Freije Defends Koch Donation before Faculty

Jackie Cannon ’20


During the April 2 Faculty Assembly, Provost and Dean of the College, Margaret Freije defended the recent Koch Foundation donation of $1.5 million to the newly established Carlyse and Arthur A. Ciocca ’59 Center for Business, Ethics and Society and addressed widespread concerns about the Foundation. Freije cited the fact that the Koch Foundation would not be able to influence how the Center spends the donation money, hires visiting lecturers, or designs courses.

Freije’s address was a reiteration of a response she delivered to the Academic Governance Council, where she answered some of the main questions raised by the Holy Cross community regarding the Koch donation. In recent weeks, students and faculty have spoken out against the donation, citing concerns over the organizations the Koch Foundation has given to and its involvement in decision-making at colleges and universities following donations.

Concern over the Koch donation arose after a Spire opinions article by Holy Cross alumna Marie Therese Kane ’18, titled “If You’re Reading This, You’ve Been Koch-ed,” was published on February 22. Kane’s article argued that Koch Industries demonstrate a consistent pattern of environmentally destructive business practices, while the Koch Foundation has supported libertarian and conservative causes. Kane alleges that the foundation and its history of donations are fundamentally at odds with the Holy Cross mission and Jesuit values.

Kane stressed the following point: “the Koch’s business and political activities, and the environmentally devastating form of capitalism that motivates them, blatantly contradicts Holy Cross’s professed Catholic values, as well as the Center’s mission to study business ‘with a liberal arts emphasis on how it can contribute to the common good.’”

Kane’s article prompted concern across campus, particularly in regard to Koch’s influence on other college campuses and their potential to dictate decisions related to the Ciocca Center at Holy Cross. A social media campaign was launched to protest the donation.

In her faculty address, Freije acknowledged that the administration was aware of the nature of past Koch donations, as they did “extensive research on the history of their interactions with other institutions,” which included investigating the website “UnKoch My Campus.” The website describes George Mason University as “Koch’s Ground Zero,” with the University accounting for approximately half of all of Koch’s donations to higher education.

A May 2018 New York Times article on the Koch Brothers and GMU outlines the influence that the Koch Foundation had on the University, including a seat on the committee to select candidates for a specific professorship. The magnitude of the Koch gift granted them access to affect the type of faculty members and programs that were instituted at GMU, and ultimately aligned with the Koch Brothers’ free-market, libertarian ideals.

It was examples like these that prompted the Holy Cross administration to establish a strict contract before the donation was accepted: “we built into our agreement strong protections against all of the issues we had identified in other places,” says Freije, who went on to name those protections.

Freije also stressed that Holy Cross did not approach the Koch Foundation. Arthur Ciocca, for whom the Center is named, sought out the connection to supplement his gift to the Center. Additional funds were needed to implement the proposal for the new Center, which was to intended to appeal to a wider portion of the student body than the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies that the Center was replacing.

Many of the Koch funds, which represent a minority of the overall Ciocca Center budget, will go toward increasing students participation, through the form of financial aid for the Fullbridge Program and the provision of internships to students. Additionally, the funds will allow for the hiring of an administrative assistant, according to Freije.

The final question which Freije responded to during the faculty assembly was the possibility of terminating the agreement with the Koch Foundation, if the College chose to do so. Freije that section 4(b) of the agreement stipulated that “‘the College shall support the center programs to advance the college’s mission, subject to the terms of this agreement.’” She elaborated, “we are not required to ask for any particular amount of funding each year; we can request any amount up to each annual upper limit. Theoretically, we could request zero dollars with no liability.”  

Despite Freije’s explanation, faculty concern was not eliminated. Professor Andrew Hwang of Mathematics shared a statement that questioned the ability to reconcile the Jesuit mission of Holy Cross and the “actions and agenda of the Koch Foundation.” When Hwang shared this worry over the impact the donation would have on academic freedom, Freije referred back to the AGC’s oversight of the center and monitoring of the donation’s impact.

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