Are uni­ver­si­ties trad­ing in their aca­demic free­dom when they ac­cept large do­na­tions from or­gan­i­sa­tions with par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal agen­das?

When uni­ver­si­ties ac­cept do­na­tions from en­ti­ties with par­tic­u­lar ide­o­log­i­cal stances, are they sac­ri­fic­ing aca­demic free­dom on the al­tar of Mam­mon? Whether the donor is Charles Koch or Ge­orge Soros, Paul Basken looks at how in­sti­tu­tions can keep their ind

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS -

Án­gel Cabr­era has set an al­most im­pos­si­ble task for him­self – and the rest of higher ed­u­ca­tion.

As pres­i­dent of Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity – peren­ni­ally the lead­ing aca­demic ben­e­fi­ciary of con­ser­va­tive im­pre­sario Charles Koch – Cabr­era has promised to an­swer the re­la­tion­ship’s count­less crit­ics by en­act­ing clear writ­ten guide­lines for pro­tect­ing the univer­sity’s aca­demic free­dom.

“Every­body wants this,” he tells Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion. Ex­ist­ing poli­cies for vet­ting do­na­tions at the Vir­ginia pub­lic univer­sity are “very vague” and “put fundrais­ers and deans at risk, be­cause they have to ap­ply their own judgement about what they think is ac­cept­able”.

His de­sire for a cease­fire in the long-run­ning Koch wars is un­der­stand­able. Charles Koch is a po­lit­i­cal light­ning rod: as great a bo­gey­man fig­ure for the Left as the bil­lion­aire in­vestor phi­lan­thropist Ge­orge Soros has be­come for the Right. Along­side his equally wealthy brother David, he has used his es­ti­mated $50 bil­lion (£39 bil­lion) for­tune to cre­ate and co­or­di­nate a maze of con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist ef­forts both overt and clan­des­tine, guid­ing like-minded wealthy donors in their sup­port of think­tanks, po­lit­i­cal lob­by­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, grass­roots-style pres­sure cam­paigns and more. The net­work planned to spend nearly $400 mil­lion on this year’s midterm elec­tions alone.

While Ge­orge Ma­son is by far the big­gest re­cip­i­ent of Koch’s aca­demic fund­ing, hav­ing re­ceived about 20 times more than any other in­sti­tu­tion, it is not alone in hop­ing to keep the money flow­ing while avoid­ing the taint.

The Koch case also shines a more gen­eral spot­light on the po­ten­tially prob­lem­atic na­ture of do­na­tions from en­ti­ties with par­tic­u­lar ide­o­log­i­cal stances. Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties

have un­der­gone sim­i­lar ag­o­nies over whether to ac­cept do­na­tions from the Ram­say Cen­tre for Western Civil­i­sa­tion, which is as­so­ci­ated with sev­eral prom­i­nent right-wing politi­cians, to fund a course in Western civil­i­sa­tion. The course’s ex­clu­sive fo­cus on Western civil­i­sa­tion has been de­cried by many aca­demics and the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity backed out last sum­mer on the grounds that the cen­tre was seek­ing to im­pose “ex­traor­di­nar­ily pre­scrip­tive mi­cro­man­age­ment” and to have a “con­trol­ling in­flu­ence” on cur­ricu­lum de­sign and staff ap­point­ments. Last month, the Univer­sity of Wol­lon­gong ran into con­tro­versy af­ter be­com­ing the first in­sti­tu­tion to ac­cept the A$50 mil­lion (£28.5 mil­lion) on of­fer for the de­gree and as­so­ci­ated schol­ar­ships without con­sult­ing its aca­demic se­nate or univer­sity coun­cil.

Back in the US, the Charles Koch Foun­da­tion – the in­dus­tri­al­ist’s unit for manag­ing his univer­sity do­na­tions – now do­nates more than $60 mil­lion a year to US higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, ben­e­fit­ing nearly 300 cam­puses. And, like Ge­orge Ma­son, many of those cam­puses are be­ing forced by pro­longed stu­dent and fac­ulty protests and court bat­tles to de­cide how much of it is worth­while.

