Ch. 5: The Battle for the Campus
Part 1: Fighting Campus Diversity and the Movement for Black Lives
1. Opposition to Diversity in Higher Ed
Many of Koch’s programs continue to act explicitly as an intellectual counter-movement to modern civil rights struggles, many of which are playing out on college campuses.
Walter Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University who joins David Koch as a board member of Koch’s foremost political front group, Americans for Prosperity, has been a vocal detractor of diversity programs within universities. In his essay, Academic Fascism, he encouraged potential donors to universities to “go to a university's website. If you find an office of diversity, close your pocketbook.”
Before sending a check to your alma mater this year, know this about higher education: America’s wealthy and elite universities are convinced that you need them more than they need you. . . .For example funds donated for education purposes are often diverted to cover administrative costs. . Some of it represents the proliferation of deans and administrators to enforce political correctness. Dartmouth, like many schools, has long had an “office of Institutional Diversity and Equity” [yet] felt the need to establish something called the “Office of Pluralism and Leadership.” (National Review, 2009)
Another example of this argument can be seen in Starving the Academic Beast, a report by the Koch-funded James Martin Center for Academic Renewal (originally the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, named after Americans for Prosperity’s longtime director, Art Pope):
“The need for diversity offices is over. The UNC system is extremely diverse: it has six schools with a majority of minority students, there are no schools where white students make up 90 percent of the undergraduate student body, and 31 percent of students at flagship UNC-Chapel Hill are minorities. Racial incidents are few and far between, and those few are resolved quickly by the administrations." (Schalin, 2011)
James Piereson, director of Koch-aligned private foundations including the John Olin and William Simon Foundation, has written that:
“Diversity,” for example, is a doctrine developed out of whole cloth in recent years, with little in the way of philosophy or evidence to support it, but it is now used to justify recruiting more radicals to the faculty to teach ever more radically charged courses. Diversity, in practice, has been little more than a patronage scheme for various special interest groups: feminists, radical blacks and homosexuals, environmentalists, and representatives of other groups that have been recognized by the liberal establishment. (Piereson, Philanthropy Roundtable, 2005)
Piereson serves as a board member of the Center for Individual Rights, which has converted his ideology into political war on civil rights (more on CIR above).
Pay Pal CEO Peter Thiel is a billionaire and member of Koch’s donor network. He is also the author of the 1998 book The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus:
This is a powerful exploration of the debilitating impact that politically-correct “multiculturalism” has had upon higher education and academic freedom in the United States. In the name of diversity, many leading academic and cultural institutions are working to silence dissent and stifle intellectual life. . .The authors convincingly show that multiculturalism is not about learning more; it is actually about learning less. They end their comprehensive study by detailing the changes necessary to reverse the tragic disintegration of American universities and restore true academic excellence. (Authors’ Synopsis, Independent Institute)
Koch’s premiere academic association, the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE), presented Thiel with an award in 2006 and currently includes The Diversity Myth on APEE’s list of recommended books (alongside white nationalist Charles Murray). Thiel now supports the dangerous ideology of Hans Hermann Hoppe and Hoppe’s neo-reactionary think tank, the Property and Freedom Society.
2. “Western Civilization” Programs to “defeat” BLM
One theme explored by Peter Thiel’s Diversity Myth mirrors language and themes currently used by the Alt-Right and white nationalists to describe white or European culture, namely “Western Civilization,” and the threat “multi-culturalism” poses to it.
A revealing email between key Alt-Right figures, Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos, show Bannon’s instructions to "Drop your toys, pick up your tools, and go help save western civilization."
In Human Action, Ludwig von Mises describes “Western civilization” as the civilization belonging to “peoples of Caucasian stock” (Human Action, pg 85).
In 2015, the Charles Koch Foundation co-hosted a Western Civilization Summit featuring a Mises Institute scholar, as well as talk of how to “defeat” the Movement for Black Lives on campuses.
The event was hosted with Texas Tech’s Institute for the Study of Western Civilization and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, both of which are funded by the Charles Koch Foundation.
Of the ten total panelists at the event, nine were representing organizations or university programs directly funded by the Koch foundation or DonorsTrust, including: Ohio State professor (and Mises Institute scholar) Richard Vedder, and Peter Wood, the co-founder of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization and president of the National Association of Scholars.
Wood spoke alongside the Charles Koch Foundation’s John Hardin on a panel entitled “How to Create More Western Civilization Programs.” Speaking immediately before John Hardin, Wood openly mocked Black Lives Matter activists and murder victim Mike Brown. While describing the threats to Western Civilization that he sought to “defeat,” he put his hands in the air and shouted “hands up, don’t shoot,” as an example of “callow showmanship.” He cited this as evidence that “western civilization has just gone belly up on campus” (video 8:26).
