There is a frightening but fascinating article over in the Washington Post this week. In Professor: A disturbing story about the influence of the Koch network in higher education, Valerie Strauss presents an essay by “Matthew J. Garcia, who was the director of Arizona State University’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies from 2012 to 2017.” The operative word there being “was.” He left Arizona State for Dartmouth after “the establishment of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. He is now a professor of history and Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies at Dartmouth.”
Why did he leave after opening of a new school? Because it wasn’t a new school. It was a front for a Koch Brother ultra-Rightist operation meant to indoctrinate young people in “libertarian” (i.e., plutocratic) ideology. Or, to put it another way, the whole point of the “School” was to brainwash as many people as quickly as possible.
It was for that reason that Garcia quit in disgust (no easy decision in an age when academic jobs are few and far between). But, he says, he had to do it. “The entire affair sickened me as I watched it unfold,” he writes. “When I raised concerns with fellow administrators and discussed the consequences of the new school with my faculty, a dean accused me of ‘making war’ against the president. The experience disillusioned me about ASU and led me to take a faculty position elsewhere. Since my departure, ASU’s faculty senate has mostly submitted to these incursions.”
He also points out that things like the Koch Brother’s pseudo-school, which is part of a much larger effort on the part of the Far Right and its Dark Money Overlords, is almost fantastically dangerous to education in general, and to the arts and sciences in particular. “The creation of ideologically driven schools such as the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at taxpayer expense bodes ill for public universities,” he says. “It signals an intentional new front in the culture wars to undermine the foundations of the humanities and social sciences as we know them.”
There is some good news, though. Apparently, there is starting to be some push back as humanists and other academics realize just what kind of strings come attached to Koch money. “Yet, encouragingly, faculty elsewhere, including at the University of Utah and the University of Arizona, have begun to raise strenuous objections to this kind of circumvention of standard governance and tampering with curriculum by wealthy donors and allied state legislators that seek to use public universities as an incubator for the next generation of partisan politicians,” he says.
So, once again, we face the grim reality. You can take Koch money if you want, but it comes at the price of your soul. And this is as true in the academe as it is everywhere. You cannot court the corrupt with out being corrupted yourself.
The Little Professor