The protesters may be win­ning, in the sense that Ge­orge Ma­son is among many uni­ver­si­ties now mak­ing clear that aca­demic in­ter­fer­ence of the type seen from the Koch Foun­da­tion will not be tol­er­ated. But as de­creased gov­ern­ment sup­port in­creas­ingly forces US uni­ver­si­ties to look for al­ter­na­tive sources of in­come, out­side fun­ders’ de­sire for some kind of con­trol over how their money is spent is also in­creas­ing, ob­servers sug­gest – and watch­dogs may find it even harder to iden­tify and flag up such in­flu­ence when it oc­curs.

“Donors want to be en­gaged in their phi­lan­thropy more than they have been, and that goes be­yond higher ed­u­ca­tion,” Lau­rie Leshin, pres­i­dent of Mas­sachusetts’ Worces­ter Polytech­nic In­sti­tute, told re­porters at a re­cent aca­demic round­table. That re­quires his in­sti­tu­tion to be “thought­ful about ev­ery gift that we get, and how we han­dle it”.

So far, he said, he has not en­coun­tered any ma­jor prob­lems. But Mark Becker, pres­i­dent of Ge­or­gia State Univer­sity, told the round­table that un­ac­cept­able donor de­mands had led him to turn down at least two mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar gifts. “We just said no,” he said.

Texas Tech Univer­sity had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence, ac­cord­ing to its pres­i­dent, Lawrence E. Schovanec, re­fus­ing a $15 mil­lion gift be­cause the donor wanted it to hire a par­tic­u­lar aca­demic to its fac­ulty. “I think that, in due course, that [donor] will come around,” Schovanec added.

In many cases, the push­back has broad sup­port. Dwayne Nel­lis, pres­i­dent of Ohio Univer­sity, said he wouldn’t al­low any donor to have aca­demic in­put be­cause “our fac­ulty would be ri­ot­ing – they don’t want any­thing to do with any­thing like that”. In other cases, con­tin­ued ex­ter­nal vig­i­lance ap­pears crit­i­cal. F. King Alexan­der, pres­i­dent of Louisiana State Univer­sity, said he recog­nises that the records of any pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion are sub­ject to po­ten­tial pub­lic dis­clo­sure. “Be­cause of you guys,” he said, re­fer­ring to jour­nal­ists, “we’re not go­ing to get caught in that web.”

That web has en­tan­gled the Koch Foun­da­tion in re­cent years, call­ing into ques­tion its long in­sis­tence that it in­tends no aca­demic con­trol. A se­ries of dis­clo­sures about both its con­tracts with its part­ner uni­ver­si­ties and speeches by Koch-fi­nanced aca­demics have re­vealed foun­da­tion ben­e­fi­cia­ries openly pur­su­ing Koch po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tives – and try­ing to re­cruit oth­ers to do the same.

In one case, Univer­sity of Kansas stu­dents suc­cess­fully sued to ob­tain donor con­tracts in­volv­ing Arthur P. Hall, a busi­ness school lec­turer who was one of the na­tion’s top re­cip­i­ents of Koch fam­ily money. The doc­u­ments re­vealed that Hall had pitched a re­search project that pub­licly would look like a rou­tine study of lo­cal pop­u­la­tion shifts, but whose real aim, he promised, would be to “pro­mote smaller gov­ern­ment”, largely by find­ing ex­am­ples of what can go wrong when tax­payer money is used to guide eco­nomic growth.

Sev­eral more such ex­am­ples were re­vealed at the 2016 con­fer­ence of the As­so­ci­a­tion for Pri­vate En­ter­prise Ed­u­ca­tion, a pop­u­lar gath­er­ing point for Koch-funded aca­demics. There, the watch­dog group UnKoch My Cam­pus recorded pro­fes­sors de­scrib­ing them­selves as us­ing the foun­da­tion’s money to se­cretly wage ide­o­log­i­cal war­fare on their cam­puses. There was also a pre­sen­ta­tion in which the Koch Foun­da­tion’s di­rec­tor of univer­sity in­vest­ments, Char­lie Ruger, told an au­di­ence of funded pro­fes­sors that he wanted to see their ideas ap­plied “across sort of an in­te­grated struc­ture of pro­duc­tion for cul­ture change”.

Other ses­sions in­cluded pro­fes­sors from Alabama’s Troy Univer­sity brag­ging that they had been us­ing funds from a Koch-backed Cen­ter for Po­lit­i­cal Econ­omy on cam­pus to in ef­fect “take over” some Troy aca­demic pro­grammes.

