Money talks. That’s hardly a revelation.
In an environment where the Supreme Court says corporations are people and can use their cash to speak loudly in support of their preferred, pro-business political candidates, it’s pretty obvious that the dollar rules modern American life.
It’s still disappointing, though, when we see how pliable colleges and universities can be when checks are waved in front of their faces. It’s even more disappointing when it happens at state-supported institutions. We all have a vested interest in those.
The latest incident of note involves George Mason University and the Koch brothers. Billionaires Charles and David Koch have long been large supporters of conservative causes. Some of their money, it turns out, has gone to George Mason. And as with many such “gifts,” strings were attached.
From as early as 1990 through 2009, records show that the Kochs were given influence in helping to determine professorships at GMU in exchange for checks, helping turn the Virginia state university into a major center of libertarian scholarship.
The Kochs are not alone in this. The New York Times reported recently that the Federalist Society, a conservative national lawyers’ organization, was the agent for a $20 million gift to the school from an anonymous donor, and Federalist Society officials were involved in hiring discussions.
The Kochs have been especially generous to GMU, giving an estimated $50 million to the school from 2005 to 2015, but they’ve spread their money (and, presumably, their influence) around. They are estimated to have donated nearly $150 million to more than 300 schools in that same time span.
Kudos to the activist group UnKoch My Campus for revealing much of what the Kochs have done.
The Koch Foundation says it has changed the language in its standard university agreements to get rid of at least the appearance of undue influence. Good, although a cynic might think that the same kind of influence is being wielded now with what one professor calls “a wink and a handshake.”
Money should not be able to influence our state educational institutions. We applaud all who seek to ensure the purity of the learning process.
We agree with the motto of that fine institution of higher learning, Faber College: Knowledge is Good. And it’s better when it’s not diluted by dollars.
Cash can pervert the academic process in other ways, too.
Last year, a study showed that the University of Virginia has been letting its fundraising office, which is called “advancement,” to have the ears of the admissions office, resulting in what some might see as a way to favor wealthy families or those with strong U.Va. links.
The advancement office tracks applicants whose parents are connected to U.Va. and/or are major donors; it has been known to appeal to admissions staffers to change their decisions.
A recent book by Dan Golden, “The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates,” makes the case that this is standard procedure among major universities. One professor called it “affirmative action for the wealthy.”
States created universities to give their residents a chance at higher education and a better life. Subverting the process by letting big money influence hiring and admissions is wrong. As schools put so much of their effort into fattening their portfolios (and as state legislatures cut funding), money with strings attached might seem inevitable.
It’s wrong, though, and we urge anyone who pays state taxes to let these state schools know it.