Universities today are about as far away from [sheer joy] as possible. They are places, not of joyful discovery, but of carefully deployed anger and resentment. The emblematic college student of our times is Emma Sulkowicz, aka Mattress Girl, at Columbia University. . . We could pick other candidates for this role of representative figure, but almost all of them would be accusers of some sort; vengeful furies pursuing the arresties of, well what? Patriarchy? Carbon fuels? Hands up, don’t shoot!. . . .We’re in an age of callow showmanship, carrying the mattress around for a year, performative anger as I’ve called it, and intellectual shallowness. You don’t defeat that by establishing a program here or there that tries to keep in circulation ideas that are regarded by most of the faculty in the humanities and the social sciences as discredited, or worse, discreditable. Western civilization has just gone belly up on campus. (video 8:26)
Wood closes, saying “if we are going to win the fight for western civilization, we’ve got to win these other fights, that is, take on the older bullied ideologies that right now are just sweeping everything before them in american higher education.”
The Charles Koch Foundation’s John Hardin followed immediately, affirming:
what this conference really is about, which is the hunger that’s on campuses, and the need on campuses for true intellectual diversity to stand up against the group think, and to stand up against the campus orthodoxy, and have programs that bring real opportunities for real freedom of the mind (video at 17:00) . . . There cannot be trigger warnings, or speech codes, or allegations of microaggressions, or all these other forms of harassment against professors” (video at 19:10).
3. Anti-BLM and Anti-Social Justice Scholars
a. Heather MacDonald
In May of 2016, the American Enterprise Institute hosted an event on the Koch’s movement for criminal justice reform, “Right on Crime.” The panel featured the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald alongside the Charles Koch Institute’s Vikrant Reddy.
MacDonald’s research attempts to debunk the “myth of criminal justice-racism”
The most poisonous claim in the dominant narrative is that our criminal justice system is a product and a source of racial inequity. The drug war in particular is said to be infected by racial bias. “Mass incarceration” is allegedly destroying black communities by taking fathers away from their families and imposing crippling criminal records on released convicts. Finally, prison is condemned as a huge waste of resources.
Nothing in this dominant narrative is true.
MacDonald’s remarks were presented as testimony before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary in October 2015.
This research culminated in her 2016 book The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe, which:
challenges the premises of the growing crusade against law enforcement. In Part One, I rebut the founding myths of the Black Lives Matter movement - including the lie that a pacific [sic] Michael Brown was gunned down in cold blood. . .
In Part Two, I outline the development of the misguided legal push to force the NYPD to give up its stop, question, and frisk tactic. . .
Finally, in Part Four, I expose the deception of the mass-incarceration conceit and show that the disproportionate representation of blacks in prison is actually the result of violence, not racism. (The War on Cops, 2016)
War on Cops is cited in the John Birch Society’s May 2016 renewal of it’s “Support Your Local Police” national speaking series. In 2017, students demonstrators at Claremont Mckenna and UCLA prevented MacDonald from delivering a speech on campus.
In 2012, Heather MacDonald was the sixth Highest Compensated Employees of the Manhattan Institute, making $205,887 as a “senior fellow.” That year, the Charles Koch Foundation donated $100,000 to the Manhattan institute.
MacDonald’s position at the Manhattan Institute is funded by the Thomas W. Smith Foundation. Thomas W. Smith, a trustee of the Manhattan Institute, is a hedge-fund manager, Koch network donor, and a self-identified “climate denier.”
Smith has also endowed a position for Koch’s “well-being” guru, James Otteson at Wake Forest University: a “Presidential Chair in Business Ethics.”
James Otteson: Well Being Scholar and Social Justice Skeptic
Dr. James Otteson joined Wake Forest University in 2013 with funding from a Koch network donor, as the director of a BB&T Center. Otteson is now the the director of a $3.69 million Koch funded Eudaimonia Institute, meant to study “well being”.
As exposed in a recording of Koch’s 2014 donor summit, James Otteson bragged to Koch officials and explained to a roomful of political donors how reframing “capitalism” as “well-being” is a “game changer.” He then told an anecdote about using this language to mislead a “liberal” colleague.
Since the release of these recordings, the Wake Forest Faculty Senate has investigated the questionable process by which Otteson’s Center was approved. Administrators have resisted their calls for transparency, and so faculty are calling for WFU to cut all ties to Koch network donors, not just the Koch foundation.
