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What Might Be In Store for Koch Foundation Money at the University of Louisville

Students on the University of Louisville's main campus.
Eleanor Hasken
Students on the University of Louisville's main campus.

As the University of Louisville grapples with the terms of a controversial $6 million gift proposal from Papa John’s International CEO John Schnatter and billionaire Charles Koch, university-watchers might want to take a look at what Koch got for his money from his most recent taker, Arizona State University.

On Nov. 28 (Black Friday to many), ASU announced that the Charles Koch Foundation had agreed to donate $3.5 million toward the creation of a Center for the Study of Economic Liberty in the college’s business school. Along with $1.5 million from the W.P. Carey Foundation, the money will pay for the center’s operating costs for five years, including unspecified “positions and activities” in support of the center’s mission.

That mission, according to the Koch Foundation, will be to explore how “economics, policy and general well-being are influenced by individuals’ ability to make choices.” ASU joined Florida State University, West Virginia University, Utah State University, Clemson University and others in serving as potential collegiate launchpads for Koch’s libertarian view of a business-centric society unfettered by government oversight.

An ASU spokeswoman said Arizona law forbade her from providing a copy of the contract with the Koch Foundation. ASU did provide a clause saying that “all search and hiring processes for individuals employed at the Center, which will follow ASU’s standard procedures for selecting faculty and staff, is subject to ASU policies as set forth in its Academic Affairs Manual.”

The center’s new executive director, Scott Beaulier, is already aboard the Koch bandwagon. He received his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University — a bastion of the Koch free-markets worldview — and before moving to Arizona led the Koch-financed Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University in Alabama.

In November, the Johnson Center published a report calledImproving Lives in Alabama: A Vision for Economic Freedom and Prosperity. Among its findings: “Regulations and licenses impede business formation and growth, pose barriers to individuals to enter the workforce and to career mobility, and raise costs on consumers.”

University of Louisville President James Ramsey confirmed last month that U of L is in talks with Koch and Schnatter about a monetary gift and the establishment of a “free economics” center. The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, citing unnamed sources, reported on Dec. 9 that Schnatter would put up $4.5 million, Koch $1.5 million and that the center would be named after Schnatter.

For Arizona State, the Center for Economic Liberty gift was its second dip in the Charles Koch Foundation well in 2014. Earlier in the year, Koch gave $1.1 million toward the formation of the Center for Political Thought and Leadership in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

That center’s director is Donald Critchlow, a self-described “American conservatism expert.” And last July 30, the center ran an ad seeking to hire a faculty member with research background in “the relations between free-market institutions and political liberty in modern history.”

Reporter James McNair can be reached at  jmcnair@kycir.org and (502) 814-6543.

Disclosure: In October 2014, the University of Louisville, which for years has donated to Louisville Public Media, earmarked $10,000 to KyCIR as part of a larger LPM donation. 

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