May 1, 2018 – Updates

An open letter to our current and future university partners from the Charles Koch Foundation


A recent report raised questions about how the Charles Koch Foundation structures our grants to universities. Most recently, the publication of old and inactive grant agreements from 2006-2009 with George Mason University has raised questions about the relationship between funders and the schools they support. We want to address those concerns openly so that our current and future university partners have all the facts on hand.

First, it’s important to note that while our grant agreements have evolved over time, we have always been committed to the highest standards of academic integrity and freedom. In all of our grants and interactions with universities, our role has been to provide funds to support the vision of a professor or her students. Those who have personally interacted with us—be they professors, university administrators, or other donors, know from experience that we have the utmost respect for the independence of the scholars we support.

These old grant agreements at George Mason University did not allow us to cause the university to hire certain professors, nor did they allow us to make decisions regarding the curricula or research that professors pursued. These agreements did allow us to have a say in recommending candidates who were considered for the faculty positions we supported. Once the candidates were proposed, the standard university hiring procedures began, and the faculty were free to approve or reject candidates (and they did approve some and reject others).

It was not unusual for universities to offer donors this type of input at the time—and, especially where named and chaired professorships are being created, this is still something that many universities do today.

This is not something, however, that the Charles Koch Foundation does today, nor do our current grant agreements include these provisions.

We removed these clauses from our grant agreements because they were unnecessary given the high quality of candidates the universities we support attracted without our involvement, and we realized they could easily be used to mischaracterize our intent. To be clear, we champion academic freedom and do not seek to influence the hiring practices of university departments nor have input on curricular or research decisions. Our giving principles spell this out in detail and are posted, here.

Many of our recent grant agreements, including those for recent gifts to GMU, have been published and you can see some examples.

We took criticism of our agreements seriously when similar concerns were raised about a grant we made in 2008 to Florida State University. This grant agreement followed standard university procedure at the time and provided for a donor representative to review candidates for the faculty positions we pledged to support. We did not exercise that option and always respected university governance; however, in light of those concerns we invited outside academics to review our grant agreements and suggest improvements.

From these suggested changes we rewrote our standard grant agreement to reinforce our long-standing commitment to academic freedom. Our current grant template has now been in use for many years and has provided a good roadmap to create productive agreements with numerous universities.

We take the concerns raised seriously and have made changes to better reflect our intent and giving principles.

However, this should not distract from the incredible work that our grants support, and to the benefits they provide the universities, the professors, the students, and society—whether through breakthroughs in research on criminal justice reform, foreign policy, or economics.

The professors that George Mason University hired with the support of the Charles Koch Foundation are among the most productive at the school—they have won teaching awards, gained international recognition for their research, and helped to grow a thriving student fellowship program.

The agreements at GMU are from 2006-2009 and they have been obsolete for years. There are no current grant agreements between the Charles Koch Foundation and any university that include provisions for selection or advisory review.

Our commitment to academic integrity and intellectual freedom remains strong. And we hold ourselves to a high standard for we believe the freedom of faculty and students to pursue their vision is paramount.

While those who disagree with some of the ideas engaged by the professors we support will use this to amplify criticism of us, we’d ask that you consider your experience with us, or the experience of someone you know, in evaluating things. And if you have questions or challenge for us, we’d welcome those.

John Hardin
Director, University Relations