Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Are UNLV & UNR Thirsty for Koch?

Tonight, UNLV will be hosting a lecture on human rights by a professor from Boston College. OK, so what's the big deal here? Let me explain. It's scarier than you think.

First off, the lecturer from Boston is a "libertarian" who doesn't seem to like granting liberty to LGBTQ folk. Seriously, how can one be "libertarian" and oppose marriage equality? I know the "tea party" set is making "libertarian" cool again, but last I checked, Rick Santorum is not "libertarian".

OK, so Professor Susan Meld Shell isn't consistent in her "libertarian" beliefs. What's the big deal? Honestly, this is the even bigger deal: This lecture is being bankrolled by the Koch family.

Remember the Kochs? They've only been lifting up radical teabaggers and astroturfing them to positions of prominence and power across the country.

And they're not hesitating to buy themselves even more power by buying even more Presidential, Congressional, and state level candidates this year.

But wait, there's more. The Koch empire isn't stopping at electoral politics. It's now injecting its extreme "tea party" ideology into college campuses throughout the country.

What’s happening to academia in Florida demands national attention. Billionaires Charles and David Koch are infringing on intellectual freedom and independence in colleges and universities. It’s an old fashioned quid pro quo where the Koch brothers get allied professors who’ll preach Ayn Rand, supply side economic policies and the values of the 19th century Guilded Age to students and the college gets some funding.

Every year, thousands of individuals move through the Koch-supported classes, lectures and fields of study, which in their totality amount to an ideological assembly line bought and paid for by the Koch brothers. There are Koch-funded agreements at more than 150 American colleges and universities.

“The Koch brothers have paid tens of millions of dollars to get their point of view instilled in classrooms, amongst faculty members and in students,” said Cary Nelson, President of the American Association of University Professors. “Programs they start tend to be one point of view only.”

The Koch brothers’ business has annual revenue that are about 200 times the size ($100 billion) in one year than the entirety of Florida State University’s endowment ($423 million). At a time when governors like Florida Gov. Rick Scott are slashing spending on education, colleges and universities are virtually forced into restrictive and ideological funding agreements with questionable sources to meet students’ demands. Instead, they’re meeting the Koch brothers needs and the students are paying the intellectual price.

Enter the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, which has given more than $14.39 million in grants to universities like Florida State, Auburn, Clemson, West Virginia and Utah State. All five campuses are in financial agreements with Koch-supported groups requiring the university to hire candidates who adhere to defined ideological guidelines. In some cases, the Koch-supported groups recommend candidates to the faculty or have sway over the college’s hiring committee.

OK, so now this s**t is starting to look scary... But why should we worry? After all, we're Nevada. Do we even have higher education?

Well, that's actually the point. We DO have higher education... And we need to strengthen it, not sell it to Koch Industries for mere pennies on the dollar. Just last October, alarm bells went off at UNR as it looked like the Kochs were about to set up their own teabagger indoctrination camp "center" in Reno.

Earlier this month, a news release went out from a Center for Public Policy Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. The wording of the release made it appear that the Center already exists: “The Great Recession, fiscal distress, and respective policy responses have rekindled intense debates about the appropriate roles of government and the private sector in fashioning economic outcomes, at both the macro and micro levels. Political rhetoric about the causes and consequences of government intervention has been fierce, yet our academic institutions have been largely mute in these debates due to an absence of a central, recognized forum for policy research and development. To fill this void, a center for Public Policy Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno will be a nexus for rational public policy debate on critical issues facing Nevada, our region and our nation.”

The release also reported that “the Koch Foundation has recognized the commitment we are seeking and has agreed to increase the impact of your support by offering to match the first $1 million (subject to Regents’ approval and satisfactory agreement on final terms).”

This set off alarm bells. There are several Koch Foundations, but this one is the Charles G. Koch Foundation, which has a history.

Charles and David Koch are the sons of Fred Koch, a founder of a gargantuan industrial conglomerate in oil, gas and chemicals. The two sons have provided funding to a wide variety of libertarian and private enterprise political organizations, and David was the Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate in 1980. Among the organizations funded by Koch money are FreedomWorks, the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, Patients United Now (which opposes a single-payer health care system) and the anti-environment group Citizens for the Environment. [...]

The Reno news release named faculty for the Center for Public Policy Studies: Economists Brad Schiller, Mark Pringle, John Dobra, Thomas Cargill and Gerald O’Driscoll. The first four are among Nevada’s top economists (O’Driscoll is with the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.). All are conservatives.

The news release referred inquiries to UNR College of Business development director Kristen Kennedy, but she knew little about the proposed Center and referred calls to Dean Gregory Mosier.

Mosier said the Center did not yet exist and its creation depended on several things that have yet to unfold. He said the project is in a very early stage: “We don’t have a single piece of paper other than that [news release] … We don’t have a single thing in writing.”

Fortunately, it turned out that the proposal for a "Center for Public Policy Studies" that only seems interested in "studying" radical right policies of privatized everything was just that: a proposal, and a proposal that doesn't seem to be going anywhere at the moment. Thanks to the early outcry and righteous outrage over allowing the Kochs to stomp on academic freedom at UNR, the project to install the Koch's new Northern Nevada outpost seems stalled at the moment. However, don't discount the Koch family's ability to revive the project and tempt UNR with grant money (with plenty of ideological strings attached) some time soon.

But for now, it looks like the Kochs have turned south and turned their focus to UNLV. First, we see UNLV College Republicans chief and local Koch/"tea party" darling Mark Ciavola running for UNLV Student Body President. And now, we're seeing this Koch funded lecture pop onto the schedule. What's going on?

Now before I hear any accusations of "CENSORSHIP!!!", let me say this. I'm not out to censor anyone, not even some "Tea Party, Inc." backed "libertarian" Boston College professor who's not really a "libertarian" and not into recognizing civil rights for queer folk. Sure, she and other Koch allies can have their platform. However, the Kochs have no right to buy their way into power at UNLV and UNR and force their platform to become the only acceptable platform in Nevada higher education. We at Nevada Progressive will be keeping a close eye on both UNLV and UNR to ensure the Kochs and "Tea Party, Inc." don't attempt to shut out free speech and academic integrity and/or shove their radical right "tea party" agenda down any throats at any of Nevada's colleges.

So if you still plan to attend tonight's lecture, go ahead and do it... Then come here and let us know how it went. And if you're concerned about "Tea Party, Inc." injecting its ideology into Nevada higher education, join our friends at MoveOn for a rally outside the lecture tonight to demand that UNLV maintains its commitment to providing a free exchange of ideas and points of view from across the ideological spectrum. Hopefully starting today, we can protect Nevada's institutions of higher learning from "Tea Party, Inc." corruption.

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