Tuesday, May 1, 2018

UA's 'Freedom School' Isn't Free Of Costs Or Hiring Restrictions

Posted By on Tue, May 1, 2018 at 5:26 PM

click to enlarge UA's 'Freedom School' Isn't Free Of Costs Or Hiring Restrictions
Courtesy of staticflickr.com
Two articles put UA's Freedom School back in the news, directly and indirectly.

First story: At a time when Ducey's proposed budget is squeezing blood from every funding turnip it can find, the governor managed to find a million dollars to give to the Koch-backed libertarian outpost at University of Arizona. It includes $100,000 to develop a "civics and constitutionalism curriculum for K-12 and postsecondary education institutions."

Second story: An Associated Press story on the Star's front page discusses how the Koch brothers give money to Virginia's George Mason University to hire professors, then demand a say in who is hired and fired. Not covered in the story is a similar arrangement at UA's "Freedom School."

The Ducey budget.

Ducey and Republican legislative leaders have been scrambling to pull together a budget with enough money to fund a 9 percent salary increase for teachers. That means, among other things, cutting $35 million from hospitals, cutting $52 million from Medicaid prescription costs, taking $20 million from the state's settlement with Volkswagen and adding $16.7 million to property taxes in Tucson.

But with all the cuts, Ducey found $2 million to give to the Koch-backed "Freedom Schools" at UA and ASU, a million dollars each. The current budget is the first one with a line item for the Koch-backed "Freedom Schools." This proposed budget will be the second.

Call the $2 million what it is: a taxpayer funded gift to the universities' libertarian centers in exchange for millions of dollars from the Koch donor network to help fund Ducey's reelection efforts. In 2014, based on the promise that Ducey would be Arizona's Great Right Hope, the Koch brothers and their affiliates spent millions on his first gubernatorial campaign. The reported total ranged from $1.5 million to $5 million depending on how much dark money spent on the campaign came from the Koch network.

Since then, Ducey has proven himself to be the real deal. He's cut taxes every year and pushed through an expansion of private school vouchers. In 2017, he told the millionaires and billionaires gathered at the Koch Donor Summit, "I needed the power of the network" to push the voucher expansion to cover all K-12 students through the legislature. Ducey has every reason to expect to receive a hefty chunk of the $400 million the Koch network plans to spend on the 2018 elections.

Of the million dollars going to UA's "Freedom School"—the "Freedom School" is actually two entities, the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom and the Department of Political Economy & Moral Science—$100,000 is earmarked to develop a "civics and constitutionalism curriculum for K-12 and postsecondary education institutions." That means taxpayers are funding the expansion of the course, Phil 101: Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship, which is currently being taught in four local school districts as well as a number of charter and private schools. Creation of the course was funded by a $3 million grant to the Freedom Center from the John Templeton Foundation. Using the grant, David Schmidtz, founding director of the Freedom Center, created the course out of whole cloth. He and associates wrote the curriculum, wrote and self-published the textbook and trained the high school teachers in summer seminars. Schmidtz is listed as the teacher of record for the high school courses.

If the budget being considered by the legislature passes, taxpayers will pick up the tab for maintaining and expanding the spread of libertarian-centered courses into public high schools around the state.

The involvement of private donors in "Freedom School" hiring.

The general rule at universities is, private donors are welcome to fund professorships, but the actual hiring is left to the universities. The Koch brothers like to be more involved. In 2008, the Koch Foundation insisted on significant control of hiring and curriculum at Florida State University as a condition of its financial support. The Associated Press article in the Star discusses a similar situation at the Mercatus Center located at George Mason University in Virginia. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the Koch Foundation chose two of the five members of the committees tasked with hiring and firing professors. That meant they only needed one vote from another committee member to decide who would be hired using their money, and the professors knew they could be fired by the Kochs if their instruction deviated from the brothers' ideology.

The hiring situation at UA's Freedom Center is somewhat less intrusive, but the donors still have the ability to play a significant role in who gets hired with their money. A Freedom of Information Act request from the group Kochs Off Campus asked for an itemized list of Freedom Center funders. The documents reveal that three funders required the university to show them the credentials of the candidates to be hired.

The three funders are The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, Randy P. Kendrick and Earl G. Kendrick, and the Thomas W. Smith Foundation. The Kendricks are an Arizona couple who have given millions to the Koch donor network and have worked with the Kochs on a variety of projects. The Thomas W. Smith Foundation is "dedicated to supporting free markets, [and] has started paying for scholarly centers on campuses," according to a member of its board of trustees. It has partnered with the Koch Foundation in creating centers at a number of universities including UA. You can learn more about these and other Freedom Center funders in an earlier post.

The Koch Foundation and the Kendricks used identical language in their agreements with the UA about the way the university uses their money to hire professors. Both say, "The University agreed to recruit and hire a tenured professor to work in the Freedom Center and agreed to show the credentials of the candidate for hire" to the funders. In the agreement with the Thomas W. Smith Foundation, the language is more explicit about getting prior approval from the foundation before hiring a professor.
"The University agreed to hire a new full-time tenured or tenure-eligible professor to work in the Freedom Center and agreed to show TWSF the credentials of the candidate for hire prior to extending an offer."
The donor agreements with the university make it difficult for UA's "Freedom Schools" to claim their professors and curriculum are academically independent from their donors.

George Mason University has denied for years that the Kochs had any control over the choice of professors. When the Koch's arrangement was made public, GMU President Angel Cabrera apologized, writing that the agreements “fall short of the standards of academic independence I expect any gift to meet.” UA's president should make a similar apology and take appropriate measures to make sure all departments at the university are free of interference from donors.

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