As a part of the George Mason University community, understanding what that all entails is crucial in order to be an active community member. Being a part of this campus means we have the right to know about what goes on and its effect(s) on us as students. In order to be an active member of this community, no knowledge should be spared when it pertains in the ways in which we learn and receive an education. One aspect, which at times can be tricky to deal with, that doesn’t have as much student involvement, is the basis on which the school gets donations. In my own opinion, I can honestly say that I was unaware of a lot of information pertaining to this topic before I did some research. On the topic of donations, the Koch Brothers and their influence on this campus became a focal point in the midst of researching. With the amount of research in relation to the several claims and accusations made against the Koch Brothers, the researching process became quite interesting and intricate as the connection between the Koch Brothers and George Mason University was starting to grow.
For a little bit of background information, out of the $109.7 million to other schools across the United States, George Mason has received over $77 million within the years 2005-2014(DeSmog). With such an enormous sum of money donated, questions arose from teachers, students, and members of the community. In 2013, students founded a group called Transparent GMU, which is made up of students invested in the secrets surrounding the Koch Brothers influence and the various donations given to the school (Facebook.com/Transparentgmu). This group even has a Facebook page that describes their overall mission, their opinions, and upcoming events on campus. Their mission is, “to shed light on the potential undue influence of GMU donors. We are calling on GMU to ensure academic freedom and integrity is upheld.” (Facebook.com/Transparentgmu). Having a group like Transparent GMU brings awareness to the students on campus surrounding issues that have the ability to affect students and their academic freedom. This group exposes issues dealing with the academic integrity that coincides with the Koch Brothers’ influence.
In contrast to the students in Transparent GMU, President Cabrera provided an optimistic outlook on the whole situation of accepting large donations to the school. In one instance he went on an NPR station in Washington DC on April 8, 2015. Within this segment with President Cabrera talked with Kojo Nnamdi on the subject of the Koch Brothers. On April 9, 2015 an article titled, “George Mason University President to Charles Koch: “I am nothing but incredibly grateful” Cabrera said” came out. President Cabrera kept the focus on the positive aspects of purely having donations given to the school. Donations, generally speaking, are greatly appreciated, but at times unwanted political affiliations and ideologies may be attached, such as with the Koch Brother’s influence. This topic was touched on, on the NPR station, attempting to get to the bottom of the Koch Brother’s influence and the strings that may or may not be attached when they donate to a university.
There have been several examples regarding the generous donations from the Koch Brothers such as the George Mason University foundation, the Mercatus Center, and the Institute for Humane Studies (“George Mason University becomes a favorite of Charles Koch”). There has been a long standing relationship with the Koch Brothers and George Mason University due to people on certain boards and their connection to the Koch Brothers and then to the university. However, many people in the relation with the Koch Brothers have seen the fact that they support republican organizations rather than liberal organizations (“George Mason University becomes a favorite of Charles Koch”). I can see where it could be concerning to learn that the people funding your school are rooted in one political affiliation, such as the Republican Party, in contrast to their own ideology which differs from various liberal viewpoints. It then starts to beg the question, to what extent does it start affecting the values and integrity of others? “No, it does not bother me” Senator Chap Petersen stated in response to the Koch Brother’s influence (“George Mason has become a favorite of Charles Koch”). Even though this is one example, it could demonstrate the battling opinions on whether the Koch Brothers have a positive or negative effect on the campus within the community and as a whole.
An example of a negative effect of the Koch Brothers occurred in 2016 at the end of the spring semester. Mark Hammond, a sophomore at George Mason University, left the economics department, because of the looming Koch Brothers’ influence on the economics department. He believed that their influence was too large and having too much of an effect over this department which was affecting what he was learning in his classes and the curriculum taught by the professors (“Koch Controversy at George Mason University: Student Abandons Economics Major”). Throughout this article, by Connor Gibson, he introduces the concept that these donations may not have the best outcome in the long run with the students and he uses Mark Hammond as a perfect example. There are several students on this campus that do not know about the economic influences surrounding the university and how it has the potential to affect them. This article furthers the notion of violations concerning academic integrity and the importance of becoming aware of it.
With these events happening in the past couple of years, we are now in 2017 where GMU students are taking action and suing the Koch Brothers. Following the release of emails and other documents demonstrating the Koch Foundation’s influence at Florida State University. At this point the well-being of the public comes into play, because there are questions surrounding the fact that their best interest, meaning their status of integrity and morals, may not be the goal for the Koch Brothers. Because George Mason is a public university, having certain records and information private, stirs up the norm of what the public knows and raises questions as to how things are being taken care of (“George Mason Students sue for Records on Koch Donations”). Being a public university it is assumed that documents and records are open to the public, but with the Koch Brothers it just goes to show that not everything is public and secrecy still comes into play. Even though donations, are much appreciated, in almost any situation it undermines the public’s knowledge of where the money is coming from and how that might affect their classes or how the professor is told to run the class.
Throughout the research on the connection between the Koch Brothers and George Mason University, I learned only a portion of what seems like a long standing battle between the acceptances of these grand donations. There are several factors that play a part in how people perceive the donations to the school such as the ties to political affiliations, ties to people on various boards, and the past experiences with the Koch Brothers. There are both positive and negative aspects to the donations from the Koch Foundation. Some view the donations as bridging the gaps within the budget and then others see the possibility of having too much influence over teachers and the curriculum. However, I believe it is important to know what is happening within your own community, so that you can be a contributing member and express your opinion on how things operate within your school. Hopefully with Transparent GMU and the lawsuit, more George Mason Students will become aware of the Koch Brothers and their growing influence on the school.
(A shot of the business and economics building)
(a shot of Exploratory Hall and Enterprise Hall)
Barakat, Matthew. “George Mason University becomes a favorite of Charles Koch.” The Big Story. 1 April 2016. Web. Accessed 13 February 2017. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/613470e79eb64a5f9a4880996e0fd7c5/george-mason-university-becomes-favorite-charles-koch
Gibson, Connor. “Koch Controversy at George Mason University: Student Abandons Economics Major.” DeSmog Blog. 27 May 2016. Web. Accessed 8 February 2017. https://www.desmogblog.com/2016/05/27/student-abandons-economics-major-over-koch-controversy-george-mason-university
Gibson, Connor. “George Mason University President to Charles Koch: “I am nothing but incredibly grateful.” DailyKos. 5 April 2015. Web. Accessed 9 February 2017. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/4/9/1376491/-George-Mason-University-President-to-Charles-Koch-I-am-nothing-but-incredibly-grateful
Halperin, David. “George Mason Students Sue for Records on Koch Donations.” The Huffington Post. 9 February 2016. Web. Accessed 8 February 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/davidhalperin/george-mason-students-sue_b_14660680.html
Lane, Hillary. “George Mason Univ. in court over Koch donations.” WUSA. 18 February 2017. Web. Accessed 10 February 2017. http://www.wusa9.com/news/local/george-mason-univ-in-court-over-koch-donations/409577109