Wake Forest Faculty Attempt to Undermine Koch-Funded Campus Institute

The Faculty Senate at Wake Forest University made headlines last week when it demanded that the university reject a $3.69 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. Such a stance is not unusual. Many liberal faculty members and student groups are now trying to “UnKoch” their campuses.

But Wake Forest’s Faculty Senate resolution goes further. In addition to demanding that the university reject the grant, Wake Forest faculty demanded that professor James Otteson and his Eudaimonia Institute be silenced.

The Eudaimonia Institute started at Wake Forest last summer through a planning grant from the Wake Forest Office of the Provost. Eudaimonia is a Greek word commonly translated as “happiness” or “welfare”; however, “human flourishing” has been proposed as a more accurate translation. Professor James Otteson is the Institute’s executive director.

Its programs are purely academic. The Institute’s mission is to “investigate the nature of eudaimonia…and the political, economic, social, and cultural institutions that encourage and discourage it.” To fulfill that mission, the Institute supports faculty and student research and hosts conferences and events.

In September 2016, Wake Forest announced that the Koch Foundation had committed nearly $4 million in funding for the Institute over the next five years.

After the Koch Foundation’s involvement with the Institute became public, 189 “Concerned Faculty” members signed a petition requesting a Faculty Senate review of the agreement between Wake Forest and the Koch Foundation. The Faculty Petition outlined four objections to the Koch Foundation as a funding source.

It asserts that Koch funding is a threat to academic freedom and transparency, faculty governance, and the academic reputation of the university. Faculty are also concerned about the “intellectual foundations” of the Koch Foundation. Partly in response to the petition, the Faculty Senate formed an Ad Hoc Senate Committee to review the creation of the Institute.

That committee moved to severely restrict the academic freedom of Institute scholars. Specifically, the Faculty Senate recommended freezing current hiring, canceling internal and external presentations, and even restricting the publication of any material to do with the Institute. Going forward, the Faculty Senate wants all of the Eudaimonia Institute’s academic decisions to be reviewed by an external committeepresumably so the committee can apply some sort of progressive litmus test to the Institute’s work.

The stated reason for such an unprecedented attack on the academic freedom of a university colleague is that financial conflicts of interest may be affecting the Institute’s direction and focus. They are concerned, in other words, that the Koch Foundation’s grant to the Institute would interfere with the “proper exercise of judgment” of Professor Otteson and others involved with the Institute.

Last year, Ralph Wilson of UnKoch My Campus explained his concerns about Koch Foundation-funded campus projects in a Martin Center article. He said that “the purpose of free market centers and programs funded by [the Foundation’s] network of donors is political rather than educational.”

But an examination of several other centers on Wake Forest’s campus proves that this sort of protest and suggested oversight is unusual. Faculty scrutiny is reserved only for donors who do not subscribe to progressive politics. The Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability, for example, has an expressly political and commercial policy agenda and has faced no restrictions on its operations. In fact, it does not even disclose the names of its donors.

A student magazine, the Wake Forest Review, recently named two other centers on campus that have not been subject to faculty scrutiny despite non-disclosure of donors: the Anna Julia Cooper Center (led by Melissa Harris-Perry) and the Pro Humanitate Institute (which focuses on social justice outcomes). The Review says that it “has reached out to the Pro Humanitate Institute about direct and indirect funding for their institute as well as the Anna Julia Cooper Center, and is awaiting a response.” Tellingly, these centers both have progressive missions.

Given this double-standard, it’s clear that of the four objections made by “Concerned Faculty,” it is the intellectual foundation of the Institute that spurred the petition. A center to study human flourishing funded by the Ford Foundation, for example, would not have been greeted with such hostility and suspicion.

While this kind of hypocrisy is neither new nor surprising, faculty efforts to restrict the academic freedom of a colleague go beyond the protests we’ve seen at other campuses. In the past, faculty have insisted on transparency of donations (at George Mason) and review of university gifts that have potential curricular impact (at Western Carolina). But these tactics have targeted the administration and the donor agreements—not the faculty recipients of the grants.

Academic freedom is essential to the search for truth and the mission of higher education. Heterodox and dissenting views among the faculty help strengthen inquiry and fuel learning. Wake Forest University faculty should embrace the Eudaimonia Institute as an opportunity for discovery and discussion.

Upon the founding of the Institute, Professor Otteson argued that “The pursuit of eudaimonia is one of the most important goals for humankind.” It is a pursuit of which Wake Forest University should be proud.

  • DrOfnothing

    Let’s compare the statement of the policy arm of the CEES to the Eudaimonia Institute.