“We’ve had an ad­min­is­tra­tion that has kind of let us get away with a lot, as far as hir­ing peo­ple very rapidly and ram­ming through some of the cur­ric­u­lar kind of stuff,” one of the pro­fes­sors, Ge­orge R. Crow­ley, then chair of Troy’s eco­nom­ics de­part­ment, told the con­fer­ence.

The pub­lic univer­sity’s chan­cel­lor, Jack Hawkins Jr, re­sponded by or­der­ing the re­moval of Crow­ley’s chair­man­ship. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing more than $1 mil­lion in Koch Foun­da­tion sup­port since 2010, Troy has taken noth­ing since the 2014-15 aca­demic year.

Ge­orge Ma­son, with its record $129 mil­lion in Koch Foun­da­tion sup­port since 2005, has

been home to an es­pe­cially ac­tive op­po­si­tion. That re­sis­tance in­cludes a stu­dent-led law­suit seek­ing pub­lic ac­cess to the univer­sity’s donor agree­ments. Cabr­era’s re­sponses in­clude an in­ter­nal re­view that found sev­eral in­stances in which donor con­tracts – signed be­fore he ar­rived in 2012 – gave the Koch Foun­da­tion some level of in­put into fac­ulty hir­ing and re­ten­tion.

John C. Hardin, di­rec­tor of univer­sity re­la­tions at the Charles Koch Foun­da­tion, an­swered that with a writ­ten ac­knowl­edge­ment that such con­di­tions ex­isted, and a prom­ise that they no longer will. Cabr­era pledged to draft and im­ple­ment new guide­lines that would bet­ter pro­tect the univer­sity’s aca­demic in­de­pen­dence.

It re­mains un­clear, how­ever, how much pro­tec­tion a writ­ten pol­icy alone can pro­vide in­sti­tu­tions seek­ing to bal­ance left­ist op­po­si­tion to in­flu­encers such as Koch and rightwing hos­til­i­ties of the type that are forc­ing the Soros-funded Cen­tral Eu­ro­pean Univer­sity to re­lo­cate from Budapest to Vi­enna af­ter the Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment re­fused to cer­tify its le­gal sta­tus, leav­ing it un­able to ac­cept new stu­dents from Jan­uary.

The chal­lenge of donor in­ter­fer­ence goes back cen­turies. Some of the US’ most re­spected uni­ver­si­ties, in­clud­ing Johns Hop­kins, Stan­ford and the Univer­sity of Chicago, are them­selves donor cre­ations. It wasn’t long, said Ben­jamin Soskis, an ex­pert on non-prof­its and phi­lan­thropy at the Ur­ban In­sti­tute, be­fore the con­tro­ver­sies be­gan. One prime ex­am­ple is a de­mand by Stan­ford co-founder Jane L. Stan­ford that so­ci­ol­o­gist Ed­ward A. Ross be fired over a speech he gave in 1900, which was laced with anti-Asian racism.

Uni­ver­si­ties to­day de­ter such in­ter­fer­ence by set­ting ba­sic rules that make some egre­gious donor prac­tices and in­volve­ment clearly un­ac­cept­able, Soskis says. It does not seem pos­si­ble, how­ever, to write rules that will spare univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors the need to make nu­mer­ous yes-or-no de­ci­sions.

“That’s why they get paid the big bucks,” Soskis ob­serves.

The Charles Koch Foun­da­tion is far from the only donor that forces uni­ver­si­ties into mak­ing tough and po­ten­tially con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sions. First of all, it’s still rel­a­tively small. From giving $2 mil­lion across eight cam­puses in the 2005-06 aca­demic year, its do­na­tions mush­roomed to $62 mil­lion across 291 cam­puses and re­lated non-prof­its in 2017-18: the high­est spend­ing level yet. How­ever, anal­y­sis of the foun­da­tion’s lat­est an­nual re­port by UnKoch My Cam­pus re­veals that while 58 new cam­puses re­ceived Koch fund­ing in 2017-18, 63 oth­ers saw their sup­port ended. That marked the third straight year in which the foun­da­tion’s de­part­ing cam­pus part-

ners out­num­bered its new ones. More­over, $62 mil­lion pales in com­par­i­son with the more than $50 bil­lion in an­nual ex­ter­nal fund­ing re­ceived by US uni­ver­si­ties to fund var­i­ous types of re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

