Pundits from far right to center-right (apparently the acceptable spectrum for being granted an opinion column) have ranted and raved in recent years about the crisis of free speech on campus when students react poorly to speeches by far right hate mongers. And deniers like Climate Depot have frantically clutched their pearls over courses that universities have offered that offend their delicate sensibilities.
Conservative “thinkers” have built a whole narrative--and the right has built whole organizations--around how liberal politics are infecting college campuses. The climate consensus is one particularly rich vein for certain folks to mine: when Bjorn Lomborg was kicked out of Australia, the outrage made its way to American shores, even landing him in the pages of the Wall Street Journal.
Oddly, however, none of these pundits have seemed nearly as worried about monied interests interfering with academic freedom by pulling the purse strings.
Case in point: the AP last week reported that newly released documents from 2003 to 2011 revealed that the Kochs had influence over the hiring process for their Mercatus center at George Mason University. Considering the Kochs had funded the center to the tune of nearly $50 million, this should be more of a confirmation of suspicions than startling revelation. (To be perfectly clear, the Mercatus Center is somewhat independent of George Mason itself, which employs great folks like climate communications researcher Ed Maibach and Dr. 97% himself, John Cook.)
GMU president Angel Cabrera said in a statement emailed to staff that the funding agreement appears to “fall short of the standards of academic independence” for the school, so there’s no arguing the relationship was innocent. One of the hires later went to work for the Trump administration, if you were wondering about whether or not the Kochs made sure Mercatus hired the best people.
This exposé of the Koch’s college pay-to-play is a major win for UnKochOurCampus, a group that’s been working diligently to expose how the Kochs are sowing the seeds of their industry-idolatry ideology by cutting big checks to universities. But the UnKoch folks have certainly got plenty more work to do. Follow-up coverage has shown that a Koch group has set up a similar shop at Utah State, and Arizona is looking at “Freedoms Schools” to teach students about the wonders of the free market.
The list of Koch-supported universities is lengthy: George Mason is just one of 349 recipients of Koch cash, including Alabama A&M and American University down to Wesleyan and Yale.
But somehow, the massive Koch influence at universities across the country doesn’t rise to the same level of concern as, for example, washed-up Milo getting uninvited to speak at Berkley. And it’s not like the Mercatus Center doesn’t have any influence on the pundit class. New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat, for example, got dragged through Twitter last week for his column on sexual “redistribution.” Douthat uses a blog post from Mercatus Center economist Robin Hanson to back up his “creative” take on the growing problem of incel terrorists. If you’re wondering if perhaps this disgusting screed is abnormal for the Mercatus Center’s Hanson… it’s not. He has also argued that blackmail should be legal (--an interview with John Stossel that the Mercatus Center was proud enough to post on its website).
What the Mercatus Center is, and the other Koch-funded university centers are, is a way for industry to inject pro-industry propaganda into the academic bloodstream. Much like the Koch funding for a network of partisan organizations posing as news outlets, their work at college campuses is a clever way to look as though they’re supporting the institutions that form the bedrock of democracy while actually undermining it by eroding the very integrity that makes these institutions so vital.
But sure, people being upset about pundits getting fired just because they think women should be hung to death for getting an abortion is definitely a bigger problem.
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