George Mason University is one of the biggest public universities in the commonwealth of Virginia. It contains a diverse community of students from all over the world with many different backgrounds. George Mason University is most known as a liberal campus (varying among schools and departments) with strong academics and tuition costing around 20,000 dollars each year. What many students don’t know, however, is that there are many donors of the university that supply funding and that there have been many controversies and problems arising dealing with academic changes due to the donors. The Koch Brothers fuel many of debates dealing with funding at Mason, and have affected major changes to our university such as The Antonin Scalia Law School. The Koch brothers have brought lots of money and ideas to George Mason University, but a lot of their agreements get swept under the rug. Yet the Koch brothers continue to be one of Mason’s top donors and they also continue to fund Mason as well universities along the east coast.
On July 1st 2016, The George Mason University Law School was named after the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Antonin Scalia was a supreme court justice that had conservative views and often bumped heads with liberals. At first, the law school was set to be named “The Antonin Scalia School of Law” but the acronym delayed the renaming since it spelled out “ASSOL”. The donors that were for the name change were so pressed on renaming the school, that the “jabs prompted an anonymous $20 million donation” (Hananel). However, the naming has met some resistance from students and faculty who “bristled at associating the school with Scalia’s outsized conservative reputation” (Hananel). The move of renaming the school was tied to a $10 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation plus the anonymous donation. The Koch Brothers are one of Mason’s most active donors. They have donated more money to George Mason University than any other school along the east coast. The Koch Brothers have caused major controversy here though. In July of 2016, about 30 students, faculty, alumni and Virginia taxpayers protested the “undue influence” they believed that the donors had on what they’re taught at GMU, being a public school (Hananel). Many believe that the Koch Brothers’ huge amount of money given to Mason is to influence their own economic views.
In the GMU community, the law school name change surprised everyone, and raised many questions about who our donors were, and what the logistics are to fund our school. After the name change prompted by the result of the 20-million-dollar donation from “an anonymous donor with ties to the conservative Federalist Society—has some less welcome connotations” (Freeman). The Charles Koch Foundation is headed by two billionaire brothers who have funded many right-wing political candidates and issue campaigns. The donation to fund the Antonin Scalia Law School had been the “largest financial contribution to the law school in its history” and the money will be used to “grow the law school’s faculty and award between 50 and 60 scholarships each academic year” (Freeman). This agreement really raised eyebrows throughout the George Mason community. Strangely, the agreement between George Mason University and the donor gives “Scalia’s estate the power to revoke the late justice’s name from the law school if his survivors determine the school reflects unfavorably upon the reputation or legacy of the justice” (Freeman). Lucky for them, Scalia has 26 grandchildren. His “survivors” must change the name only if the use of the name would “reflect unfavorably upon the reputation or legacy of the justice” (Freeman). This part of the agreement can be considered very vague when asking the question of what can a university law school do to tarnish the reputation of a supreme court judge? This makes the Koch brothers in control for the most part. The agreement has turned heads, but not as much as when one looks at the Koch Brothers’ history of donations at George Mason University.
George Mason University has been one of the largest university recipients of donations in the last several years from the Koch Brothers. The public university has received “48 million from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation between 2011 and 2014” (Reed). The foundation also is a donor to school such Florida State University economics school; a huge controversy surrounding the Koch Brothers has started at this school. For example, a Koch-appointed advisory committee “selected professors and conducted annual evaluations of professors, according to the Tampa Bay Times” (Reed). The Brothers’ contracts to their donations strictly give them all rights to take back their donation if they don’t see their motives fit. This is where many faculty, students, and other employees see many of their issues.
Many see the Koch Brothers as conservative billionaires who “oppose government meddling in business [but yet] bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university” (Hunley). Many of Koch’s contracts specify that an advisory committee appointed by the Koch Brothers themselves decides which candidates should be considered for hire to work under their donations. The foundation can also withdraw its funding it it’s not happy with the “faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet ‘objectives’ set by Koch during annual evaluations” (Hunley). In one situation for example, Koch rejected “nearly 60 percent of the faculty’s suggestions but ultimately agreed on two candidates” for hire at the university under their donations (Hunley). Nowadays, instead of taking over specific academic departments, Koch is now funding faculty who promote their agenda and universities where there are a wide variety of economic views.
Koch’s main mission is to create a group of well-trained young conservations to “plug into positions not just in education, but in city government, state legislatures and Congress” (Bader). The Foundation itself has been going at this for years, slyly throwing money here and there at different universities. The Koch Brothers, and even some faculty at their accepting universities see nothing wrong with subliminally aiding the community and see it just as “helping students and faculty members pursue scholarship related to societal well-being and free societies” (Bader). Some people have even banded together and have even started the UnKoch Campaign, a campaign to expose the Koch Brothers and their money to business and universities everywhere. Already, the UnKoch Campaign has had several small victories. The University of Dayton has announced that “it will no longer accept Koch money because of the funders’ attempts to exert undue influence on academic life” (Bader). This campaign proves to expose academic persuasion by the Koch Brothers and many universities are beginning to recognize it.
Overall, many students and faculty are unaware of who the Koch Brothers are and how much of an effect they are making on college campuses around country. Even George Mason University President, Angel Cabrera, has refused to address student questions and that has opened many people eyes and started conversations. The best thing for a university community to do is try to stay up to date for what one is putting their money into. Because a person paying over 20,000 dollars to get an education deserves to know where their money is going.
Bader, J. Eleanor. UnKoch My Campus: Opposing Billionaires’ Efforts to Infiltrate Higher Education. Truthout, www.truth-out.org/news/item/38635-unkoch-my-campus-opposing-billionaires-efforts-to-infiltrate-higher-education, Accessed 7 April 2017.
Freed, Benjamin. The Donation That Renamed George Mason’s Law School After Scalia Sure Has Some Weird Rules Attached. Washingtonian, www.washingtonian.com/2016/05/04/george-mason-law-school-antonin-scalia-koch-heritage-donation-rules/. Accessed 7 April 2017.
Hananel, Sam. George Mason University Renames Law School after Late Justice Antonin Scalia. WJLA, www.wjla.com/news/local/george-mason-university-renames-law-school-after-late-justice-antonin-scalia. Accessed 7 April 2017.
Hunley, Kris. Billionaire’s Role In Hiring Decisions at Florida State University Raises Questions. Tampa Bay Times, www.tampabay.com/news/business/billionaires-role-in-hiring-decisions-at-florida-state-university-raises/1168680. Accessed 7 April 2017.
Reed, Tina. Students Sue George Mason Over Koch Brother Donation Records. Washington Business Journal, www.bizjournals.com/washington/news/2017/02/10/students-sue-george-mason-over-koch-brother.html. Accessed 7 April 2017.