Media Fallout from APEE 2016 recordings

Our recordings captured several Koch officials and academics detailing the ways in which they have been able to avoid campus oversight, and participate directly in the political activities of the donor. These recordings have confirmed and exceeded our expectations regarding the depths of donor influence, and have been cited in state and national media outlets. They have also formed the basis for a wave of research-based resistance on campus.   

So far, these recordings have been cited by journalists covering Ball State University (Muncie Star May 20 and June 1, 2016), Troy University (AL Reporter June 27 and July 6, July 1, Inside Higher Ed July 13, and Alternet July 26 2016), Texas Tech University (cover story in the Texas Observer Sept 26,  2016), Western Carolina University (Smoky Mountain News Sept 21, one and two). They were also featured in Think Progress (May 13), and in a two-part investigation by Alternet (one and two).


One of our recordings captured Troy University professor George Crowley bragging about many aspects of their Koch center, including how they were able to “take over” several departments, “ram through” curricular changes, and how their “political fights” in the state included an effort to “take down the state pension system.” Not long after the APEE conference, UnKoch was contacted by the Professional Firefighters of Alabama, a network of 45,000 public employees running a campaign to save the state retirement system. They were trying to prevent the effort, led by Troy’s Koch center, to privatize their the Alabama state pension system. Other players pushing for pension privatization included the local State Policy Network think tank, the Alabama Policy Institute, funded by the John Arnold Foundation and Pew Charitable Trust, as well as academics from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. At the time, the firefighters observed that there were 20 registered lobbyists pushing for pension privatization.

Within weeks of UnKoch providing APEE recordings to a journalist, the story broke. As a result, Crowley was removed as chair of Troy’s Department of Economics, and administrators proceeded to censure the center with the intention of reshaping its mission statement. Furthermore, the number of lobbyists funded by these interests has gone from twenty in 2016 to zero in 2017. There is currently no proposal within the Alabama legislature to privatize the state pension system.


A Sept. 2016 report by the Texas Observer was initially spurred by the discovery of this disturbing grant proposal to the John Templeton Foundation. The proposal was from Dr. Ben Powell, director of Texas Tech's (Koch-funded) Free Market Institute.

UnKoch's recordings from the 2016 APEE conference created the context for the piece, as nearly all the professors listed as affiliates in Powell's grant proposal are active in APEE, many either attending or even caught on tape at APEE 2016. 


At Western Carolina University (Feb 2016), a local journalist released a series of investigative pieces following the announcement of a Koch center on campus (eventually drawing from our recordings of the WCU professor Ed Lopez. (Smoky Mountain News Sept 21, one and two).

Despite a nearly unanimous vote by the faculty senate to reject the creation of the center, administrators moved ahead. WCU faculty developed revised donor policies (Policy 104 and 105) that outline stronger protections against donor influence. The outcome garnered national attention (Chronicle of Higher Education).


At Ball State University (May 2016) UnKoch joined concerned faculty and students in confronting the BSU Board of Trustees about the ties between their presidential search and BSU’s newly announced Koch donation. Our confrontation made front page news in the Muncie Star and the Ball State Daily News. We gave a public lecture, disseminated a research brief to students and faculty.

The opportune mobilization of students and our work with local journalists appear to have prevented Koch’s partner donor (John “Papa John” Schnatter) from being invited to become a trustee at Ball State. The coverage of Schnatter’s potential trusteeship (which never manifested) includes extensive reference to our work and APEE recordings. 

University of Kentucky

At the University of Kentucky (Sept 2016), UnKoch worked with faculty during their deliberations around accepting a new Koch center. We provided a research brief including a full contract analysis and APEE recordings of the professor involved to the two faculty senate committees who were voting to approve or reject the center, in addition to publishing an op ed in the Lexington Herald Leader. In a series of two close votes, both committees voted to reject the proposed Koch center and its system of governance. Despite these votes, the administration approved it anyway. The first and second votes garnered significant media attention.


At Wake Forest University (Sept. 2016), two faculty senate committees were investigating the creation of a Koch center on campus. By March of 2017, WFU faculty presented an extensive report based on our research and APEE recordings, and the senate at large passed the recommended motion that WFU cut any ties with Koch and his network of political donors. This is the strongest stand taken at a campus to date.