Ten years ago, the Charles Koch Foundation gave three grants to George Mason University that helped the school hire professors who have won teaching awards, gained international prominence for their research, and helped grow a thriving graduate student fellowship program.
Despite some sensational headlines, the information included in the recently released documents is not new. The reports that donors had a say in “the hiring or firing” of professors at GMU are not accurate.
The provisions at issue are similar to those that were criticized as part of a 2008 grant to Florida State University. We took criticism of that agreement seriously, and with the advice of outside academics updated our grant agreements. Our more recent grant agreements with GMU do not include these provisions and all have been made public.
An objective observer can see the actual effect these grants had at GMU. We believe the evidence speaks for itself. Far from being improperly influenced, the faculty and administration at GMU used the funds to greatly benefit the students and other professors at GMU, primarily by building a new concentration in economic history, which helped the university’s economics department earn the distinction of number two in the South and number 26 in the world.
While we welcome questions and criticisms about our philanthropy, some activists are mischaracterizing the release of these old documents to push a destructive agenda, attempting to silence ideas and research that they find disagreeable. This is a tactic intended to intimidate professors and discourage them from working on certain ideas and one that anyone who cares about open inquiry and academic independence should find cause for concern.
At the Charles Koch Foundation, we are committed to the independence of the professors and programs we support. We will continue to improve our grant processes. As we have in recent years, we are actively soliciting additional feedback from our university partners.
We believe professors should be free to follow their vision. They should be able to do so without any undue influence from groups or individuals, whether on or off their campuses.