LOGAN – The Utah State University Faculty Senate voted in favor of creating a task force that would develop a resolution regarding the $25 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation.
The Koch donation was half of a larger $50 million joint gift announced during the May 2016 commencement exercises. The donation, according to university officials, was the largest in school history and will help expand the Huntsman School of Business Huntsman Scholars Program and create a new Center for Growth and Opportunity nonprofit program.
Despite reassurances from the university staff that the donation came “no strings attached,” and that it has to abide by USU policies, it has fallen under scrutiny. Some have even protested it, saying it is intended to support conservative ideologies.
Arthur Caplan, a professor of economics and member of the faculty senate, spoke in favor of creating the task force. He said other faculty members have expressed concerns about the donation, and he believes the concerns are valid. One of his main worries is that the Koch brothers are paying $2.5 million each year for 10 years, and that the gift can be cancelled at any time.
“To me, that is not the type of funding agreement you would expect from a reputable foundation,” he said. “It is setting up an incentive structure where if you want a continuation of funding you are potentially influenced by that ability to pull funding anytime.”
Becki Lawver, a professor in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences and member of the Faculty Senate, encouraged the faculty senate to vote against creating the task force.
“The major concern is the huge investment and time it would take the task force to undertake appropriate research,” she said. “Whether it is reading through the agreement, hearing students impacted by the donation, faculty that were impacted by the donation and trying to develop a fair and balanced statement that represents over 1,000 faculty on campus.”
Pamela Martin, a reference librarian in USU’s Merrill-Cazier Library and member of the Faculty Senate, said it is a difficult decision, and that she can see both sides of the issue. She said she considers herself one of the many people who trust the university and the administration, but that she can also see a need for more transparency – especially with the Huntsman School of Business.
“They haven’t really shown they can be trusted with the other thing they were in the press for this fall,” she said, “which was not having the differential tuition advisory board, which was supposed to meet.”
Other faculty members expressed concern that the gift has already been made, and that the task force is unnecessarily being implemented to make people feel better about something that has already happened.
The vote was made by secret ballot, as some faculty preferred anonymity. The task force will be appointed by Kimberly Lott, who said she will take recommendations from the Faculty Senate Executive Committee. Lott said it will likely be a small task force made up of four or five members.