Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

Proposed Political Science Program to Be Funded in Part by the Charles Koch Foundation

According to sources within the Boston College Political Science Department, a yet to be announced “Program Proposal on New Perspectives on U.S. Grand Strategy and Great Power Politics,” put forward by faculty in the security studies subfield, has been passed by a “substantial majority” of the department.

This new program will be financed with the help of the Charles Koch Foundation according to the proposal document, acquired by The Gavel.

The proposal markets the new program as a way of “broadening the discussion” around U.S. grand strategy “to include diverse theoretical and empirical perspectives from across the political spectrum.” Owing in part to their understanding of “realist theories” of international politics, the faculty behind this proposal seek to expand the debate beyond “the established foreign policy consensus.” 

To accomplish this, the proposal calls for a public speakers program involving “scholars and practitioners with diverse ideological, political, and policy perspectives,” as well as other measures to foster debate and research into U.S. grand strategy amongst both faculty and students.

Controversially, the proposal mentions partnering with The Charles Koch Foundation as part of this new program. Charles Koch, listed as the 11th richest man in the world by Forbes, is the chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the United States. Although Charles Koch has joked that Koch Industries is the “biggest company you’ve never heard of,” the company owns well-known brands such as Dixie Cup and Brawny Paper Towels.

However, Koch Industries is primarily involved in oil and gas exploration and refining, as well as the production of fossil fuel transport pipelines. Flint Hills, Koch Industries’ primary oil subsidiary, refines over 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day in its three refineries, according to its website

The environmental record of Koch Industries has been strongly criticized by climate justice activists. Between 1999 and 2003, Koch industries paid a total of $400 million in government fines, including $30 million in 2000 for a series of oil spills—the largest environmental fine in history at the time. The company was also fined $25 million for illegally extracting oil from government land that it had not paid for in 1999.

More recently, Koch Industries was fined $350,000 for emissions violations in 2014, as well as being required to pay “more than $45 million on upgrades” to address the issue at a plant in Texas, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Additionally, Charles Koch, along with his recently deceased brother David, have gained notoriety for using their wealth to push their political agenda, contributing to conservative and libertarian think tanks, super PACs, and political campaigns across the country. These donations had led to opponents accusing them of purchasing influence in American politics, taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case in 2010, which removed restrictions on corporate contributions to super PACs.

Through their political activities, the Koch brothers have pushed a pro-business, anti-regulation agenda. However, in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, Charles Koch argued that his libertarian ideals and political activities were motivated by his opposition to “crony capitalism” as well as fears that the deficit would lead the country to bankruptcy, as opposed to self-interest.

Of particular controversy, Koch foundations spent $127,006,756 from 1997-2017, funding groups that have “attacked climate change science and policy solutions” and cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change, according to Greenpeace. These donations, alongside their support for political candidates who seek to rollback existing environmental regulations, are viewed by opponents as simply a means to increase the profitability of Koch Industries and their fossil fuel operations by eliminating government oversight.

As part of this vast network of political influence, Koch has donated millions of dollars to institutions of higher education. The largest benefactor of these contributions has been George Mason University, home of the Mercatus Center, a libertarian-leaning think-tank that describes itself as the world’s “premier university source for market-oriented ideas.” Leaked documents suggest that Koch and his brother were given undue influence in the hiring process of professors at the school as a result of these donations. 

This revelation raises questions over the amount of leverage the Koch Foundation will have at Boston College, as the proposal calls for “5-year support for a joint International Studies/Political Science hire” of a new professor whose work would focus on “security studies and American foreign policy.”

When asked for comment, multiple professors in the department declined, saying they were not able to discuss the program at this time. Although the proposal passed by a substantial margin, there were some vocal opponents of the program among the faculty. This disagreement led the department to host a private meeting for faculty to further discuss the program and air their grievances on Wednesday.

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