The billionaire Koch brothers’ effort to buy influence through the political system is well-known. (Well, maybe not as well-known as the Mark Pryor campaign wishes it were known.) But here’s another way the Kochs shape the country: In the college classroom.
In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.
First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.
Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.
And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman—even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after a single three-year term.
The Charles Koch Foundation expressed a willingness to give Florida State an extra $105,000 to keep Benson—a self-described “libertarian anarchist” who asserts that every government function he’s studied “can be, has been, or is being produced better by the private sector”—in place.
Hmmm. Sound familiar?
It would be unkind, Razorback flacks would say, to suggest that the Walton billionaires expected any ideological payback from the millions they’ve given to the University of Arkansas, home to the Sam Walton College of Business. It is strictly coincidental that the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, with its Walton-subsidized faculty (their pay is the envy of lowly liberal arts profs), steadily produces work that fits hand in glove with the Walton Family Foundation’s initiatives on charter schools and such. Some, however, have seen an effort to influence education with Walton money, such as in this New York Times report earlier this year:
The size of the Walton foundation’s wallet allows it to exert an outsize influence on education policy as well as on which schools flourish and which are forced to fold. With its many tentacles, it has helped fuel some of the fastest growing, and most divisive, trends in public education — including teacher evaluations based on student test scores and publicly funded vouchers for students to attend private schools.
“The influence of philanthropy in terms of the bang for the buck they get is just really kind of shocking,” said Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
A separate Walton foundation that supports higher education bankrolls an academic department at the University of Arkansas in which faculty, one of whom was recruited from conservative think tank, conduct research on charter schools, voucher programs and other policies the foundation supports.
But, hey. These are OUR billionaires.