Professors Lay Bare Koch Scheme to Corrupt Arizona Universities

150 people attended "Dark Money, Charles Koch, and the UA Freedom Center" at the University of Arizona.
150 people attended “Dark Money, Charles Koch, and the UA Freedom Center” at the University of Arizona.

Professors and activists laid bare the Koch Brothers’ plot to corrupt Arizona’s universities to advance their anti-worker, anti-consumer and anti-public school agenda. 150 people attended “Dark Money, Charles Koch, and the UA Freedom Center” at the Tucson UA campus.

The speakers called on University President Robert C. Robbins to put the so-called “Freedom Center” under rigorous scrutiny, and they urged citizens to call and write Koch-funded Gov. Ducey to end the unique $2.5 million budget line-items especially for the Freedom Center.

Freedom Center DonorsThey are members of Kochs Off Campus! — a nonpartisan group of Tucson residents, UA faculty and students concerned about the undue influence of right-wing money on public education.

Donors to the Freedom Center are a whos-who of right-wing advocates, including the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Templeton Foundation, Randy and Ken Kendrick, the Thomas W. Smith Foundation and even local car dealer Jim Click, according to Douglas Weiner, Professor of History.

“There has been a lack of transparency in the operation of the Freedom Center,” Weiner said, pointing out secret donor agreements, undisclosed donors and surreptitious planting of Koch textbooks in Tucson high schools.

“One of the biggest issues of the academic neutrality of the Freedom Center is that Director David Schmidtz has a long association with libertarian politics,” Weiner said.

See Koch Brothers Deeply Infect the U of A and Tucson Schools.

Koch Structure for “Social Change”

The Koch brothers political agenda is to promote private schools, defund public education, eliminate consumer and environmental protections, minimize employee rights, and abolish taxes on their businesses.

Samantha Parsons, Campaign Organizer of UnKoch My Campus, said 419 campuses have taken funding from the Kochs. “It is highly inappropriate for a donor to have this control over a university. They are holding the universities hostage,” she said.

Charles Koch explained that his funding to universities is designed ultimately to increase profits of Koch-owned companies, saying he was “…supporting only those programs, departments or schools that contribute in some way to our individual companies,” he told donors at a 1974 board meeting of the right-wing Institute for Humane Studies.

The Koch brothers "structure of social change."
The Koch brothers “structure of social change.”
  • First, according to Parsons, Koch brothers donations to universities produce research and curricula that support their right-wing political positions. These are referred to as “raw materials,” according to Parsons.
  • Second, they are turned into policy proposals by Koch-funded think tanks.
  • Third, the ideas are promoted by Koch front groups, like the anti-public school Americans for Prosperity.
  • Fourth, corrupt politicians like Gov. Doug Ducey, who has received millions in campaign donations from the Koch Brothers, cut taxes and regulations to increase Koch brothers company profits.

“Koch sees his educational investments as the most important,” she said. She quoted Kevin Gentry, VP of the Charles Koch Foundation at a 2014 donor summit, saying, “Not only does higher education act as a talent pool stream where teachers and professors operate other new programming, but the students that graduate out of these higher education programs also populate the state-based think tanks and the national think-tanks… they become the major staffing for the state chapters on the grassroots innovation around the country.”

Governor Ducey was actually at this 2014 Donor Summit.

Bogus Department

Last fall, the Freedom Center was moved into the newly-created “Department of Political Economy and Moral Science,” staffed with key personnel from the center. Department head David Schmidtz is also director of the Freedom Center.

According to Jeremy Vetter, Associate Professor of History, the purpose is to avoid supervision by established departments, so that the Freedom Center can hire faculty in economics without the approval of the University’s Economics Department.

“The new department is in charge of how knowledge gets produced,” Vetter said. “If the department has a tilt at its birth, it can have an effect for generations to come. The “department of moral sciences” doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s a new discipline, doesn’t’ exist anywhere. Then it was changed to “political economy and moral sciences.” What’s odd about this is that I can’t find another one anywhere else. The department here is a beachhead —  a new attempt to define a discipline that will no longer be accountable to the political science, economics, or philosophy department. Who is it accountable to?”

“The influence and selective funding of certain views over others will tilt the institution of the university to the views that are favored by donors,” he said. “Academics should be a counterweight to think tanks funded by right-wing donors.”

Bogus textbook

David Safier, a regular contributor to the Tucson Weekly, explained how a bogus Freedom Center textbook on economics was secretly inserted into Tucson high schools. “The Koch brothers do things by stealth, under the radar. They are going to operate much more effectively is no one is questioning them,” he said.

David Schmidtz published the textbook in his home office, under the imprint of “Sagent Labs,” managed by his wife at their home address. Entitled “Ethics, Economy and Entrepreneurship,” the book was written by the Freedom Center with a $2.9 million donation from the Templeton Foundation.  It was not peer-reviewed and has been panned by economics and history professors.

Schmidtz secretly trained local high school teachers to use the book, and the teachers sneaked the book into schools without getting board of education approval, according to Safier. The class “Philosophy 101: Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship” was discovered last November, and canceled by the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board in December.

