Editorial Board

Koch brothers’ donation to Syracuse University is a red flag for academic freedom at the expense of two of the country’s richest men

Syracuse University’s Whitman School has the potential to join a long list of institutions that have had their academic freedom compromised by the billionaire Koch brothers, who have a high-profile track record of donating to research programs and using those programs to promote a deregulatory, anti-environmental agenda.

SU announced in November that Charles and David Koch donated $1.75 million to the Martin J. Whitman School of Management to establish an Institute for an Entrepreneurial Society. Similar Koch-funded institutions have been created at various other universities in the United States, including Florida State University, where researchers have been forced to study material that satisfies Koch ideals.

That information was revealed in public documents, since FSU is a public school. The SU community — particularly its faculty and students — doesn’t have the luxury of knowing whether there are strings attached to the Kochs’ grant to Whitman because SU is a private institution. But faculty are worried about the implications the grant could have on academic freedom and the freedom of Ph.D students within the Whitman School to independently pursue their research topics of choice.

Maria Minniti, the founding director of the Whitman institute, said there are “absolutely not” any strings attached to the Koch grant. Although SU, a private institution, has no obligation to make its contract with the Koch brothers publicly available, doing so would help to calm the concerns of those who are concerned about academic freedom.

It’s not an inherently bad thing for SU to accept money from the Kochs. Universities need funding to operate and advance. But there is a lack of understanding as to how this money was vetted, and whether SU vetted the Kochs’ intent to donate. Given the Kochs’ track record, it’s difficult to believe that there are indeed no strings attached to the grant.

It’s evident that the Koch brothers have influenced academic research at some — if not all — of the universities they’ve donated to. Their potential to compromise academic freedom at SU is concerning. Universities are places for independent thought and the pursuit of knowledge. That pursuit should not be tainted by the political agenda of two of the richest men in the country.

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