LEAVE IT TO LEVI: Koch brothers' donation to Ball State raises red flags

Levi Todd is a sophomore English major and writes "Leave it to Levi" for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Levi at lctodd@bsu.edu.

While taking the Fall Mapworks Survey a few months ago, I remember a question along the lines of “Do you believe your university has your best interests at heart?” I vaguely answered that I was neutral, having no reason to think otherwise.

If I were asked that same question today, I would quickly answer that I strongly disagree. It was bad enough when Ferguson resigned after only 1.5 years without explanation, standing to gain almost as much money in his severance package as he earned during his time actually working for the university. Students were left to foot that bill via their tuition and fees, and will also pay for Terry King’s salary as interim president and the search to hire a new president. The Ball State community, despite their financial sacrifice as a result of Ferguson and the Board of Trustees’ mysterious agreement, has not been provided with answers, and it seems like we never will.

That debacle was all it took to make me leery of the administration. Now, to make matters worse, Ball State has accepted $3.25 million from the Koch Brothers to fund the forthcoming John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise, news that leaves me and many other students astounded.

Read about Papa John's grant here.

For those who don’t know, the Koch Brothers are an incredibly wealthy family with an estimated net worth of $86 billion. Koch Industries has its fingers in multiple pies, including the manufacturing and trade of petroleum, energy, fiber products and more, and they also are involved in a variety of investments and commodity trade. Put simply, the Koch Brothers are insanely rich.

The Koch Brothers are also known for frequently putting their fortune toward political efforts. The Koch fortune primarily goes into funding super-PACs and lobbyist groups to support candidates and laws that benefit their own investments. An investigative report from American University explains, “Altogether, since 2007, Koch nonprofit organizations testified before U.S. Senate and House of Representatives committees or subcommittees at least 49 times." Simply put, if there is a law in Congress that could threaten Koch investments (such as environmental rights laws threatening their petroleum investments), they have the financial power to sway politicians’ votes.

Levi Todd

According to USA Today, they’ve released a $889-million political budget for 2016 in light of the presidential election. To put that in context, the Republican National Committee spent $200 million in the 2012 election — the Koch Brothers have prepared a political budget for 2016 almost double that.

The reason I explain this all is to highlight a key point — the Koch Brothers are known for making large donations when they want something. Ball State University isn’t the first university they’ve donated to. Time Magazine reports that thirteen colleges and universities received six-figure donations from the Koch Brothers in 2014, stating that “Almost all of the higher education programs the Koch foundations fund cleave to the brothers’ philosophy of promoting free markets and laissez-faire capitalism in the United States.” The fact that the recent donation to Ball State will fund a “free enterprise institute” doesn’t surprise me — the Koch Brothers clearly want to instill libertarian ideals in students (and, more importantly, future voters and workers).

What scares me more is the potential political sway the Koch Brothers may have just bought at Ball State. The Center for Public Integrity revealed that when “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.” Time Magazine argues that “In some cases, the Koch foundations have attempted, or succeeded, in attaching certain strings to their contributions, such as control over curriculum, and more recently, obtaining personal information about students.”

How convenient. First Ferguson resigns, leaving an influential position at the university empty, and then the Koch Brothers make a seven-figure donation to Ball State. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether these two events are linked, and you could argue that I’m wildly speculating, but this is where Ball State’s vow of silence comes back to bite it in the behind. How are we supposed to know what’s actually going on when the administration refuses to be transparent?

The Koch Brothers have extended their political involvement to our university, and I believe students and faculty have a reason to be concerned. There’s no way of knowing exactly how this donation will benefit the Koch Brothers, but we can safely assume it will somehow.

My trust in the university has never been lower, and many of my peers have reflected the same sentiment. The administration will deny that there is an ulterior motive behind this donation, just like they denied ulterior motives behind Ferguson’s resignation. If that’s the case, Ball State, prove me wrong.


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