Universities and Donations – Western Carolina University

invisible hand What does a public university do when a donation to it comes with strings? This is the situation Western Carolina University finds itself in today as a $2 million donation is being given to it by a Charles Koch Foundation to establish a Center for the Study of Free Enterprise under BB&T bank sponsored department chair Dr. Robert Lopez.

Just to be clear, this is not the only donation ever made by a Charles Koch Foundation to a college or university, the “Koch brothers and their various funding arms awarded $108 million to 366 colleges and universities from 2005 to 2014 — with $19.3 million across 210 college campuses in 2013 alone — according to political funding analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies and Center for Public Integrity.” More and more, we can see moneyed and political interests making large donations no longer tied to just a name on a building in memory of that person: but, the donations are tied to a particular and current interest with an active participation. This is not only happening at universities or colleges, you can see conservative or other groups showing interest in think tanks such as CAP and Brookings for topics such as student loans and changing the law with regard to “mens rea.” The later being a direct attempt to change the law so as to protect their business. It is difficult for a college or a university, much less a think-tank, to accept a donation from an outside interest with ties to an ideology or interest without favoring it in the future.

In answer to WCU Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar questioning whether Faculty Senate Leader opinion really reflected the overall view of the faculty. “The Faculty Senate voted in majority opposing the establishment of this new center, which is consistent with what I have heard from the general faculty,” said Dr. Bill Yang, chair of the faculty senate rules committee. There does not appear to be a conflict here to what WCU Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar and what Senate Faculty Chair Dr. David. MCord said; “It is not a small stakes issue here. This is the academic integrity of the institution over the long run” and suggesting it is “fairly unique” to have the overwhelming majority of faculty take a stand one-way and the administration do the opposite.

In a subsequent interview WCU Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar claimed “the majority of written comments from faculty support the creation of a free enterprise center. She said only one-third of those who submitted comments opposed it.” According to an analysis of the written faculty responses by The Smoky Mountain News; “The written comments showed 20 were against the center, 14 were for it and three were in the middle.” Still a majority against the donation.

The Free Trade Center was originally pitched in August 2105 and Dr. Lopez was given the go-ahead to pursue the Center and construct a proposal with only the Provost’s and the Dean of the School of Business’s knowledge. Coming up for a vote to approve, both the Dean and the Provost came to “finally” realize they would need faculty input before the meeting and the planning stage. Coming out of the October 1st Provost Council meeting, it was decided to present the proposal to the faculty and on October 14 (don’t they have documented rules [like Robert's] for this stuff?) it was accomplished with a stipulation a decison was to be reached by the next Provost meeting November 1. The failure of the Dean, the Provost and Dr. Lopez to notify faculty members left something to be desired leaving a bad taste in the mouths of some as the process was hurried and not transparent.

One email as disclosed by the Smokey Mountain News gives the impression the center was a foregone conclusion as the administration was on board from the beginning or shortly after Dr. Lopez was given the go ahead. Dating back to late September, the email states; “The Chancellor would like for the proposal to be to the Board of Trustees by the last meeting of this semester. That means we will have to get this turned around and back to the Provost Council in a timely manner,” Dean Darrell Parker wrote in an email to Dr. Brian Kloeppel, the dean named to handle the faculty input process.

Ahhh, but there are University policy rules to be followed. The email “predates several steps outlined in university policy governing the creation of a new center or institute. Administration was already angling to have the center on the desk of trustees within a couple months, despite two rounds of faculty input still needed and a two-phased approval by the provost council.”

- “I am not aware of criticisms the policy wasn’t followed,” Lopez said. “This decision is the end of a process that from the very beginning was transparent and inclusive.”

- Wardell Townsend, chair of the WCU board of trustees, said university policy related to the center’s creation was followed, based on what he was told by the provost.

- Provost “Morrison-Shetlar said in an interview the policy was ‘followed to the letter.’”

So much for the complaints of the faculty about not following policy and it being truncated.

The process to start a Center for Free Enterprise was well on the way by the time the faculty was informed. In early October, Distinguished Professor of Capitalism Dr. Lopez had already penned a job description “two months before the free enterprise center would come before the board of trustees for a vote” and the position would “participate in a new interdisciplinary center for free enterprise research.”

The position would be a part of the Center for Free Enterprise as the Gimelstob-Landry Distinguished Professor of Regional Economic Development. The position was also announced the previous year with no candidates found to fulfill the role. It was thought at the time the mention of a Free Enterprise Center may prejudice candidates and only those candidates of this mindset might apply. A concern by those opposing the center was the funders might influence who was selected to fill the professorship.

“As far as I’m involved, there is no chance that any donor will appoint any university personnel, full stop,” Lopez said.

References:

“WCU leaders, faculty at odds over Koch-funded free enterprise center” Smoky Mountain News, Becky Johnson

“WCU community grapples with academic pursuits in the face of politically-charged outside funding” Smoky Mountain News, Becky Johnson

” WCU chancellor pledges transparency, faculty involvement to vet controversial Koch money” Smoky Mountain News, Becky Johnson

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