“The Tucson High syllabus was very bland,” Safier said. “But obviously the course was created for the purpose of indoctrinating the students like the Koch university campuses do, bringing them the information that the Koch brothers want.”

8 thoughts on “Professors Lay Bare Koch Scheme to Corrupt Arizona Universities”

  1. I’m going to go ahead and correct the disinformation/lies printed here about the textbook.

    It was not “panned” by a bunch of economists, pace this article. Rather, David Gibbs, an undistinguished UA historian with rather weak publication record, who regularly lies to people and calls himself a political economist, panned it.

    If you think Dave S couldn’t have gotten that textbook published with Oxford or Cambridge, you’re wrong. How do we know that? Easy:

    1. Dave already regularly publishes with the best book publishers, unlike David Gibbs or Jeffrey Vetter, the other historian at the event. (I looked at Gibbs’s and Vetter’s CVs and thought, “Oh, I didn’t even know those universities had presses. We wouldn’t even count these publications toward tenure at Georgetown University, where I work. Maybe Arizona hstoriy has low standards?”)

    2. The actual *content* of the book has, with a few minor exceptions, already all been published! The stuff by Robert Lusch is his work on service dominant logic–it is literally a reprint of the *most cited* work in marketing since the year 2000. The stuff by Cate Johnson is standard experimental economics and previously published in various top economics journals. The stuff by Schmidtz has already been published by top philosophy journals or excepted from his previous books with Cambridge or Wiley-Blackwell (both of which are much better publishers than Gibbs or Vetter have hit.) So, rather than the book being full of crazy nonsense, it’s literally a bunch of reprints of important, highly cited, highly regarded work already published in journals and with other academic presses which Gibbs and Vetter are not even good enough to hit.

    So, why didn’t they just punish it with Oxford? Jonny Anomaly already explained it in his response to David “I Once Accused the Entire Political Science Department of Working for the CIA” Gibbs: They wanted to make the book *cheap* because it’s for high school students. So they paid for the permissions to reprint previously published and previously peer-reviewed material, and self-published it as cheaply as possible. They didn’t want it to cost $80, as, say, Jonny Anomaly’s excellent textbook with OUP costs.

    So, that’s the truth, and you can check it for yourself. Get the textbook and then do some googling–you’ll see 90% of it was previously published in top journals and by top book publishers, publishers which neither Gibbs nor Vetter have been able to hit themselves.

    What’s really going here, and we all know it, is that 1) the Freedom Center is being attacked by cartoonish ideologues, and 2) the academics who attack (e.g., Gibbs and Vetter) it have weak publication records and suffer from major professional jealousy.

    –Jason Brennan, UA PhD 2007,
    Robert J and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Professor
    Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy
    Georgetown University

    P.S. No, I am not Koch-funded.

    • Reply by Jeremy Vetter, Associate Professor of History, University of Arizona.
      Comment on

      As someone who has already been pleased to engage in some collegial and respectful discussion with faculty affiliated with the Freedom Center, despite our significant disagreements, following the Forum discussed in this blog post, I was disappointed to find the comments above from Jason Brennan, who is a 2007 graduate of the University of Arizona’s philosophy department, and whose Ph.D. was supervised by David Schmidtz (founding director of the Freedom Center), and now a research professor in UA’s new department of Political Economy and Moral Science. Brennan’s comments do not advance the productive and healthy discussion that is much needed, regarding the influence of external funding by wealthy donors with ideological agendas, such as the Koch Brothers and their wider network, on academic departments and centers.

      In a post that purports to “correct the disinformation/lies”—and especially for someone who is a prominent advocate for replacing democracy with what he calls “epistocracy,” or the “rule of the knowledgeable”—it is funny to see so many hasty mistakes, distortions, and lapses in argumentation. I have no reason to believe it is because of any lack of intelligence on Brennan’s part, for he is obviously a bright and prolific scholar, but I just think he has been a bit sloppy and careless, probably due to his close affiliation with the Freedom Center and the new Department of Political Economy and Moral Science, where he is now appointed as a research professor, which may have clouded his judgment.

      In my own panel presentation, I did not say anything about the textbook, and Gibbs was the moderator, not a panelist. There was another historian on the panel besides me, but it was Doug Weiner, not Gibbs. However, the speaker who criticized the textbook—to my mind, quite reasonably and compellingly—was the journalist David Safier, who was also part of the panel, along with Samantha Parsons, as noted in the blog post above.

      On his first of two main “rebuttal” points, it is odd that he spends any time at all offering baseless smears of the academic records of some faculty who appeared on the panel, including David Gibbs and myself. This is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand, and the prominent featuring of this ad hominem line of rebuttal is a hilarious distraction (although he did remove the “Losers!” jab he added when posting this on Facebook!) but also suggests a lack of more substantive and germane evidence for a proper rebuttal. Even if the “charges” were true, I would insist that all people, whether they possess what Brennan regards as distinguished publication records or not, and whether they are even academics or not, have the right and responsibility as scholars or citizens to critically examine the distorting influence of wealthy donors with ideological agendas on our colleges and universities.

