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.
They 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.
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.
- 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.
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.”
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.”