When The Heights reported news of the Boston College political science department receiving funding from the Koch Foundation, the reaction was unsurprising. Yet, I question those who express concern that this proposal will compromise BC’s Jesuit mission and values, and academic freedom.
Those in the opposition have pointed to George Mason University as a bad omen for what is to come at BC. At George Mason, it was alleged that the Koch Foundation violated academic freedom by having a direct hand in faculty hires in the economics department between 2006 and 2009. Contrary to that narrative, however, Angel Cabrera, George Mason’s president at the time, wrote in a 2018 email, “The gifts were in support of faculty positions in economics and granted donors some participation in faculty selection and evaluation. … The agreements did not give donors control over academic decisions, and all but the earliest of these agreements explicitly stated that the final say in all faculty appointments lies in university procedures.”
According to a statement by the Koch Foundation, the alleged “direct hand” in faculty hires consisted of merely recommending candidates. George Mason handled the rest of the hiring process, including vetting candidates and independently making the hiring decision. A recommendation is “some participation,” but is also nonbinding, and certainly not an instance of “direct influence over faculty hiring,” as has been frequently claimed. The Koch Foundation, neither at George Mason nor at any other university, has never infringed upon the academic independence or integrity of the institutions it supports. BC’s academic independence and integrity will not be corrupted by the Koch Foundation.
Funding plays a very important role in furthering BCs academic mission. It has become more important than ever to reconsider ways in which the United States will maintain national security in today’s deeply integrated world. As The Heights editorial board rightly noted, the Koch Foundation’s support enables the University to become a leader in an increasingly important field of research.
In my work with the Office of Student Involvement, I have learned the diligence with which the University works to ensure its independence and uphold our Jesuit values. The University has sufficiently scrutinized the fine print, and upon examining the George Mason case more closely, today’s proposal and the Koch Foundation’s support pose no threat to the academic freedom and integrity of the University.
To the political science department, Office of University Advancement, and all other involved parties, I hope you continue with this grant proposal. Do not allow yourselves to be bullied by the vocal masses. To my fellow students, let us all be freedom fighters. If we want to protect the academic freedom of professors at BC and other universities and colleges in the U.S. so as to freely pursue the truth, then efforts such as these must stop.
Jaehun Lee, MCAS ’21