Still, there are at least a cou­ple of ma­jor char­ac­ter­is­tics of Charles Koch and his foun­da­tion that have at­tracted dis­pro­por­tion­ate at­ten­tion. One is his high promi­nence in both busi­ness and pol­i­tics, and his ap­par­ent at­tempts to have the lat­ter ben­e­fit the for­mer. A chief ex­am­ple in­volves his heavy in­vest­ments in fos­sil fu­els and other pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries, along­side his lead­ing role in pro­mot­ing po­lit­i­cal forces and aca­demic voices that dis­count en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and re­ject the sci­en­tific con­sen­sus on cli­mate change.

The sec­ond is his foun­da­tion’s habit of sign­ing donor con­tracts that for­bid pub­lic dis­clo­sure of the terms, while plac­ing au­thor­ity over who and what the grant is spent on in the hands of on-cam­pus po­lit­i­cal sym­pa­this­ers. That com­bi­na­tion of se­crecy and power has been a ral­ly­ing point for protests on var­i­ous cam­puses, in­clud­ing Ge­orge Ma­son’s.

The foun­da­tion has largely pleaded in­no­cent, say­ing that its ac­tiv­i­ties are sep­a­rate from Koch’s cor­po­rate and po­lit­i­cal af­fairs; that any con­trac­tual pri­vacy stip­u­la­tions are re­quested by the re­cip­i­ent; and that it seeks only to pro­mote a wider va­ri­ety of ideas in academia.

Univer­sity schol­ars, says the Koch Foun­da­tion’s Hardin, are the best peo­ple to de­cide what is­sues they should study and what con­clu­sions they should draw.

Hardin has cited as his model the “Repub­lic of Sci­ence” con­cept of chemist and philoso­pher Michael Polanyi, who imag­ined aca­demic sci­ence as an eco­nomic mar­ket­place where re­search dol­lars reach the best schol­ars and ideas, as de­ter­mined by sci­en­tific con­sen­sus.

Yet that sys­tem al­ready ex­ists, in the form of peer-re­viewed grant awards. By con­trast, the Koch Foun­da­tion makes its own choices of aca­demic part­ners and, ac­cord­ing to Hardin, does not typ­i­cally read their work. In­stead, he ex­plains, the foun­da­tion’s de­ci­sions on whether to re­new grants are based largely on whether the re­cip­i­ent meets goals, such as num­bers of stu­dents en­rolling in a class or at­tend­ing a speech, or the num­ber of re­search pub­li­ca­tions pro­duced.

Yet Cabr­era de­fends the Koch Foun­da­tion as “by far one of the most hands-off” donors he has en­coun­tered. He sug­gests that on­go­ing crit­i­cisms of Koch con­tracts largely re­flect dis­plea­sure with Koch’s per­sonal pol­i­tics. The con­tracts iden­ti­fied in the Ge­orge Ma­son in­ves­ti­ga­tion “were not out­ra­geous: they just raised ques­tions.” Still, af­ter learn­ing of them, “I didn’t think those agree­ments were OK. I thought those agree­ments were prob­lem­atic.”

Assess­ing the over­all value of Koch money to his in­sti­tu­tion, Cabr­era be­lieves “we are a bet­ter univer­sity when we have a di­ver­sity of ideas”. But he de­nies that he is “on a quest to cor­rect any­thing, or to bal­ance any­thing” in terms of anti-Right bias in academia. He de­fends the in­tegrity of his in­sti­tu­tion’s as­so­ci­a­tion with the Koch Foun­da­tion chiefly in terms of the rep­u­ta­tional rank­ing of its eco­nom­ics de­part­ment – the chief re­cip­i­ent of Koch fund­ing – which is home to two No­bel lau­re­ates. “This is not a crappy, ma­nip­u­lated de­part­ment,” Cabr­era says.

