“Donor gifts, regardless of their size, have always been accepted with the clear understanding that the gift will not compromise academic integrity or infringe on the academic freedom of our faculty
,” said Florida State University spokesman Dennis Schnittker, whose school in 2012 received more than $297,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation that primarily funded graduate student fellowships in its economics department.
But this isn’t always clear.
When, for example, the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 pledged $1.5 million to Florida State University’s economics department, a contract between the foundation and university stipulated that a Koch-appointed advisory committee select professors and conduct annual evaluations, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
And to be sure, the Koch foundations’ educational grants, regardless of whether they’re made with conditions, aren’t exactly supporting studies of, say, proletarian emancipation or historical materialism.
Instead, they routinely support academic programs or centers that teach theories and principles aligned with the Kochs’ convictions about economics and public policy.
The Charles Koch Foundation, which among the various Koch-connected private foundations spent the most on higher education, did tell the IRS in a 2012 filing that it primarily supports “research and education programs that analyze the impact of free societies” and focuses on “a select number of programs where it believes it is best positioned to support positive social change.”
Charles Koch in 2012 contributed more than $60 million to his eponymous foundation, which ended that year with more than $216 million in reported assets.
Competition from Democratic political bankrollers
The Kochs are hardly alone in funding academia: Other prominent political donors — liberal and conservative both — operate private charitable foundations that in part support educational programs and institutions.
Billionaire financier and Democratic megadonor George Soros is chief among them. He’s pumped tens of millions of dollars into educational interests in recent years through a network of private foundations that together boast several times the reported assets that the Koch foundations do.
But the most significant educational contributions Soros made either in 2011 or 2012, when most recent tax forms are available, didn’t fund U.S. colleges and scholars like the Kochs, but foreign ones.
Central European University, an English-language university in Hungary that Soros himself founded, leads all his recipients, taking almost $9 million from the Soros-funded Foundation to Promote Open Society. The university describes itself as promoting “the pursuit of truth wherever it leads, respect for the diversity of cultures and peoples, and commitment to resolve differences through debate not denial.”
The Open Society Institute, another Soros-fueled private foundation, spread about $9.43 million through 900 foreign student grants. The students received the money with the charge they “improve academic, social and democratic environments in home countries,” according to the organization’s tax filings.
Soros’ domestic educational investments, while significant, aren’t as sizable.