    PEM: “The Policy, Enterprise and Ecosystem Markets (PEM) group works to explore and facilitate legal, economic and managerial solutions to society’s energy and environmental challenges. This group, composed of faculty and researchers from the Wake Forest Schools and Business and the School of Law, draws on the diverse and practical expertise of its members who have substantial experience in business, law and the government. The PEM group seeks to facilitate thorough understanding of the policy frameworks, business practices and regulatory regimes that impact the development and implementation of emerging technologies and the evolving governance techniques related to the environment and energy resources.” The CEES is primarily a science-driven entity.

    In contrast, the director of the EI is _clearly_ driven by ideology. He is a Senior Scholar at the Fund for American Studies, which is a Neocon edifice committed to ideological transformation. “The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) is an educational nonprofit that is changing the world by developing leaders for a free society. Our transformational programs teach the principles of limited government, free-market economics and honorable leadership to students and young professionals in America and around the world.” One can also tell from the character of the research sponsored by the EI that is is going to invariably elevate free-market capitalism and Western values as the primary keys to human happiness.

    Having a new center with a right-wing orientation is not going to achieve neutrality, it’s just going to promote more ideology, which is the last thing American college campuses need at this point.

    Of equal importance is the author’s own position on this issue, and here, transparency is required. It is simply not reasonable to expect neutral and accurate commentary on a Koch-funded initiative from a graduate of the Koch Associates program.

    • jaypopecenter

      “Of equal importance is the author’s own position on this issue, and
      here, transparency is required. It is simply not reasonable to expect
      neutral and accurate commentary on a Koch-funded initiative from a
      graduate of the Koch Associates program.”

      Wrote the anonymous troll who is either paid or obsessed with this site to a disturbing degree.

      • DrOfnothing

        You really know that someone has absolutely nothing intelligent to offer a discussion when all they can come up with is “this guy is a paid troll!”

  • Elvis Hemphill

    Thank you Dr. Of Nothing!
    “Having a new center with a right-wing orientation is not going to achieve neutrality, it’s just going to promote more ideology, which is the last thing American college campuses need at this point.”

  • Carl Fales

    We look back now, with 20/20 hindsight, and say “Of course housing values were insanely inflated over the last 20 years, leading up to the bursting of the bubble in 2008-2009.”

    Well – in just a few years we will wonder how we all missed the building up of the “higher education bubble” which is destined to burst soon.

    Tuition rates of tens of thousands of dollars per year cannot be sustained indefinitely. Student loans now total over $1,300,000,000,000 – and the majority of these loans will never be repaid.

    And what is all this money being spent for? The vast majority of college students in America are not getting “higher education” at all – they are getting nothing more than liberal indoctrination.

    And the drones who actually get their degree are supposed to be the future leaders of America? If so – we are all doomed….

  • TLM

    “it’s just going to promote more ideology, antithetical to mine, which is the last thing American college campuses need at this point.”

    @DrOfno… Fixed it for you

    • DrOfnothing

      Nope, unlike the folks here (i.e. JMC), the promotion of a particular ideology is not my primary concern–I don’t consider it part of my job description at all. Just like anyone else, I have my own views about politics, but I don’t use my position as a platform to broadcast them. To give just one example, a student asked me last week “so, do you think racial thought explains the expansion of European empires in the nineteenth century?” My answer, almost verbatim, was “politics and economics provided the motivation, but Social Darwinism shaped the methods employed and the treatment of the local populations.” You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows thing one about that period to disagree, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum.

      A blatant ideological slant is very ineffective in the Humanities classroom. All it does is distract students from the content and give them an excuse to offer opinions rather than analysis. In my 40+ faculty department, only _one_ faculty member is strongly ideological (she’s a feminist, though not especially hardcore about it). Everyone respects and likes her, because she’s a good scholar and a passionate teacher (and collegial) but no one really agrees with her viewpoint.

      I always tell my students that historians don’t have the luxury of passing moral judgements on their subjects. And what is ideology if not, at least in part, a judgement on the moral implications of political theory and policy?

      • TLM

        Apologies for the snarky tone in responding to your comment. You were referring to decreasing the ideological slant that’s become far too common in classroom teaching. Couldn’t agree with you more on that score.

        • DrOfnothing

          No worries. There’s a fundamental misunderstanding, sadly exacerbated by commentary from JMC, that the most militant ideology in the classroom is largely faculty-driven. For the most part, it isn’t. It is student-driven. They arrive with certain expectations in mind, and universities follow the market by accommodating them. The solution proposed here, having more Conservative faculty, simply won’t work at all.

