A Risk for Academic Integrity

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.

 

DSC_0276

(A shot of the business and economics building)

 

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(a shot of Exploratory Hall and Enterprise Hall)

infographic
Top 4 universities provided with Koch Brother donations and The distribution of money from the Koch Brothers.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

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

 

 

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Who’s the victim?

Recently, I have become more aware of the ignorance directed towards the importance of the environment and the various things that affect it. One of things I am speaking of, is the excessive use of technology. Now, I have to be completely honest and admit that even though I was aware of the environmental impacts of technology I wasn’t completely aware of the size of the impact. In the reading titled, “Dark Clouds” the author mentions that “According to Maxwell and Miller (2012a, 3) by 2007 between 20 and 50 million of e-waste were generated annually…” (Mosco, 127). Reading this was absolutely mind boggling, because it’s easy to comprehend that dumping trash into the ocean or driving a car every day causes endangers the environment, but using a cellphone or computer every day has the ability to do that as well. These aspects of our daily lives are causing immense amounts of “stress on the environment” (Mosco, 128). By exploring these impacts on the environment, another side of journalism will be discussed as well as the impacts of the environment on journalism.

I want to first tackle data centers. “A data center is a storehouse of information, the closest the Internet has to a physical vault” (Blum, 239). Before this reading, I don’t think I had ever thought about a data center and what it entails. Data centers contain all sorts of information, such as pictures, videos, documents, and pretty much everything else that ends up on the Internet. This is a very intense idea to digest, because it is difficult to think that most of the data we produce about ourselves ends up in this giant center of information with millions of other people’s information. Now that the basic concept of a data center is out there, it is time to delve into the various environmental impacts it has. Because it is a large source of power, it has to be powered by a lot of electricity, because in “Unsustainable Journalism” the International Energy Agency approximates 400 terawatts hour per year wasted, because of cell phones staying on (Miller, 654). To think that having a cell phone wastes that much energy is insane and then the idea of how much power is needed to power a data center is quite scary. In “Dark Clouds” an example of the hazardous behavior displayed by technology companies and data centers is discussed. “It did not take long for the wow to turn to pow when a Quincy citizens’ group took legal action against Microsoft for pollution spewing from forty diesel generators as is common at data centers…” (Mosco, 124). This is just one example of the dangerous actions conveyed by data centers and big companies dealing with technology.

In “Unsustainable Journalism” the negative impacts on the environment caused by technology is discussed, as well as how it ties into journalism. Because journalism has been in a decline for some time, at times the focus can be redirected to focus on other problems such as the environment. In this reading both of these concepts are addressed; environmental impacts and the conflicting point of interest. Even though it is important to note that e-waste is a big environmental problem, it often times steers the focus away from journalism and the impact that that has on our society. As Miller states, “… journalists should do less research, less travel, less interaction, less recording, and less writing…” (Miller 660) in order to become more “sustainable” but in terms this creates a negative impact on the journalism aspect. By retreating into these anti-tech ways of managing unsustainability, the world may be better off, but what would happen to all of the information journalists gather to further the knowledge of the public? There are so many aspects to journalism and the utilization of technology in society, and trying to have a main focus becomes more and more of a struggle with every passing year.

Even though I completely support action against the unsustainable practices of data centers and major companies, I also believe that there is more to the grand scheme of things that we sometimes forget, once the environment becomes a part of the equation. The elusive cloud and data centers carry a lot more baggage than is perceived through the media, but it is their job to draw the attention away from the harsh reality from the general public and to continue with what they know. What I find to be conflicting about the environment tied in with journalism, is that when newspapers were more popular there was the thought of deforestation, creating a bigger demand for digital journalism. However now that digital journalism has increased in popularity there is now the issue with e-waste, which also harms the environment. In this case I don’t think there is a clear winner, because either way the environment is at risk, but all we can do is be more aware and tweak the daily habits we have, starting with our cell phones and computers.

Blum, Andrew. Where Data Sleeps, “Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet.” New York: Ecco, 2012.

Mosco, Vincent. Dark Clouds, To the cloud: Big data in a turbulent world. Routledge, 2015.

Miller, Toby. Unsustainable Journalism, Digital Journalism. 3:5, 653-663, 2015.

The Students Speak Up

This article in the Huffington Post talks about the students at George Mason University suing the Koch Brothers for access to their records. After finding out what happened in Florida, the accusations pertaining to the actual intentions of the Koch Brothers raised a lot of concerns for the universities connected to any Koch Brothers’ donations. Within the article various students within the Transparent organization gave their thoughts on the subject and how we need to focus on what is really happening. Having the public’s interest at the forefront it is important when this is a public university, so the infringement of private interests disrupts everything. A student a part of Transparent GMU said, “When these donors give money, what do they get in exchange? We want to know what strings are attached. We want to ensure academic integrity in our curriculum,” offering a good point in which we need to look out for. Even if we don’t think the Koch Brothers have an influence on what we are learning, they do because they are such a vital contributor. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/davidhalperin/george-mason-students-sue_b_14660680.html

