By Susan Shand
03 June, 2018

The Charles Koch Foundation is increasing its donations to colleges and universities.

The Associated Press examined the foundation's most recent tax records. The study found that the organization gave almost $49 million to more than 250 colleges across the U.S. in 2016. That is almost double its 2015 gift amount.

John Hardin is director of university relations for the Koch Foundation. He said the increase is a result of increasing knowledge of the foundation's program of giving. He said more professors are requesting money for their research. Hardin also said schools receive more money as their relationships with the foundation grow. So, schools that got gifts of a few thousand dollars five years ago now might receive hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars.

Hardin said aid requests cover research in economics, criminal justice and free expression.

FILE - Students at the Johnson Student Center at George Mason University
FILE - Students at the Johnson Student Center at George Mason University

George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, a public school, receives more money from the Koch Foundation than any other learning center. In 2016, the organization gave GMU more than $19 million. That amounted to almost 40 percent of the foundation's total gifts that year.

Critics have questioned whether the Koch Foundation support has affected independent thought and study at the university.

GMU's president, Angel Cabrera, and other school administrators have repeatedly said the money has not had such an effect.

But, on April 27, Cabrera sent a letter to GMU professors that suggests something different. He wrote of agreements between the foundation and the GMU research center, Mercatus. Cabrera said the agreements permit the Koch Foundation to take part in deciding which professors to hire. The agreements, in his words, "fall short of the standards of academic independence I expect any gift to meet."

Information about the agreements was released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

The Koch Foundation and GMU have had ties for many years. However, the relationship did not become well-known publicly until 2016, when GMU renamed its law school for conservative Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia. It acted after receiving a $10 million gift from the Koch Foundation.

Cabrera now has agreed to reexamine all GMU donor agreements.

George Mason University is just one of many schools that are examining their Koch Foundation money ties. Ralph Wilson is research director for the nonprofit group, unKoch My Campus. He said the Koch Foundation's activity in higher education "has grown exponentially" over the years. But Wilson said more and more schools are questioning the donations.

At Chapman University in Orange, California, students are questioning the school's president, Daniele Struppa, about gifts from the Koch Foundation. It gave Chapman $225,000 in 2016 and is to give the school $5 million to build a center for political economy and philosophy.

Struppa is a former official at Mason.

In a statement, Struppa said that Chapman's agreement with the Koch Foundation is not like Mason's, adding that the school's professors have the right to ask the Koch Foundation for money to support their research.

Chapman and the Koch Foundation agreed this week to let a reporter from the student newspaper, The Panther, see the donor agreement and ask questions about it. However, the reporter will not be permitted to take written notes about the agreement's terms or take any pictures or make copies of it.

At Utah State University, in the town of Logan, a group of professors was asked to oversee a $25 million Koch Foundation gift. The money is to be used to grow the university's business school and create a Center for Growth and Opportunity.

And at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, professors asked the administration to reject $3.7 million in Koch Foundation money.

Koch Foundation official John Hardin acknowledged that gifts are facing increased examination. He blamed it on a small number of activists who are trying to, in his words, "find ways to harass and try to censor" research.

He said, "We find that deeply troubling."

He said the foundation will continue to support schools even if some professors and others raise objections.

I'm Susan Shand.

The Associated reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

foundation n. an organization that is created and supported with money that people give in order to do something that helps society

exponentially adj. very fast

acknowledge - v. to say that you accept or do not deny the truth or existence of something

harass - v. to annoy or bother someone in a constant or repeated way

censor - v. to examine books, movies, letters, etc., in order to remove things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society