Head-to-Head: MSU Economic Research Center

Koch Funded Economic Center Overdramatized
by Jason Campbell

MSU has recently been awarded $5.7 million for conducting economics research, a great boon for furthering the university’s research ambitions. The catch is that the money was given out by the Charles Koch Foundation, whose founder and namesake is known for funding Republican candidates and causes. This has caused some to be against MSU receiving the grant money, as it is viewed as tainted. This is utterly ridiculous, as there are numerous reasons that the money will fund legitimate research, and this money will do much more to help than harm.

The most important thing to have faith in is the people conducting the research. These are professors laying their professional reputations on the line with every piece of research they produce, and they likely have no interest in producing results just to fit a narrative. Even if the money is earmarked for researching topics favored by the foundation, the results will be objective as certified by the peer-review process.

The Koch Foundation will want to avoid removing funding due to lack of desired results or being exposed as overtly guiding research, though. They are putting their reputation on the line, not as an objective foundation, but as one that universities can work with and form a partnership with. If the Koch Foundation does anything untoward, that will weaken their overall effort to make economic suggestions and will deliver bad publicity to the organization.

Even if the research is pointed in a conservative direction, this is hardly a worst case scenario. No matter what our political affiliation, the priority should be the truth, and even research started with a political agenda leads to truth as long as an honest process is followed. It is valuable for either side to add more facts to their argument, so that less subjective decisions can be made by both voters and the government. This reasoning will lead to objective research, which leads to the possibility of conservative arguments being weakened by the research done with these funds. This outcome is one that those who are opposed to the grant should certainly be interested in.

While MSU will always be a location of varying views possessed by its students and faculty, it should never explicitly endorse one political ideology or the other, in order to serve the largest amount of people. Accepting research money from the Charles Koch Foundation does not cross that line, as the research should maintain objectivity through the research process, the Koch Foundation will wish to maintain the objectivity of the research, and because of the usefulness of the research to every political perspective. In this case, MSU should prioritize being a campus of developing knowledge over avoiding controversy.

Montana State’s Research Integrity Not for Sale
by Abby Klonsinski

In a world where nearly everything is on sale, the integrity of educational universities should not be up for bid. Recently, Montana State University administration began the process of deciding whether or not to accept a $5.7 million grant from the Koch Foundation that would be used to create an economics research center. While this sounds like an easy choice – why not accept nearly six million dollars? – that’s not the case here.

The Koch Foundation has a reputation for being controversial and shady, especially in terms of handing out money. The organization was founded by brothers Charles and David Koch, both of whom have strong, specific ideologies. These beliefs include repeal of federal campaign finance laws, abolishment of the Postal Service because it “encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence” and revocation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Environment Protection Agency and many more organizations. This is all based on their fundamental belief that government should have little to no role in our everyday lives.

According to a PBS News Hour covering the pair, Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of the business, claims the company’s success is from his trademarked “Market-Based Management” strategy, which includes “hiring and retaining people with the right values.” This is worrisome for many reasons, but specifically because even if the Koch brothers themselves are not influencing the academic freedom of the new center, the people working for them more than likely share their same viewpoints and values. There are also several ways the Koch Foundation is ensuring it will control what happens inside this new center, including overviewing staff hiring and guiding what research truly occurs.

Those encouraging MSU administration to accept the endowment argue that the Koch Foundation will have no input or decision-making abilities regarding staff. MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig asserted that The Koch Foundation plays no role in the hiring. However, Jim Goetz, a local attorney, stated “the usual hiring procedures are circumvented because the grant contains a provision that the directors of the Center must approve the new hires. In turn, the Koch Foundation retains the veto power over the appointment of the Center’s directors.” Basically, the Koch Foundation selects the directors of the complex, who then decide who is hired and works for the facility. Because the Koch Foundation utilizes their famous “Market-Based Management” scheme, the values the Koch Foundation upholds will undoubtedly trickle down into staffing of the new center.

Political leaning will highly influence the research that goes on inside the new economic center. In Goetz’s article in the Montana Standard, he writes, “The Koch grant reserves the right, over the five-year span of the grant to review the research results yearly and to terminate it solely in its discretion.” This power the Koch Foundation is insisting to maintain over the facility would unquestionably impact what goes on inside. If the beliefs of the donors are not applied or yielding what they want, what would stop them from simply terminating that research? The answer: nothing.

All of this clearly shows that the Koch Foundation is not inclined to donate their money and leave, but rather have a very strong say in what MSU’s new economic center would be producing. As an institution, MSU should be obligated to uphold a certain image of righteousness and moral character. If they were to accept this contribution, they would be failing in maintaining this responsibility, as the Charles Koch Foundation will indisputably bring their biases and beliefs into anything they fund. Let’s say no to biased academic research and let’s say no to the predisposed plans for this research center. Finally, let’s say no to the integrity of Montana State being up for sale.