In­deed, the rep­u­ta­tional heft of Koch ben­e­fi­cia­ries con­tin­ues to grow, from a base long dom­i­nated by Ge­orge Ma­son and smaller re­gional in­sti­tu­tions with in­di­vid­ual fac­ulty mem­bers de­voted to Koch’s lib­er­tar­ian affini­ties. The foun­da­tion’s top 30 re­cip­i­ents in 2017-18 in­cluded Har­vard, Rice and Stan­ford uni­ver­si­ties, the Univer­sity of Chicago and the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy. And while this may give the Koch Foun­da­tion more re­spectabil­ity, such heavy­weights also bring a stronger in­sti­tu­tional abil­ity to re­sist any ide­o­log­i­cal tug. Lead­ers at such in­sti­tu­tions, with their multi­bil­lion-dol­lar en­dow­ments, have pri­vately ridiculed the no­tion that their aca­demic mis­sions could be in­flu­enced by a few mil­lion dol­lars from a donor such as the Koch Foun­da­tion.

Yet it is not that sim­ple. Both Charles and David Koch are MIT grad­u­ates, whose char­i­ta­ble gifts to their alma mater – in­clud­ing a $100 mil­lion dona­tion to found the David H. Koch In­sti­tute for In­te­gra­tive Can­cer Re­search – dwarf the eight-year to­tal of about $1 mil­lion in Koch Foun­da­tion re­search grants to the in­sti­tute. That said, Charles Koch has been

grav­i­tat­ing in some high-pro­file cases to­wards em­brac­ing causes tra­di­tion­ally re­garded as lib­eral ones. Among the most de­bated is his en­er­getic ad­vo­cacy of crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form. Koch cites his frus­tra­tion with the deep racial im­bal­ances in US crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tions and sen­tenc­ing, but some scep­tics have suggested that, as the head of a com­pany often pe­nalised for en­vi­ron­men­tal and eth­i­cal vi­o­la­tions, Koch might also like to weaken the pur­suit of whitecol­lar crim­i­nals.

Koch’s al­lies fre­quently jus­tify his in­volve­ment in higher ed­u­ca­tion on the grounds that he is merely a con­ser­va­tive coun­ter­weight to Soros. But while Soros’ Democ­racy Al­liance does com­pete in many of the same broad ar­eas of US po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence, he doesn’t have an aca­demic-ori­ented coun­ter­part to the Koch Foun­da­tion. And while Soros’ Open So­ci­ety Foun­da­tions do fund work in higher ed­u­ca­tion, they gen­er­ally fo­cus on in­ter­nal struc­tural mat­ters, such as univer­sity gov­er­nance and stu­dent ac­cess, and op­er­ate al­most ex­clu­sively out­side the US – such as in Soros’ na­tive Hun­gary.

One likely ex­pla­na­tion for that dif­fer­ence in ap­proach, ac­cord­ing to Stan­ley N. Katz, pro­fes­sor of pub­lic and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs at Prince­ton Univer­sity, is that both Koch and Soros un­der­stand that US uni­ver­si­ties are al­ready “deeply lib­eral in­sti­tu­tions”. That, Katz says, leaves Soros with lit­tle need to do what Koch is at­tempt­ing within US bor­ders.

A spokesman for the Open So­ci­ety Foun­da­tions, Jonathan E. Kaplan, de­clined to of­fer any sug­ges­tions for how uni­ver­si­ties should as­sess out­side do­na­tions, say­ing the foun­da­tion re­jects any at­tempts to com­pare its work with that of Koch.

The Koch Foun­da­tion has made some of its own moves over­seas, but it is hap­pen­ing very slowly. Its first and largest re­la­tion­ship is with McGill Univer­sity in Canada, where $6,000 in grant money in 2010-11 has grown to $150,000 in 2017-18. An­other eight Koch re­cip­i­ents can be found in Canada, Aus­tralia, the UK, Liecht­en­stein and China, but most re­ceive just a few thou­sand dol­lars.

McGill does not make its Koch grant agree­ments pub­lic, and has faced some on-cam­pus grum­bling about the pos­si­bil­ity of hid­den po­lit­i­cal agen­das. Ja­cob T. Levy, the pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence re­ceiv­ing Koch’s grant sup­port, de­nies that. He says that the money is dis­trib­uted en­tirely among stu­dents, often for doc­toral and post­doc­toral fel­low­ships.

Levy has no over­all view on whether the grant terms should be made pub­lic, but notes that McGill rules for­bid any donor from choos­ing aca­demic per­son­nel, or dic­tat­ing course con­tent. He adds that Koch Foun­da­tion lead­ers seem very aware, from protests else­where, of the rep­u­ta­tional dan­gers of get­ting any­where close to vi­o­la­tions on those points.

