2. Donor Influence In Hiring

A. Interference in Early Hiring

The Charles Koch Foundation's influence can be found at all stages of their academic programming, in particular, the hiring process. Documentation from just a few of the hundreds of schools receiving Koch foundation funding provides an increasingly detailed picture of how the Koch foundation predetermines the hiring process.

Several ways that the Koch foundation has acquired early influence have included insisting on pre-screening job candidates at Florida State, to the use of a political talent agency, TalentMarket.org, to recruit for university hiring at Wake Forest.


At Florida State University, a faculty senate investigation “determined that the Koch Memorandum of Understanding as currently written allows undue, outside influence over FSU’s academic content and processes.” Their report revealed extensive interference with the early hiring process, finding:

Koch prior approval of the advertisement used for filling positions, and Koch establishment of parallel interview activities at the professional conference where the FSU search committee was interviewing applicants. (Standley Report, 3.a)

They describe in further detail how Koch officials overstepped the expressed will of FSU Department of Economics:

At the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in January of 2009 in San Francisco, [Koch] donor officers requested personal participation in the interview sessions, which the department appropriately refused. But then members of the departmental interview team learned by coincidence that a donor representative was nevertheless making independent contact with candidates at the convention for lunch or similar informal conversations, without notifying the FSU interview team. (Walker Report, footnote to 3.c)

At Auburn University, an investigation in 2007 revealed that the hires made by the $300,000 donation by the Koch foundation involved a number of “irregularities.” One irregularity was the near absence of a job announcement, as reported by the Auburn Villager:

When they learned of the center, some faculty members asked if a national search had taken place and started looking for the job announcement. The job was not advertised on the AU Web site or on any of the recognized venues where economics faculty are usually recruited, they say”.

One professor said he finally found the job advertised only once on a Web site called Social Science Research Network. The advertisement was posted Nov. 4, 2007, with enquiries to go to [Dean] Jahera. Review of applications was to take place Dec. 1, 2007. On Nov. 9, however, [Robert] Lawson was already going to be on campus to give a seminar, according to an e-mail to a College of Business faculty member on Nov. 5, one day after the job was advertised. (Auburn Villager, Sept 2008)

In light of this, it does not seem likely or possible that there was a search committee mandated by Auburn’s own policies:

According to a faculty recruitment checklist posted online by AU's Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity, a search committee is mandatory. The search committee reviews the advertisement and sets a timetable to review applications. The search committee then screens applications on the basis of advertised criteria, requests letters of reference and prepares a short list of candidates to be interviewed. Then candidates are interviewed and a candidate is selected.
After learning of the center in December and finding out that many senior faculty did not even know about the project in January, [AU President Jay] Gogue purportedly urged more openness. On Feb. 12, the center was included on the agenda for that month's University Senate meeting.
By that time, however, Lawson had already been hired and the center was a fait accompli. He is now an associate professor in the department of finance. (Auburn Villager, Sept 2008)

At Clemson University, the 2009 Memorandum of Understanding provides the Koch foundation oversight over the hiring process “Donor Supported Faculty Positions.” As the basis for selecting an initial pool of candidates, the university is obligated to ensure that potential hires adhere to Koch’s Objectives and Purposes:

(b) University agrees to recruit individuals for these two Donor Supported Faculty Positions who

(i) support the Objectives and Purposes set forth in Section 1(a) above,

(ii) demonstrate the ability to work collaboratively and effectively toward those Objectives and Purposes, and

(iii) conduct research that advances the Objectives and Purposes as well as complements, informs, and builds upon the University‘s existing strengths in the study of capitalism and its ties to prosperity, social progress, and human well-being. (Clemson 2009 MOU, Sec. II)

At Utah State University, the 2008 MOU creates donor funded positions by “augmenting funding for five professors,” called “the Professors.” The university is obligated by the MOU to “ recruit and maintain the Professors in accordance with the Objectives and Purposes” (USU 2008 MOU, Section 2.c.iii):

USU agrees to recruit Professors who support the Objectives and Purposes and have demonstrated advancement of, or show the promise of working effectively in collaborative efforts to advance, the Objectives and Purposes. The Parties expect that the Professors’ research will compliment, inform and build upon USU’s existing strengths in business, finance, economies, institutions and property rights as they relate to and inform the foundations of prosperity, social progress and human well-being. (USU 2008 MOU, Section 3.a)

At the University of Louisville, a 2015 MOU creates a Center for Free Enterprise that involves hiring several faculty. The MOU requires that these faculty be aligned with the Donor invented “Mission” of the Center, but the Donor requires that the search committees for all faculty are to be chaired by the Center’s Director, Professor Stephan Gohmann, who is stipulated by name in the MOU:  

