellence and academic freedom.
Professional organizations such as the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are embracing an expansive definition of academic freedom that emphasizes rights, job security, and collective bargaining but which deemphasizes faculty accountability and responsibility. Governance for a new era requires trustees to have the final authority and responsibility to protect academic freedom (Governance for a New Era, pg 4)

The same year that this report was published, ACTA received $34,495 from the Charles Koch Foundation, and $1,375,000 from Koch’s Donors Capital Fund (according to Conservative Transparency).