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Petition Against Koch-Funded Program Circulates

A petition urging Boston College not to accept funding from the Charles Koch Foundation that was signed by over 1,000 people was sent to administrators on Dec. 13. The petition, organized anonymously, came in the wake of a proposal for funding from the Koch Foundation to the political science department for a new security studies program. The proposed program, titled “New Perspectives on U.S. Grand Strategy and Great Power Politics,” has been met with concern and protest on campus.

The petition focuses on the controversial past of the Koch Foundation, such as Charles Koch’s support of scientific research and political campaigns that seek to discredit the science behind climate change. Koch is the billionaire owner, chairman, and CEO of Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the United States. Among other things, Koch Industries manufactures, refines, and distributes petroleum.

The petition also mentions concerns over academic independence, citing cases in which the Koch Foundation has influenced academics and recipient universities. 

“The Charles Koch Foundation has a controversial history due to its financial and political support for climate change denialism,” reads part of the petition. “In particular, the Foundation has a documented history of donating money to American colleges and universities in order to promote its agenda. Its donations often come with assurances that the programs it funds, like professorships, curricula and think tanks, will promote the Foundation’s free market, climate change-denying agenda.”

Charles and his late brother David Koch had influence over which candidates were hired in the professorships they funded at George Mason University. Similar cases also unfolded at Florida State University and Arizona State University.

Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn rejected the idea that the Koch Foundation would harm the academic integrity of the University in an email to The Heights, also noting that the funding is still in the exploratory stage.

“Faculty advocates view the proposal as a means of funding an important research topic,” Dunn said in the email. “They have confirmed with colleagues at Notre Dame, Georgetown, and MIT—all of which receive Koch funding—that the foundation has not infringed on their research or academic integrity in any way. Exploring a source of funding should not be construed as an endorsement of the politics of the Koch brothers. Political Science faculty will continue to explore this funding possibility within the first months of the new year.”

Political science faculty are also considering the creation of an advisory board that would monitor the potential Koch-funded program to ensure that it does not jeopardize the department’s academic freedom.

The board would also play a role in deciding whether the agreement would be renewed past its current five-year lifespan, said Gerald Easter, chair of the political science department, in a previous interview with The Heights.

The international studies (IS) program was initially included in the proposal as a recipient of a joint hire between the political science department and the IS program. The IS academic advisory board, however, decided last month that IS will refrain from participating in the proposed security studies program that would be funded by the Charles Koch Foundation. 

The petition was sent to University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., University Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley, and Easter, among other administrators. 

Over 80 percent of the signatories said they are undergraduate students at BC, while 11 percent said they were alumni. Smaller percentages of graduate students, faculty, and parents of students also signed on.

Biology was the most represented major of students who signed the petition, with 14.7 percent of signatories, followed by political science at 12 percent and international studies at 8.8 percent.

The program itself would consist of a public speaker program, undergraduate workshops, a post-doc program, a Ph.D. program, and training programs. These initiatives are all designed to foster “new perspectives” on U.S. security and restraining American force—a principle that the Koch Foundation supports, said Robert Ross, one of the political science professors spearheading the proposal, in a past interview with The Heights

The proposal has been voted on and approved twice within the political science department, and it will now continue through the review process with senior administrators, Ross said. The political science department will convene to vote on the final proposal afterward. The final budget for the proposal has not been approved because it must first go through the Office of University Advancement. 

Featured Image by Gavin Peters / Wikimedia Commons

January 13, 2020