But find­ing the right rules to cover all donor sit­u­a­tions may be im­pos­si­ble. Katz saw the over­rid­ing im­por­tance of lead­er­ship judgement in his own hir­ing. That story be­gins with a Prince­ton alumni group from the class of 1921 com­ing to the univer­sity in the late 1970s look­ing to en­dow a pro­fes­sor­ship in “free en­ter­prise”.

Prince­ton’s pres­i­dent, William G. Bowen, said the idea didn’t fit the univer­sity’s cur­ricu­lum, but suggested an al­ter­na­tive phras­ing – “the his­tory of Amer­i­can law” – that could sat­isfy both Prince­ton’s aca­demic ap­proach and the donors’ con­ser­va­tive philoso­phies. The donors agreed, but then asked that their funded po­si­tion be of­fered to Robert H. Bork, then the US so­lic­i­tor gen­eral, who later be­came a fed­eral judge and a highly con­tro­ver- sial and un­suc­cess­ful nom­i­nee for the Supreme Court. Bowen also re­sisted that idea, at least as a con­di­tion of the dona­tion. But he agreed to men­tion the sug­ges­tion to the his­tory de­part­ment, which was sub­se­quently un­der­stood to have of­fered the po­si­tion to Bork be­fore he in­stead chose to re­turn to Yale Univer­sity to teach law. Hence, the en­dowed pro­fes­sor­ship in the his­tory of Amer­i­can law and lib­erty went to Katz in­stead.

Katz be­lieves that Bowen “had the right prin­ci­ples” in seek­ing to pro­tect the univer­sity’s aca­demic in­ter­ests while se­cur­ing the dona­tion. “On the other hand, in the real world, he was will­ing to al­low the univer­sity to of­fer the chair to Bork, which is what the donors wanted. I think that’s the im­por­tant process: it’s not so much the prin­ci­ple, frankly, as the way it’s car­ried out.”

That sen­ti­ment ap­pears to have gen­eral sup­port on both sides of the Koch de­bate. McGill’s Levy be­lieves that for the pur­poses of weigh­ing whether to ac­cept pro­posed do­na­tions, “you have to have univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors who have a good sense of the aca­demic mis­sion and are able to ex­er­cise good judgement about what’s game-play­ing and what’s not”.

Saman­tha Par­sons, di­rec­tor of cam­paigns at unkoch My Cam­pus, feels very much the same. In the case of Ge­orge Ma­son, she says, Cabr­era clearly ac­knowl­edges the un­ac­cept­able na­ture of the in­sti­tu­tion’s past con­tracts, which gave the Koch Foun­da­tion a hand in aca­demic-re­lated de­ci­sions. Be­yond that, she con­tin­ues, uni­ver­si­ties in gen­eral will need to find some way – prefer­ably qual­i­fied ex­perts us­ing a com­mon vet­ting process – for mak­ing case-by-case as­sess­ments of com­pli­cated donor pro­pos­als.

Most US uni­ver­si­ties al­ready have a sin­gle sys­tem for eval­u­at­ing grants in the hard sciences, she says: “A win, to us, would be to see sim­i­lar pro­cesses in place for phil­an­thropic gifts.”

In dis­cussing his pledge to pro­tect his deans from hav­ing to make in­vid­i­ous de­ci­sions about do­na­tions, Cabr­era doesn’t di­rectly rule out im­ple­ment­ing some form of in­ter­nal ex­pert re­view. But he strug­gles to imag­ine what such a sys­tem might look like. Ul­ti­mately, he says, he’s con­cerned that it would, in ef­fect, re­quire a group of univer­sity re­view­ers to rule on the ide­ol­ogy of pro­posed grants.

“That is a po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tee,” he says. “And I’m never go­ing to ac­cept that.”

Such ide­o­log­i­cal polic­ing could also play into the hands of those who see uni­ver­si­ties as in­tol­er­ant of con­ser­va­tive view­points. In such febrile po­lit­i­cal times, uni­ver­si­ties would prob­a­bly be very wise to avoid giving their de­trac­tors such am­mu­ni­tion. The out­come of Charles Koch’s quar­ter-bil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment in US higher ed­u­ca­tion ap­pears likely to be a pe­riod of pro­longed, mar­ket-style push and pull.

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