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The Koch-funded “Political Theory Project,” founded at Brown University in 2003, has come under closer scrutiny in recent weeks.
The critique comes from an anonymous faculty member who worked with the advocacy group UnKoch My Campus to speak out against what the academic says, in a blog post published Jan. 23, is a nationwide and “unabashedly political project to advance the interests of the rich and powerful.”
The article, meticulously researched with 34 end notes, connects the larger Koch-backed effort at American colleges and universities to the specific project at Brown, which the unnamed professor argues has opened the door for “radically” conservative, free market influence on the Providence campus.
“One of the lesser-known Koch think-tanks is the Political Theory Project, which is hidden away in the ‘Liberal Ivy,’ Brown University,” the post reads. “Libertarian professor John Tomasi founded the Center, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Charles Koch Foundation. As the first Ivy League school to allow a Koch-funded center on campus, the Project serves as a beachhead of the Koch network among elite Northeastern Universities.”
When contacted through Ralph Wilson, co-founder of UnKoch My Campus, the professor declined to speak further about the post. Wilson said his organization confirmed the writer is a faculty member at Brown.
“[T]hat article was based entirely on internet research,” the author said in an email to Wilson in response to the request. “[T]ell him that I put everything I know in that article, and direct him towards the undergraduate journalists who are working on this. They’ll know more about the effects of the center, and resistance to it.”
The professor sought anonymity, the blog post said, because “university leaders are evaluated on how much money they raise, so they will not look kindly on faculty who draw attention to the unsavory nature of their donors.”
UnKoch My Campus provides resources to campus activists concerned about the creeping influence of conservative ideology at their schools, including a link to a Greenpeace database detailing Koch-funded efforts at American colleges and universities.
According to Greenpeace, a prominent environmental organization, and information provided by Wilson, the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation has donated more than $1.5-million to Brown University since 2008.
A recent Internal Revenue Service 990 form, a document that makes public information about tax exempt institutions, shows the foundation donated $78,000 to Brown University for “general operating support” in 2016, and $653,442 to the Political Theory Project that same year, also for “general operating support.”
“[I]t not only continued in 2016, but it nearly doubled,” Wilson said via email.
When reached by email, Tomasi, the director of the Political Theory Project (PTP), said, “I did see that piece on UnKoch. It is not very accurate and, as you note, UnKoch posted it anonymously.”
“PTP has a longstanding policy of disclosing our main donors on our website,” he continued. “Brown also publicly discloses major donors…Finally, we make no apologies for bringing Noam Chomsky to Brown, nor for including his photo on our website. That was one of our best events ever. We bring many controversial speakers to campus, especially as part of our popular Janus series.”
The blog article posted at unkochmycampus.org also mentions the photo of Chomsky, a left-leaning political theorist, but calls it “a smokescreen.”
“Tomasi and co. are of course fully aware that their extremist ideology is anathema to most people at Brown,” the anonymous writer said, “and they thus run the Political Theory Project as a kind of covert operation in which the coexistence of radial right-wing thought with other ideologies serves to legitimate the former.”
The Institute For Humane Studies (IHS), a Koch-backed group at George Mason University, previously awarded Tomasi its annual Charles G. Koch Outstanding Alum Award “after distinguishing himself as a force for change at Brown University,” according to an announcement on the institute’s website.
Tomasi, the site says, benefited from “more than a dozen IHS fellowships, grants, and career-development programs as he completed an MA at the University of Arizona and a DPhil at Oxford University in the U.K.”
“A popular professor who was also an active participant in campus debate about the Brown educational experience,” the website reads, “John launched the Political Theory Project in 2003 ‘to invigorate the study of institutions and ideas that make societies free, prosperous, and fair.'”
Wilson, the co-founder of UnKoch My Campus, says the donation efforts by Charles Koch and his allies are disguised as altruistic gifts but, in reality, serve as academic Trojan horses with the long term goal of directing American political thought. Wilson says the ultimate effect could be the further undermining of U.S. democracy.
He pointed to two lectures at Brown as evidence of the Political Theory Project’s insidious effect on the Ivy League campus:
– The “We, the Insured: Is the Healthcare Mandate Constitutional?” guest speaker event in Sept. 2011. A web posting advertising the talk includes the disclosure “Special thanks to the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation.”
– And “Affirmative Action: Should Universities Consider Race in Admission?”, a guest lecture from Sept. 2013, sponsored by the Political Theory Project with “[a]dditional funding provided by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.”
Brown also listed Charles Koch’s foundation on its 2012-2013 donor “Honor Roll” and directed members of the school’s community to the “2008-09 Koch Associate Program,” described on a Brown list serve as “a unique Washington, D.C. career opportunity…designed to develop promising leaders and entrepreneurs interested in liberty and a career in the non-profit arena.”
“The Political Theory Project is just one node in a massive and well-funded network working to dismantle the redistributive apparatus of the state and justify the sale of essential public services to the wealthy,” the blog post by the anonymous Brown professor reads. “Far right economic thought is correctly dismissed by mainstream academics as a poorly disguised attempt to justify the economic power of the ultra-wealthy. Koch money thus plays an essential role in maintaining a toehold for radically elitist ideology in U.S. academia.”
Alex Nunes is an independent journalist based in Rhode Island. He has contributed reporting to NPR, Rhode Island Public Radio, The Providence Journal, and The Day of New London, Conn., among other news organizations. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a bachelor’s in sociology from Rhode Island College.
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