After an investigation into the large donation of funding towards the development of a new institute on campus, the Faculty Senate overwhelmingly passed a motion on March 15 that called on the university’s administration to reject funding from the Charles G. Koch foundation.
The Old Gold and Black has been following the story closely through the podcast Unmasked, their new platform designed to uncover the underreported stories on campus reported by senior Melissa Libutti and sophomore Heather Hartel and edited by junior Emily Eisert.
In June 2016, the Eudaimonia Institute was established by the Office of the Provost after Wake Forest received a $4.2 million donation towards its development.
This new institute is designed to connect multiple disciplines, including philosophy, religion and economics in a way that aims to “investigate the nature of eudaimonia, or genuine human flourishing, and the political, economic, social and cultural institutions that encourage and discourage it,” according to James Otteson, a business school professor and the director of the Eudaimonia Institute.
Out of this large donation, the Charles G. Koch foundation contributed 3.69 million dollars. Shortly after the creation of the institute, 189 faculty signed a petition in October of 2016, calling on the Faculty Senate to review the Institute and Koch donor agreement.
“It was a request from the college faculty to the university Faculty Senate to research into the issues of Business 105 and the issue of the Eudaimonia institute and it’s connection to the Koch brothers,” said English professor Gale Sigal, President of Wake Forest American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
After an Ad Hoc Senate Committee investigated the situation and reported their findings, the Faculty Senate voted to call on the administration to not accept the funding. According to the Faculty Senate’s press release, the Senate reached their decision “due to the Charles Koch Foundation’s unprecedented effort and documented strategy to co-opt higher education for its ideological, political and financial ends.”
The Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch, are the sons of Fred C. Koch. The family foundations are a group of charitable organizations stemmed from Fred C. Koch who owns oil, gas, paper and chemical conglomerates, the second largest U.S. privately held company. Charles and David’s foundations have provided millions of dollars to a variety of organizations and conservative think tanks.
After the 2012 election loss, where they had funded much of the conservative platform and a series of scandals, including piles of petroleum coke from the company found piled by inner city neighborhoods in Detroit and south Chicago, the Koch brothers needed an image boost. Shortly after, universities began receiving large donations.
According to The Center for Public Integrity, one of the country’s oldest and largest non-partisan, non-profit investigative news organizations, Wake Forest is among several schools that have received large donations from the Koch foundation. The university ranks behind the University of Kentucky with a donation of 12 million and George Mason University with 30 million.
Faculty, such as English professor James Hans, have been vocal about their concerns about the source of the donation.
“I mean if the people in the economics department want to teach their majors that libertarian economics is the only way to go, then that’s their business,” Hans said. “But if you’re doing it for the Koch brothers or something then you’re on the take as far as I’m concerned. There’s a kind of qualitative difference there.”
Yet despite the overwhelming majority vote in the Faculty Senate, others on campus also see problems in restricting certain donors based on ideological differences.
“The decision voted on by the faculty about Eudaimonia Institute is extremely concerning, as I see it as a step toward limiting academic freedom at our university,” said sophomore Anthony Palumbo. “While trying to deny it, the faculty’s report is largely focused on the ideology of the Koch Foundation. As a conservative student, I encourage my friends on the left to strengthen their beliefs and immerse themselves in their ideology, and I think that rather than being an agent that restricts a group’s ideology, the university should encourage and fund groups on both sides of the aisle to operate freely. This decision by the faculty does the exact opposite.”
Otteson has also combatted criticism raised by faculty citing the Declaration of Research Independence published on the Eudaimonia Institute website. As stated in the declaration, “because the questions we examine and the conclusions we reach are non-partisan and non-ideological, it is paramount that our research is conducted independently, with its sole motivation being the disinterested pursuit of truth.”
“The Declaration of Research Independence is a public document on our website and we provide it to anyone who is interested in giving us money,” Otteson said. “And what it says is, if you are interested in the projects or idea of the institute, we welcome your support. But you have to support the idea of it. You are not supporting any particular person or project or conclusion. So that gives a type of protection in both directions.”
In an interview for the Unmasked podcast, Otteson also drew on his dissertation and Ph.D. as providing inspiration for the creation of the institute.
“My Ph.D is in Philosophy from the University of Chicago,” Otteson said. “I wrote my dissertation on 18th century moral theory, which is not exactly economics, not exactly business. What I was extremely interested in then was kind of a new school was emerging in moral thought in 18th century about how to understand how human beings come to understand the moral sentiments that they have and how do we come to have these views. That led me to become interested in the political and economic systems that those same thinkers were recommending on the basis of their investigations.”
As the intentions of the Institute have been called into question and consequently voted by the Senate Faculty to be concerning, the effect of the vote only calls on the administration to reject this funding, but does not have any power in ensuring that it is rejected. The vote simply puts pressure on the administration to make a decision. Keep up to date on the issue by following future findings reported by the Old Gold & Black’s Unmasked podcast.