      What makes Brennan’s extraneous attacks on our own scholarship even more bizarre, however, is how off-the-mark he is. (He doesn’t even bother to get my first name right, so that gives you some idea of how careful he is with factual details.) My own key book that earned me tenure is Field Life: Science in the American West during the Railroad Era (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016),, and Gibbs’s first book that enabled him to go up for tenure was The Political Economy of Third World Intervention: Mines, Money, and U.S. Policy in the Congo Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 1991), A great many historians and other scholars at universities of all prestige levels have earned tenure from publishing books at these presses. But, as I said, this is all a spurious distraction from the real issues.

      His second “rebuttal” is that the high school textbook written by Schmidtz, Johnson, and Lusch contains work that was “90%” already peer-reviewed elsewhere. If true, this seems strange. Normally, scholarly articles and books written for one’s academic peers are written quite differently from a high school or intro college-level textbook. If the textbook is 90% reprinted verbatim from peer-reviewed scholarly work—with prior publishers’ permission, I would hope, and explicit attribution—that would seem a very unusual way to construct a textbook.

      But even if true, it does not mitigate the main concern about proper peer reviewing of a high school or intro level textbook, which is in part to ensure that it has appropriate balance, coverage, and accuracy of the portion of the material that is not within the specialist expertise of the authors. If the concern is solely for reducing the cost to students, there are numerous projects for free “open textbooks” happening in many disciplines, which involve collaboration and peer review of many scholars with differing specialties and perspectives.

      One other important correction: Brennan’s alleged quotation from my colleague David Gibbs, i.e. “I Once Accused the Entire Political Science Department of Working for the CIA,” is a fake quote. To give Brennan the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he just meant this as a jocular insult rather than an actual quotation, like if people called him Jason “I Believe Fact-Checking Is for Little People” Brennan, even though they don’t know that he has ever said that.

      However, in the case of Gibbs, the quotation is both falsely attributed and does not accurately represent what he has written about the CIA and political scientists. If readers want to check for themselves, David has many links posted on his website, including his own and others’ writings on this important debate:

      Finally, I cannot resist commenting on Brennan’s ludicrous innuendo that we are simply exhibiting professional jealousy. This could not be further from my mind. Although there are people in the world that I would less rather be than him, such as the Koch Brothers, it is hard to be too admiring of someone who has advocated “Brennanisms” like this (obtained from the writings posted on his website):
      “When we buy luxury goods, we may not thereby intend to feed the poor, but the long-term result is often that we transform the poor into the rich.” (from “Is It Okay to Have Nice Things?”)

      “The Problem with Government Is Democracy” (WaPo article title)

      “High-income voters tend to be better informed, so perhaps siding with richer voters gets us better government.” (from “Five Myths about Democracy”)

      “I argue that citizens don’t have any basic right to vote or run for office. The right to vote is not like other liberal rights. A right of free speech gives a citizen power over herself; the right to vote gives her power over others.” (in The National Interest)

      (For situating the ideology represented in these quotations in its historical context, I highly recommend historian Nancy MacLean’s excellent book, Democracy in Chains:
      Obviously, I have no problem with faculty holding libertarian views in colleges and universities, who have met academic standards of rigor in recognized disciplines—and I eagerly look forward to debating them as colleagues—but it is dangerous to tilt the whole academic playing field in their direction, whether through massive amounts of funding from wealthy donors or from partisan state earmarked appropriations for departments to which those same donors have already signaled their favor, departing from the usual procedures for academic governance over the allocation of university funding, such as the newly created Political Economy and Moral Science department, of which Prof. Brennan is a research faculty member.

      Jeremy Vetter
      Associate Professor of History
      University of Arizona

  2. I don’t see any discussion in this article of the courses, probably also sponsored by the FreeToBeDumb Center Which are currently being offered through the U of A Dept of Philosophy. I see multiple sections of PHIL 101 – “Ethics, Economy & Entrepreneurship” and “PHIL 205 – The Ethics and Economics of Wealth Creation” on the schedule for Fall, Summer and Spring 2018 semesters.

    You mention that TUSD threw out these courses which were “secretly inserted” into schools so why is this propaganda being openly fed to our kids at the U?

  3. My eternal question is, ” If they are so proud of their ‘speech’, then why do the work so hard to hide its origins?”

  4. Great post, Larry. This is important information. The Legislature passed a couple of bills supporting the Freedom Centers. One bill was a seal for high school diplomas that would certify that a student had taken special civics courses and studied historical “source documents” the debate was surreal because Boyer was trying to hide the intent of the bill.

  5. Gov Ducey’s collusion makes it even more despicable. Sad when the University can be corrupted by money and the Koch Bros can buy professors to do their dirty work!

  6. This is an excellent post. Thank you.

    I have no problem with listening to all points of view, as long as they’re honest.

    The Koch’s are not honest. In fact, they are anti-democracy, anti-free trade, anti-Christianity (not that I’m religious, but they’re sneaky about it), and anti-America (see their working with Iran in violation of law along with numerous other crimes).

    Koch Industries is a criminal organization, a university should not take money from the Koch’s or their front organizations any more than they should take money from organized crime.

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