All faculty hires will follow the normal procedures for hiring faculty members in the College and the University. The Center Director will chair all of the search committees for the faculty searches. Faculty members hired for the Center positions must have demonstrated a track record that is supportive of the Center's Mission or show promise of developing such a record. (UL 2015 MOU, Attachment A)

At Western Carolina University, record requests reveal conversations between the BB&T faculty member, Dr. Edward Lopez, surrounding the creation of a the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise. In these conversations, Lopez overtly offers the Charles Koch Foundation early involvement in developing specific hiring objectives. Specifically, Lopez provides insight on how to the hires and program will “create value” for the Koch foundation:

l'll describe the current situation here, in particular the hiring possibilities and my proposed strategy for successfully navigating them. Finally I'll propose an investment scenario and the value it would generate. (Lopez 7/27/15)

Lopez describes his “investment scenario”:

Ideal scenario: Recruit free enterprise individuals for the GL chair and for Steve Miller’s line while also creating a new assistant professor line that Zac Gochenour can compete for. Establish an economics major and expand economics course offerings. Continue to grow our Free Enterprise Educational Activities programs, and develop our pipeline of student development to its fullest potential. (Lopez 7/27/15, Section 3.A)

A February 2015 blog post from a WCU professor reported:

a job posting for a WCU economics professor opening appeared in early October — two months before the free enterprise center would come before the board of trustees for a vote.” Language in the ad also specified that this person would be part of the center, but that language was later removed from the ad after faculty cried foul). (2016 faculty blog post)

Another WCU professor described how:

Here a tiny, unrepresentative portion of the university faculty has decided on a strategic direction that has major consequences for the university, not in discussions with the rest of the faculty, but with an outside group with a decidedly biased perspective. . . . To my amazement, the administration bought it. That, in my experience, is extraordinary. . . . The university faculty has been left out of the discussions and the Koch Foundation and Dr. Lopez are clearly the beneficiaries of the decisions that have been made. . . . . The process was off the rails. (Smoky Mountain News 1/20/16)

Part of the hiring timeline for WFU Eudaimonia Institute's Associate Director position.

Part of the hiring timeline for WFU Eudaimonia Institute's Associate Director position.

At Wake Forest University, the 2017 Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee investigation documented the timeline of hiring events for the Koch funded Eudaimonia Institute. They found that the search for the Associate Director position of the Eudaimonia Institute was posted on a Koch network talent website called TalentMarket.org before being posted by the university.

Talent Market is an organization affiliated the network of think tanks and political non-profits funded by Charles Koch's network of donors. The mission statement for Talent Market reads as follows:

Talent Market’s mission is to promote liberty by providing talent for critical roles within the free-market nonprofit sector. We provide free consulting and recruiting services to free-market think tanks, policy organizations, and research centers dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government and free enterprise. … Talent Market believes that the road to prosperity is paved with freedom and that the success of our movement hinges on the talent that will take us there.

Other language on Talent Market's website that this non-profit search firm is designed to assist “liberty-oriented” organizations in finding “qualified leadership and strategic personnel with expertise necessary to advance free market principles in academia, the media, and public policy.”

As reported by the Center for Media and Democracy, Talent Market has considerable ties to the Koch network, and the donor advised funds they use, DonorsTrust:

Talent Market was founded in 2009 as an “owned entity” of DonorsTrust, a donor advised fund favored by the billionaire Koch Network of ultra-wealthy right-wingers for its easy cloaking of donations to political allies. It is now an LLC attached to Donors Trust.

The Bradley Files credit three people with founding the organization: the former President and CEO of DonorsTrust Whitney Ball, President of the State Policy Network (SPN) Tracie Sharp, and Talent Market Executive Director Claire Kittle Dixon.

Before founding Talent Market, Dixon was the Program Officer for Leadership and Talent Development at the Charles G. Koch Foundation. The only other employee at Talent Market, talent manager Lauren Skiver, also worked for the Charles G. Koch Foundation as a grants coordinator.

The posting on Talentmarket.org shows that candidates went through Talent Market directly: 

Qualified candidates should submit the following in one PDF file with your name in the file:

  • Résumé

  • Cover letter detailing your philosophical interest in the Eudaimonia Institute and your salary requirements

Materials should be emailed in one PDF document to Claire Dixon, executive director of Talent Market, who is assisting with the search: claire@talentmarket.org.

While we thank all applicants in advance for their interest in this position, we are only able to contact those to whom we can offer an interview. No phone calls, please.