How does philanthropy drive the research agenda in higher ed?
- Conservative political activist Charles Koch has donated more than $200 million to dozens of college-based research centers and faculty members for studies on the intersections of government and economics.
- Critics decry Koch's influence on the academy, alleging that his funding limits free thought on campuses nationwide.
- Koch-funded research areas include carbon emissions limits, mandatory minimum sentencing and federal regulations on financial institutions.
Koch's political loyalties make him a lightning rod for controversy, and that controversy has boiled over into protests from faculty and students at some of the schools where he has funded research with hundreds of millions of dollars.
But outside of student and faculty dissension against Koch, there are few, if any, executive complaints against his prolific philanthropic efforts. While they may be strategic and delivered to achieve a specific objective, for each campus, they are a much-needed revenue source and branding opportunity to showcase institutional excellence.
Private giving is a major economic driver of programmatic development at colleges and universities. The fame, wealth and influence of one donor can change the trajectory of a program with a sizable donation to endow faculty positions or specific research, as one investment can spur attention and additional investments from other sources.
Politically-driven or otherwise, it is an issue any campus would be happy to confront, especially if attached to seven-figure checks.