Charles G. Koch, conservative billionaire and owner of the United States’ second largest privately owned company, has extended his financial hand past political interest groups and into the field of education.
Koch, 78, whose estimated fortune is upwards of thirty-five billion dollars has pledged an estimated $1.5 million (£918,000) to Florida State University’s economics department in return for considerable influence in a new program’s affairs.
With the Koch’s million-dollar donation, their representatives have the power to reject or hire university suggested candidates and closely monitor the ongoings of the program.
Koch, who shares an estimated seventy billion dollar fortune with his brother David H. Koch, is the joint owner of Koch Industries, America’s second largest private company according to Forbes magazine.
The publication puts the powerful duo at number six on their list of the world’s wealthiest individuals.
The pair are known for their funding of conservative politicians and election season ‘Super PAC’s’ who advance their interests in return for funding or other favours.
Customarily, donations to universities remain completely segregated from its academic administration.
Tampa Bay Times columnist Kris Hundley said that the brothers have bought a “rare commodity, the right to interfere with faculty hiring at a publicly funded university,” breaking the “academic freedom” that universities enjoy in hiring professors and other university officials.
Bruce Benson, Florida State University economics department chairman, told the Center for Public Integrity: “They want to expose students to what they believe are vital concepts about the benefits of the market and the dangers of government failure, and they want to support and mentor students who share their views.
“Therefore, they are trying to convince us to hire faculty who will provide that exposure and mentoring.”
University of Pennsylvania student Varun Menon said: “Undue influence of any particular interest, individual, group, association, institution, or government in education is extremely dangerous to the equality and neutrality of our system.”
Levels of educational neutrality represent an issue in the American education system, and many universities maintain strict policies that limit a donor’s influence.
Indeed, the Koch brothers have also funded dozens of scholarships and internships across several US universities, such as Harvard.
However, as some are concerned, the financial gains significantly outweigh the perceived threat of too much donor influence.
Georgetown University foreign policy student Brendan Fish said: “Those who donate tend to care about a university’s ongoings and so they should be given some say in its affairs.
“However, when money is used as a tool to gain power and influence, it can become a problem.”
Universities must often walk a tight line, balancing revenue generation and limited influence from donors and big business.
Menon continued: “It’s important not to begin throwing things at both willing parties in this incident, but to understand the facts and work to construct a viable and plausible argument of wrongdoing if such truly exists.”