Billionaire’s Donation Stirs Up Controversy at Catholic University
Scholars at Catholic University and opponents from other Catholic institutions are urging the university to reject a $1 million donation by the Charles Koch Foundation, wary of the influence that the conservative billionaire brothers could have on Catholic’s teaching.
Mother Jones reported that opponents sent the university’s leadership a letter on Monday stating that the contribution could "send a confusing message to Catholic students and other faithful Catholics that the Koch brothers' anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing of a university sanctioned by Catholic bishops."
Koch Industries, run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, is one of the largest corporations in the country, with annual revenues of $115 billion. It is well known for championing the free market while opposing environmental regulations, operating in industries from oil and petroleum to synthetic fibers to cattle ranching.
The brothers are known for bankrolling libertarian and conservative politicians, and are vocal about his anti-government views.
Charles Koch has a history of cutting big checks to educational institution, sometimes with the hope of altering the agenda, reported. He or his foundations have given $30 million to 221 colleges and universities form 2007-2011.
Koch pledged $1.5 million to Florida State University in May 2011, specifically for the funding of positions in the economics department to promote "political economy and free enterprise."
An article in the Tampa Bay Times reported that Koch would vet all candidates and that the foundation could withdraw its support at any time, remarking, “Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they've funded… Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control.”
Opponents of the Koch donation to Catholic say that the foundation is at odds with the university’s humanitarian goals and support for the rights of workers. The progressive Christian group Faithful America has so far gathered 28,000 signatures in support of rejecting the donation.
Mother Jones reported that the bishops on Catholic University’s board have recently shifted their focus moved more towards political conservatism and less on social issues. It will not support groups that also support gay rights or Obamacare, for example, despite other social goals that the bishops may agree with.
The university’s academic community brought Person of the Year Pope Francis into their argument, stating, "While the Koch brothers lobby for sweeping deregulation of industries and markets, Pope Francis has criticized trickle-down economic theories, and insists on the need for stronger oversight of global financial markets to protect workers from what he calls 'the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.'"
The university stated bluntly that it "has no intention of revisiting its decision to accept the grant from the Charles Koch Foundation." It pointed out that other institutions like Notre Dame and Holy Cross also receive money from Koch, and that the foundation will not dictate who’s hired or what they teach.
"The aim of the Charles Koch Foundation grant—to support research into principled entrepreneurship—is fully consonant with Catholic social teaching," the university wrote.