3. Donor Influence over Programming

C. Interest in Introductory Courses

In several instances, there is documentation of the Charles Koch Foundation specifically seeking to influence introductory level economics and finance courses.    


At Florida State University, the Koch foundation was able to establish control over the introductory economics curriculum (the “principles” or “service” courses) by stacking the "principles committee" with Koch hires.

A 2011 faculty senate report explained:

The Economics Department requires all majors to take two 200-level “principles” courses as a gateway requirement for upper-level major coursework: ECO 2013, Principles of Macroeconomics, and ECO 2023, Principles of Microeconomics. Because these courses are not limited to majors and are also available to satisfy university-wide general education requirements (Liberal Studies Curriculum Area III, History/Social Science), there is very heavy student traffic (we were given an estimate of about 7,000 students per year), which includes all prospective economics majors. . . .

The concern expressed to the committee by some faculty is that the staffing and supervision of these gateway courses for all majors are being ceded to a subset of the department that may not be representative of the diverse intellectual interests in the department. (Walker Report, Finding 6.b)

The mechanism behind this is explained further:

The department bylaws specify a standing “Principles Committee,” which “shall function as a curriculum committee for the principles sequence and as such will be concerned with specific matters of course content, textbook selection, and the like.” The membership of the committee is defined as “those Department faculty who are scheduled to teach in the principles sequence.” This membership criterion is a problem according to some faculty, to the extent that faculty who are currently scheduled to teach the principles courses are almost exclusively as non-tenure track faculty members affiliated with the SPEFE/EEE program (Walker Report, Finding 6.b).

Details were spelled out in Koch's 2008 agreement:

FSU will hire one (1) individual for the Teaching Specialist Position to teach economics courses, primarily at the undergraduate level, such as principles of economics and courses in political economy related to the advancement of the purposes of this Agreement (as detailed in the Objectives and Purposes set forth in Section l (a) above) (2008 MOU, Sec. 4.a)

By 2009, the College of Social Sciences annual report states clearly that there were four EEE faculty teaching “the bulk” of principles courses:

There are two new major programs located within the Stavros Center, the Excellence in Economic Education program (EEE) and the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise (SPEFE). Both of these programs are currently funded by the Charles G. Koch and BB&T Charitable Foundations. The EEE is designed to promote excellence in the teaching of economics. Three of the faculty members in this program, Joe Calhoun, Lora Holcombe, and Tom McCaleb teach the bulk of the students in the FSU principles of economics courses. Joab Corey will also be joining the EEE faculty in the fall (COSS 2009, pg. 26).

The principles committee was populated by EEE-affiliated faculty, all of whom are subject to annual donor review, and must comply with Koch’s Objectives and Purposes. The faculty report specifies that a particular lecturer oversaw the Undergraduate Program during this time:

[O]ne of the other instructors regularly assigned to these large enrollment principles sections, in addition to the individual in the new donor-funded position, has also been serving as the “Program Director” for the first three years of the gift’s implementation, which in practice means supervising the new Economics Club. (This individual was hired on a non-tenure track faculty line in the department before the MOU was negotiated) (Walker Report, Finding 6.b).

According to her Curriculum Vitae, Lora Holcombe served as the Director of the “FSU Economics Undergraduate Program” from 2008 to 2011 (Lora Holcombe, pg. 3). The only courses listed are Introduction and Principles courses: ECO2013, ECO2023, and ECO2000.

Lora Holcombe had served an employee of the James Madison Institute, a think tank that relies directly on funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, DonorsTrust, and Donors Capital Fund.

Through the EEE program, Koch and their partner donors obtained control over the Principles Committee, and over introductory level curriculum. The Standley report described “a free market firewall” with “content of service courses behind this firewall that did not allow for usual faculty input or governance process” (Standley Report, 3.i).

Introductory Level Textbook

The three "principles" courses are Introduction to Economics, Principles of Macroeconomics, and Principles of Microeconomics. All three currently use some form of the same textbook, respectively: Economics: Public and Private ChoiceMacroeconomics: Public and Private Choice, or Microeconomics: Public and Private Choice, all by Gwartney, Stroup, Sobel, and Macpherson. 

See section 4.C.2 of the 2017 UnKoch report for more details about the textbook, including climate change denial, inaccurate information about the 2008 financial collapse, and the authors' deep ties to the Koch network.

At the University of Louisville, the a 2015 agreement with the Koch foundation created several faculty hiring lines to be affiliated with the donor created Center for Free Enterprise. Within the proposal attached to the agreement, several proposed activities describe how the faculty hired would be expected to:

devote a significant portion of their time and resources to work related to the Center. These activities will focus on fields of interest to the Center. . . . The Center faculty will develop and teach courses related to the Center's Mission. These courses could be at the graduate or undergraduate level. Some of the Center faculty members' work could consist of teaching introductory classes in their discipline (2015 MOU, Attachment A)

At Troy University, the Koch foundation, BB&T, and Manuel Johnson founded the Manuel Johnson Center for Political Economy in 2010. In 2016, several professors were recorded during a panel discussion moderated by the Koch foundation, describing how the funding was used to "take over" several departments by gaining control over hiring and curriculum, including the mandatory introductory level courses of two separate majors, economics and finance.

In 2016, the Johnson Center's George Crowley remarked:

[T]here were a lot of, just kind of, things that you likely will run into in your own experience, things all the way down to battling over our textbook. We had an assigned text that every principles student had to use, the McConnel text, if you’re familiar with that, and an early kind of curriculum battle that we had to wage was actually letting the tenure track faculty members choose the textbook. was kind of a novel idea.

Moving beyond some kind of just concentration within the general business program to actually an econ major both in the college business and arts and sciences. We actually at a later point were able to kind of take over the finance major as well. It is still a straight finance major, but they actually have to take intermediate micro and macro. gain, just trying to get the ideas to as many people as possible by laying that foundation. If you don’t have that struggle, then hats off to you, but at Troy we really did. . . .

[S]ome of you who kind of work with CKF, or other places, that let you have your own course, may have done these same kind of programs. I kind of view, first and foremost, principles classes as my major recruiting ground. course it requires that you have good people that are in there, teaching economics well, getting students excited, but you get in there and you can actually talk about public choice in principles, or you get in there and you actually talk about the federal reserve in a way that makes sense and not just shifting [inaudible], you get in there and you actually expose students at a principles level to the ideas. You get them, basically, hooked so that they end up in your upper level classes (APEE 2016 Transcript)

Crowley then went on to describe an example of getting a student "hooked," specifically converting a "socialist" student:

This one student we had never heard of, poly sci major, showed up, literally sat there silently throughout the entire like 10 weeks of the class, didn’t make a comment the whole time. We had them write little essays at the end, and he basically wrote an essay that said “I am a socialist, but now that I’ve been finally been exposed to some of these ideas, I’m very interested in taking economics.” (APEE 2016 Transcript)