Filtered to the point of no return

Through the use of photojournalism the extent of reality then has the ability to become distorted to the public’s eye. Nowadays there are several ways to manipulate a photo to your preference such as Photoshop, Instagram, and VISCO. Before reading the articles: News Images on Instagram: the Paradox of Authenticity in Hyperreal Photo Reportage and Mini Camera and Maxi Minds: Citizen Photojournalism and the Public Sphere, I had never taken the serious impact of the manipulation of photos into account. Photography, in my mind, is viewed as a way of capturing a moment in time to further the knowledge to the public. However, photos aren’t simply put on display for the public as soon as it happens, and because of that there is room for manipulation and distortion to the authenticity of the photograph. This correlates with the term “hyperreal” which is “… a version of the world that is assumed to be real but it nonetheless distorted and exaggerated to the extent that it becomes hyperreal” (Borges-Rey 577). Now that this concept comes into play it becomes more difficult to distinguish the line in which not to cross. As we talked about hyperreal photos I started to think, “Is it better to have a hyperreal photo in circulation to the public or no photography at all? With this question in mind I found myself debating with the boundaries of photojournalism, so then I turned to the readings to help with that determination.

Often times the public relies on photography to dish out the cold hard truth with what is happening in the world. Before digital imaging was in practice, the photograph that was placed in front of you in the newspaper or on TV was, most likely, untouched and preserved its authenticity. On the other hand, it may not have been as clear as some of the images we see today used to circulate information. As Borges-Rey stated, “The presence of grainy pixels gives greater authenticity” (Borges-Rey 574) demonstrating how times have changed in the world of photojournalism. News reporting platforms such as CNN IReport has very clear images to go with their stories, but the extent of which it was manipulated is unknown to the public. This is a bit scary, because in a sense I feel like I am being lied to when looking for reliable news. According to Paschalidis,

“…. Seamless manipulation of photographs, he argues, would undermine photography’s long-established perception as “a generally trustworthy unbiased transcriber of reality” and shake public trust in the traditionally prized accuracy and veracity of journalistic and documentary photographs” (Paschalidis 637)

This quote encompasses the issue with the integrity when using photos in journalism nowadays and how it is difficult to know when to trust a source, because it can be so easily manipulated for the public.

Instagram and Photoshop are two outlets in which photos can become distorted and are commonly used in today’s society. I am quite fond of Instagram, but thinking back to all the times in which I utilized a filter to make myself look better or to make the background seem more vibrant to generate likes is disheartening. Photoshop has generated controversy over the years, because it’s been used to change the appearance of people’s bodies in order to sell a product or endorse an idea. Another example of distorting photos is through the use of Snapchat. Snapchat is known for having filters to enhance the “average” picture. Often times I will use filters to make myself look slimmer or to erase any imperfections on my face. By doing this I am messing with people’s perception of myself and that is something I am started to notice all over the media.

There are professional photographers and there are amateur photographers, a distinction is present, but today that distinction is being blurred. Even though I am still learning and understanding citizen journalism, I would have never thought about the implications toward photojournalism; even though photographs are so prominent in the news in which we see every day. The art of manipulation is practiced by most, whether it is inherent or accidental. As Paschalidis states, “The crisis of photojournalism due to digital imaging has been making headlines for the past three decades” (Paschalidis 637) showing the strong impact it has been having on society for some time. Ethics have even been questioned on this subject because as stated above, there are boundaries in photojournalism, but determining what is too far takes more investigation as photography becomes even more integrated into our society. Even though I am aware of photojournalism, there are so many aspects that need to be investigated to fully understand the dos and don’ts of photography used in journalism.

 

Borges-Rey, Eddy. “News Images on Instagram: The paradox of authenticity in hyperreal photo reportage.” Digital Journalism 3.4 (2015): 571-593.

Paschalidis, Gregory. “Mini Cameras and Maxi Minds: Citizen photojournalism and the public sphere.” Digital Journalism 3.4 (2015): 634-652.

A Positive Spin on things

While researching the connection between the Koch Brothers and George Mason University, I found an article on Daily Kos titled, “George Mason University President to Charles Koch: “I am nothing but incredibly grateful.” In this article it briefly gives an overview of the Koch Brothers and their many donations to schools across the United States including our very own university in Virginia. Then there’s a transcript of a conversation with President Angel Cabrera on the WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Show. During this conversation there are many tough questions on the influence of the Koch Brothers on the university and the staff. Of course, Cabrera keeps the focus on the positive aspects with the donations given by the Koch Brothers. A former staff employee also joins the conversation at one point in the show and offers the advice of making the Koch Brothers influence more public, instead of so much secrecy. Cabrera also mentions the involvement of the students, such as GMU Transparent, and how he admires their dedication to finding out the hidden knowledge about the Koch Brothers. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/4/9/1376491/-George-Mason-University-President-to-Charles-Koch-I-am-nothing-but-incredibly-grateful

Right beneath our noses

Another aspect I want to include in my part of the presentation is this group on George Mason’s campus called Transparent GMU (https://www.facebook.com/transparentGMU/). On their Facebook page they posted an article about the lawsuit filed against the Koch Brothers by some students at George Mason University. This article is found on WUSA 9, titled, George Mason Univ. in court over Koch donations, by Hilary Lane (http://www.wusa9.com/news/local/george-mason-univ-in-court-over-koch-donations/409577109). The students at George Mason express concern about the influence by the Koch Brothers and how it affects their education as a result. These large sums of money are tied to the donors in some way shape or form and that is concerning, considering what has happened to other universities with the Koch Brothers. This group on campus was formed around the mission statement, “We aim to shed light on the potential undue influence of GMU donors. We are calling on GMU to ensure academic freedom and integrity is upheld.” Although there is evidence about the Koch Brother’s influence on other schools, it is important to know what is happening in our own backyard.

