Donations are commonly given to universities, and Ohio State is no exception. But an organization emerging from Suffolk University in Boston is looking to make students question the integrity of certain donors.
UnKoch My Campus, a movement that calls for more transparency from universities about where donated money goes, has grown nationally, and it focuses on donations from Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries.
Koch Industries is a Wichita, Kansas-based private conglomerate corporation involved in a variety of industries, including chemicals, biofuels, polymers and fibers, and more, according to its website.
According to the Charles Koch Foundation’s Form 990 tax filings for 2012 and 2013, the Koch brothers have pledged a total of $500,000 to OSU. A $100,000 gift has been donated in 2012 and 2013, and $300,000 is still promised.
OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said in an email that the pledged $500,000 will cover a senior lecturer of economics’ salary and benefits, and the pledge was booked in 2012.
The instructor teaches “approximately eight courses a year in the department on topics related to economic freedom and competitive markets, such as the history of thought, public finance, industrial organization and micro and macroeconomic principles,” Lewis said.
That instructor is senior lecturer Todd Nesbit.
Nesbit, who teaches six classes — three in the fall and three in the spring — said he works for OSU, not the Kochs, and he tries to keep politics out of the classroom and focus on teaching economics.
“My goal is to develop students, who certainly are critical thinkers, to really challenge all ideas,” Nesbit said. “Where they ultimately fall in terms of their positions on political issues, personal issues, anything, is up to them.”
The role he currently fills was held by someone else before he took the job in 2012, and the Koch money the department receives is meant to fund the position, not Nesbit himself, he said.
“There’s certainly a lot of misinformation about how these types of programs, from my understanding, impact academia,” Nesbit said.
Additionally, an extra $42,000 separate from the yearly pledge was donated across 2012 and 2013 as a gift for the “Economic Faculty Memorial,” Lewis said. The money is controlled by David Blau, chairman of the Department of Economics.
Activities suggested by the Koch brothers include “seminar presentations, graduate student research and travel, and faculty teaching,” Lewis added.
On the tax filings, descriptions such as “general support” and “educational programs” were listed under the purpose of the donations.
The UnKoch My Campus movement aims to bring more clarity and transparency to donations like these so students know where the money goes on their campus, said co-founder Kalin Jordan.
UnKoch officially works with nine colleges in the nation, including George Mason University, University of Central Florida and Utah State University. It also works informally with more than 10 other schools, meaning that there is no formal UnKoch My Campus chapter at these schools, but the organization still helps students through the process of requesting records and other information, Jordan said.
“We really support philanthropy and any kind of organization that wants to give to a university,” Jordan said. “But when the Kochs give, they have a very specific agenda set out and that agenda is to increase their political belief and their financial bottom line.”
According to a database curated by Greenpeace, which is based on the Koch’s 990 tax filings, the Koch brothers have given more than $68 million to more than 300 colleges from 2005 to 2013. The Koch brothers, who are tied for sixth on Forbes’ list of billionaires as of Sunday, are each worth $42.9 billion. Charles Koch, 79, serves as the CEO of Koch Industries, which is the second-largest private conglomerate in America. David Koch, 74, is the executive vice president of Koch Industries.
Suffolk University, Jordan’s alma mater, was given more than $700,000 to fund a think tank named the Beacon Hill Institute, which has authored reports that “discredit policies designed to mitigate climate change,” Jordan said in an email.
“They’re giving to a think tank that produces economic research, and a lot of the times, they’re studying energy policies, and those energy policies directly affect Koch Industries and their profits,” Jordan said. “So we’re seeing a link between their financial interests and … what they’re asking of when they donate to a university.”
The Kochs have also given $1.5 million to Florida State University after both parties agreed to let Koch representatives screen any new faculty members in the economics department, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Some OSU students are happy with the Koch brothers’ investment in the university.
“We’re happy to see investors putting their money into Ohio State. It’s within each individuals’ right to decide what they do with their money and we’re glad the choice is being made to put it into our education system,” said Levi Cramer, a second-year in political science and a spokesman for the OSU College Republicans.
The Koch brothers are known for backing strong capitalist and libertarian ideas.
The OSU College Democrats did not respond to a request for comment.
The UnKoch My Campus movement’s ultimate goal is transparency between the university and the faculty, staff and students regarding donations from private entities, Jordan said, and the Kochs are the focus of the movement because of how much they have donated.
“The reason we chose to focus on the Kochs is because they’re doing something unlike any other private donor is doing on college campuses as far as … how they’re supporting those universities, which is with particular strings attached to their donations,” Jordan said.