This post first appeared in ThinkProgress.
A group of 50 Catholic leaders are criticizing the president of the Catholic University of America (CUA) for accepting a $1 million donation from a foundation controlled by Charles Koch, arguing that his ideological agenda is not in line with Catholic theology.
The money will be used to support the University’s business school and underwrite the hiring of three visiting scholars and a “visiting scholar-practitioner from the business world.” Charles, along with his brother David, run Koch Industries and fund a wide array of front-groups and lobbying efforts to expand their anti-tax, anti-regulatory agenda.
“The Koch brothers are billionaire industrialists who fund organizations that advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship,” the group of priests, social justice advocates, theologians and other academics write. They point to Pope Francis’ strong condemnation of trickle-down economics and the importance of business serving the common good:
As you well know, Catholic social teaching articulates a positive role for government, an indispensable role for unions, just tax policies, and the need for prudent regulation of financial markets in service of the common good. We are concerned that by accepting such a donation you send a confusing message to Catholic students and other faithful Catholics that the Koch brothers’ anti- government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing of a university sanctioned by Catholic bishops.
While the Koch brothers lobby for sweeping deregulation of industries and markets, Pope Francis has criticized trickle-down economic theories, and insists on the need for stronger oversight of global financial markets to protect workers from what he calls “the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”
The Koch brothers don’t live up to these ideals, they argue, noting their history of undermining workers’ efforts to unionize in Wisconsin, funding conservative organizations that oppose the expansion of universal health care and operating a company that “has an abysmal environmental record.”
Charles and David Koch also have a long history of using academia to advance their business and political interests. In 2008, Florida State University entered into an agreement with The Charles Koch Charitable Foundation in which the foundation would provide millions of dollars in funds for the school’s economics department and would allow them a free hand in selecting professors and approving publications. The foundation wasted little time in asserting its influence. In 2009, it denied 60 percent of the faculty’s suggestions to fill the positions in the new programs, called the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise (SPEFE) and Excellence in Economics Education (EEE).
The Koch foundation exerts heavy influence at George Mason University through grants and control over The Mercatus Center, an institute that developed much of the Bush administration’s environmental deregulation policy. Koch foundations have struck similar conditional agreements with schools like Clemson and West Virginia University.
Andrew Abela, dean of CUA’s new School of Business and Economics, said that the Koch Foundation will allow the school to hire the new faculty with no strings attached. “I’m just delighted to draw anybody into that conversation,” he said before receiving the letter. “And if they want to bring money, double bonus.”
A spokesperson told America Magazine that the signers of the letter “seek to instruct The Catholic University of America’s leaders about Catholic social teaching, and do so in a manner that redefines the church’s teaching to suit their own political preferences.”
UPDATE: The university responds with a letter posted on their website calling it “an unfortunate effort to manufacture controversy and score political points at the expense of The Catholic University of America.” Read more »