Campuses of higher learning across our country and here in Arizona are accepting money from state legislatures and the Koch Brothers with strings attached. These strings require teaching certain types of economics, and at some schools, the Kochs even wanted to approve some of the faculty. To mask their real purposes, they are often called “Philosophy of Freedom Centers or Schools.” Or the acronym P.P.E.L or Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law.
But what they really do is teach Libertarian politics, which is laissez-faire capitalism that is anti-public school, anti-mask, anti-consumer protection, and anti-environmental protection. It is a fringe viewpoint not adopted by any country.
In 2016 Arizona lawmakers inserted a $5 million line item into the state budget for “economic freedom schools” at ASU and the U of A. Since then, legislators have appropriated $12 million to ASU and the U of A for these ideologically-driven centers, which previously had been funded by the Charles Koch Foundation. Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting examination of the two universities’ spending shows the schools still have $9.8 million of that money on hand.
In 2018 Arizona’s three state universities received $10 million, of which $2 million of that would go toward so-called “freedom schools” for programs at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona to focus on free-market philosophies (Libertarian economics).
The universities didn’t ask for additional funding for the freedom schools. Instead, the universities sought money to lower the cost of tuition for in-state students and to cover increasing health insurance costs. A report from The Center for Media and Democracy in November this year said Koch Industries distributed $141.2 million in grants to higher education and right-wing organizations. One of the top five recipients was Arizona State with $3.2 million
The U of A created the Department of Political Economy & Moral Science, which houses the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom. Currently, the center is a research unit of the philosophy department and offers no curriculum.
Not spending tainted money
Both ASU and the U of A have banked much of the money given to them by lawmakers for future use, although it’s unclear what it will be spent on or when. In the fiscal year 2017, the first year in which it received money from the state’s general fund, ASU spent only a quarter of the $3 million it was given, socking away nearly $2.3 million. Most state appropriations require unspent money to be returned every fiscal year, but these line items were specifically designated as “non-lapsing,” meaning the universities can hold on to the money they don’t spend.
From 2008 to 2015 the Arizona Legislature led the nation in cuts to higher education but still appropriated $2.5 million for the Freedom Center. In the education budget for 2017, the Legislature made a one-time appropriation of $4,157,000 for capital improvements and operations at the U of A. Almost one-quarter of this appropriation ($1 million) was restricted to the use of the Freedom Center. The rest of the university got what was left. But the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom wouldn’t have to depend on the Kochs anymore now that Arizona’s taxpayers are now picking up the tab.
Thankfully the Freedom Centers movement has not gone unchallenged by Universities and Colleges. Facility and students on campuses with Freedom Centers have organized and started a movement called UnKochMyCampus. Here at the U of A, it’s Kochs off Campus.
The first to start UnKochMy Campus was Florida State University. Based on a yearlong investigation and hundreds of new documents obtained through public records requests, they have reconstructed a picture of donor influence at FSU and other universities.
The vision of UnKochMyCampus is to preserve our democracy through protecting Higher Education from actors whose expressed intent is to place private interests over the common good.
I think this says it all.