Koch Brothers deterring Mason student

Throughout this process of researching I will be focusing on the community of George Mason University, and how the donors and funding affect them. Throughout these past couple of years there have been considerable donations made to the school funding different departments, such as the economics department. One article that peeked my interest was on DESMOG, titled Koch Controversy at George Mason University: Student Abandons Economics Major, written by Connor Gibson on May 27, 2016 (found at https://www.desmogblog.com/2016/05/27/student-abandons-economics-major-over-koch-controversy-george-mason-university). This source is a blog type source, but I like that it includes some direct quotes from the student who quit the program unlike the Fourth Estate. This student, Mark Hammond decided that he did not want to continue in the economics program here, due to the overwhelming amount of influence from the Koch Brothers. Mark Hammond states, “Despite my interest in economics, I refuse to pay an incredible amount of money to receive a degree that has, when considering the precedent set at other universities, likely been shaped by our school’s highest bidder” (Desmog).  This gives a good example to include in the News Presentation, because it shows the effect it has had on George Mason students.

Involved citizens or wannabe Journalists?

 

The lack of citizen involvement in political discourse gives rise to the concept of citizen journalism and the decline of journalism. The Internet and technology, in general, is ever evolving, meaning that professions such as journalism have declined in our society. As journalism has declined, some of the information relayed from these sources has been now put in the hands of everyday people such as myself. Citizen journalism has been put into practice more often as technology becomes more advanced each year. However with the expanding internet, there is a lot of information that is circulating out there, but not everyone and everything is reliable enough to relay that knowledge to the public’s knowledge. Who’s to say we can trust just any citizen to tell us vital information that could possibly affect our lives. Take this past election for example, there were so many stories being thrown at the public and it became exhausting to decipher factual and contextual sources from the false and attention grabbing sources. What used to be a profession has now turned into taking a photo or video on an iPhone and then getting that information out as fast as possible to whomever reaches it first.

 

In this day and age, there are ways to disseminate information to the public, whether it is true or not, but rather focused on what is able to grab the public’s attention. Citizen journalism as discussed in Luke Goode’s article titled, “ Social News, Citizen Journalism, and Democracy” says, “…the definition of citizen journalism does not have completely settled boundaries” (Lasica, 2003). There’s a vast majority of people in this world with a phone or access to some sort of technological device, which has the ability to record and distribute information. As previously discussed in various articles, defining citizen journalism is quite difficult, because it can be viewed as simply as recording something on a phone or actually posting a comment or review on something that has happened. As Clay Shirky states, “The future presented by the Internet is the mass amateurization of publishing and a switch from “Why publish this?” to “Why not?”” (Shirky, 8). With the evolving presence of the Internet, citizen journalism has become a method in which the public has the ability to get some kind of information, without the restrictions and imitations that professional journalists deal with.

 

Luke Goode discusses that it is important to bring awareness to events that may be unknown to the public which in turn, “…constitutes a vital democratic function of professional journalism (and to a lesser extent, some variants of citizen journalism)” (Goode, 1290). I think that at times the public can be discouraged at the way aspects of our political system are handled, so the involvement begins to disappear.  I strongly believe that this is one of the reasons citizen journalism has become up and coming since the decline of journalism. With more and more people taking on some kind of responsibility with informing the public, the divide between good quality information and falsified information will start to blend to the point in which no one will be able to tell the difference. I do not think that we have reached that level in which the line is blurred indefinitely, but with the lack of involvement as citizens, there is a good chance that this may occur. The line of distinction is starting to fade and the lack of care and involvement doesn’t help.

 

 Goode and Shirky discuss journalism and the unfortunate lack of it as a profession, as the world becomes more involved in technology and the internet. Although Shirky does not specifically go into citizen journalism like Goode does, Shirky presents the idea that anyone can become a journalist, which is what I consider to be a part of citizen journalism, because people nowadays have the capability to spread information and make it known to the public. Political involvement is increasingly important in society calling for the need for an educated public, but determining who to trust for information is becoming increasingly important too. In Shirky’s article I was able to get a sense of what is happening to the profession of journalism and in Goode’s article I learned that citizen journalism is becoming more relevant in the public sphere. With both of these articles I am able to have a better grasp on how the decline of journalism has led to citizen journalism, which has the ability to affect political discourse and the public sphere as a whole.


 

Goode, Luke. “Social news, citizen journalism and democracy.” New media & society 11.8 (2009): 1287-1305.

 

Shirky, Clay. “Everyone is a media outlet.” Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations (2008): 55-80.