Otteson ran into similar problems at his previous position at Yeshiva University, where:
“An open letter to the administration and faculty” was penned and signed by a number of professors outlining their concerns.. . .
The letter from concerned faculty disparages Otteson for shaping the honors program in a less than transparent manner without significant faculty support or consensus. Professors also worried that the honors program could become "an elitist college" within Yeshiva's undergraduate men's college, with its own curriculum, administration and faculty. Additionally, the letter condemns both Otteson and the administration for recruiting two new administrators without the proper vetting of candidates by a committee of faculty. (Inside Higher Ed, 2008)
One concerned faculty member, James Hans, was quoted in WFU’s campus paper:
If the people in the economics department want to teach their majors that libertarian economics is the only way to go, then that’s their business. But if you’re doing it for the Koch brothers or something then you’re on the take as far as I am concerned. (OGB, Apr 2017)
Then Chair of the Economics Department, J. Daniel Hammond wrote in response:
Neither my colleagues in the department nor I teach libertarian economics, let alone that libertarian economics is the only way to go. The closest I can come to making sense of “libertarian economics” is that Professor Hans may be thinking of the Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises and his followers. We do not have any followers of Mises on our faculty. (OGM, March 2017)
Unfortunately, there is considerable reason to believe otherwise. James Otteson has close ties to Austrian economics and the followers of Ludwig von Mises and Rothbard. Otteson’s CV lists him as a “manuscript reviewer” for two journals published by the Mises Institute, the Journal of Libertarian Studies and the Review of Austrian Economics. Both were founded by Murray Rothbard and published through the Mises Institute. Otteson also serves on the editorial board of a philosophical journal hosted by the Mises Institute, the Reason Papers, alongside Koch/Mises scholar Walter Block.
Given the tropes of Austrian economists (like Block), Otteson makes a clear example of himself. Otteson ultimately resigned from Yeshiva University after his anonymous blog, “Proportional Belief,” was discovered, including writings where:
he referred to “growing” evidence that women do less well in the sciences than men partly because of “differential abilities between men and women.” In another post, in which he quotes an author as saying that “women, without male guidance, are illogical, frivolous, and incapable of making any decisions beyond what to make for dinner,” Otteson himself refers to “high-functioning women” – a term that was seen as disparaging. (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 2008)
Otteson argued that the “Gender Gap In Math and Science” was a "natural artifact of free society":
In his post, Otteson argued that if the gender gap can be explained by free will, then "an awful lot of contemporary law, legal action, and government spending and policy is misconceived." (Inside Higher Ed, 2008)
In June of 2017, Otteson published a paper that attempts to combat “social justice” arguments with a construct that he calls “ultimate justice.” It is published in a philosophy journal run by University of Arizona’s Koch center, the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom.
Measuring “Well Being”: The Superiority of “Anglo” Cultures and “How Some Cultures Suck”
At the 2017 conference of the Association of Private Enterprise Education, Otteson moderated a panel on “Eudaimonia: What Is It, and Can It Be Measured?.” Otteson’s Wake Forest colleague, Adam Hyde, filled in for the Charles Koch Foundation’s Will Ruger who was originally scheduled as a panelist.
Another panelist, Douglas Rasmussen, is a philosophy professor St. John’s University.
In the 2017 recording, Hyde and Rasmussen respond to a question in the audience regarding the “role of culture” and “values” that “correlate to production.”
Adam Hyde described how, “especially in anglo culture,” a tendency to “fetishize productivity and responsibility for one’s own life,” which “drives a lot of economic growth and there are huge benefits to that, and so the question is, can you revise the culture without sort of messing with the intent that was there?”
Douglass Rasmussen, chimed in with true Austrian zeal, “I think, maybe more politically incorrect, I don’t think all cultures, all cultural values, are equal. I think that there’s some cultures that really, I’ll say, suck“ to which Otteson, moderating, said “Okay, thanks Doug.”
Rasmussen’s campus, St. John’s University, has received $264,205 from the Charles Koch Foundation between 2009 and 2016. Douglas Rasmussen is listed as the contact for the Koch funded lecture series. He is a former Ayn Rand Society steering committee member, and the recipient of several fellowships from Koch’s Institute for Humane Studies and Center for Libertarian Studies.
Rasmussen serves on the editorial board of the Mises Institute’s Reason Papers alongside Otteson and Koch-funded Mises scholar Walter Block.
In Part 2 of this chapter, we see that not only has the Koch network been working to decrease diversity on campus, but they have been fighting to increase the presence of extremist and white supremacist speakers on campus.