          The _one_ possible effective solution is that which is adamantly opposed here, public reinvestment in HE. Publicly-supported universities with strong protections for faculty would both reduce tuition (i.e. student debt) and reduce dependence on tuition funds. You would then leave faculty much freer to teach as they see fit.

          But that is _never_ proposed here. Instead you get these cockamamy solutions such as “activist alumni” and suing universities over free speech. All that does is force universities to become even more managerial, hire more administrative-legal staff, and accumulate just the kind of bureaucratic bloat that the writers here decry so vehemently! Totally self-defeating.

  • Ben

    It’s likely due to Otteson’s book, /The End of Socialism/. Brilliant and on-point, hated by liberals.

  • Elvis Hemphill

    Thomas Dixon was part of Wake Forest’s past–but that doesn’t mean he should be celebrated. Mr. Fales seems to think liberal indoctrination is akin to pointing out Dixon’s racist views and removing his portrait from the Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

  • Jack Bailey

    Shows how stupid academia really is. Just because they don’t like the Koch Brothers conservativism, they are going to deny a grant of $3.7 Million. Yet, they are all for getting rid of HB2 because it is suppose to be hurting the state financially. I am never amazed any more at how blind and stupid liberals really are.

    • Jane S. Shaw

      Unfortunately, they are effective in spite of the hypocrisy.

      • DrOfnothing

        A university turning down money that is _explicitly_ connected to right-wing plutocrats is not hypocrisy, it’s principles. You want hypocrisy, try an organization that claims to be fighting ideological programing in the university even as it tries to impose its own ideological agenda at every turn (that is to say, the James Martin Center).

        • You have space to comment here solely based on the good will of the people who moderate the comment section. Calling us unprincipled hypocrites (on more than one occasion) does very little to further that good will.

          • DrOfnothing

            Apologies, that is not extended to all staff at the JMC, and certainly not to you, personally.

            That having been said, some of your senior colleagues have consistently painted university faculty as just that (i.e. unprincipled hypocrites). What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If they back off from such mischaracterizations and acknowledge that most faculty are, in fact, scholars first and everything else second, I will happily temper my comments appropriately.

            The implied threat in your response, I have to say, does not seem commensurate with the professed commitment to free speech. But it’s your site, and you wield all the authority to silence whomever you wish to.

        • Reality_Calling

          libertarian plutocrats? Please stop using words you don’t understand!

          • DrOfnothing

            Please get a dictionary. The Koch brothers, for example, easily fit the definition of plutocrat, and they donate extensively to Libertarian causes.

  • JimCohen

    Liberalism is a mental disorder.

    • DrOfnothing

      Mindless contempt for your fellow Americans is a social cancer.

  • I am no fan of the Kochs — they astroturf the real citizen activist movements, using secret donations with strings attached, dirty tricks politics, and even threats of legal action against TEA party and other activists who fail to submit to them properly. They nudge-nudge-wink-wink to the GOPe that they’ve got those dirty masses under control through AFP, an entirely fake “grassroots” organizations. And they’re in bed with Soros in advancing the real, existentially threatening passion driving all three men: emptying prisons, opening borders, and legalizing all drugs.

    Liberal should actually love them.

    That said, they should be treated like any other donor setting up a program at a university. This shouldn’t even be debated. Setting aside the cynicism regarding domestic hard-left donors such as Ford, universities slather all over dictators from slave-owning, rape-victim-murdering countries like Saudi Arabia when they throw money at them.

    It’s OK to own slaves, murderously persecute women, throw gays off buildings to their death, apparently, if you build a center for the study of how cool Islam is at Virginia or Columbia or Harvard or Yale.

    But endowing a center to study Tocqueville is the sort of thing that sends the tenured mob into full tantrum mode.

    In their non-political donations, the Kochs have contributed to medical advances that are saving lives. They support opera, museums, and the arts. They are reportedly excellent and conscientious employers in their industrial companies — which matters, right? They are providing intellectual diversity (trammeled as much as any leftist foundation trammels its bought-and-paid-for scholars) on intellectually monochromatic campuses.

    More power to them. Just not in politics, please. Also, by the way, I’m sure you folks get funding from the Kochs, either directly or through one of their re-funders. Please practice the professionalism to acknowledge this.

    • DrOfnothing

      “Also, by the way, I’m sure you folks get funding from the Kochs, either directly or through one of their re-funders. Please practice the professionalism to acknowledge this.” Seconded.


    Jenna was part of the Koch Associate Program sponsored by the Charles G. Koch

    If you are going to comment on Koch affairs you should at least site you ties to CKF.