The Charles Koch Foundation and Wichita State University have talked about creating an Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise at the Barton School of Business, according to sources and e-mails provided to The Eagle.
Koch has funded similar institutes at Oklahoma State University, the University of Kentucky and, most recently, at WSU president John Bardo’s former institution, Western Carolina University in North Carolina.
“This opportunity is transformative for the Barton School,” WSU provost Tony Vizzini wrote in an e-mail in July. “By us being stewards for the (Charles Koch Foundation) we assist them in their mission. They, in return, transform us allowing us to advance in our mission.”
According to its website, the foundation supports education and research and works to “help people improve their lives by advancing an understanding of the benefits of free societies.”
Wichita State and the Koch Foundation would not comment on the proposal.
“We’re pleased to announce new gifts when there are gifts to announce,” Trice Jacobson, a spokesperson for the Koch Foundation, wrote in a statement to The Eagle.
Koch Industries and the family’s foundations have provided support to WSU before.
In 2014, Koch Industries and the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation gave $11.25 million to Wichita State University – the largest one-time gift in university history – for athletics, a makerspace, scholarships, student inventions and the Global Trading Center.
Last year, Charles Koch and other business leaders organized, donated and lobbied to raise WSU basketball coach Gregg Marshall’s salary from $1.85 million to $3 million.
In 2000, Koch Industries gave $6 million for what’s now Koch Arena – the largest single gift to the university at the time.
‘Skin in the game’
E-mails between Vizzini and Barton School dean Anand Desai say that a Koch Foundation employee supported a proposal WSU submitted for the institute.
The university would need to have “some skin in the game” to make the proposal more attractive to the foundation, Desai wrote.
“The funding plan ... includes our share which starts of (sic) small and with full operations, amounts to about 19.58% of the annual budget,” Desai wrote. “Since the foundation does not provide support for fringe benefits, I have indicated that WSU will pick that up.”
The e-mails did not say how much the foundation would potentially give to start the institute or how much WSU would need to pay. Requests under the Kansas Open Records Act for copies of the proposal and correspondence were denied by Wichita State, citing in part an exemption for unfunded grant proposals, notes and preliminary drafts.
The e-mails provided to The Eagle by a source also say that Bardo agreed with the proposal, at least in principle.
“To lead, the institute must add to the knowledge base not just embrace it,” Vizzini wrote. “That will serve our students and the (Charles Koch Foundation) best. ... Is there an expectation of this bringing in additional funding (corporate) after once established?”
Koch’s foundations have donated to hundreds of universities across the country.
At times, the donations have been controversial. In 2011, the Tampa Bay Times reported that in exchange for $1.5 million to fund positions at Florida State University, foundation “representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires.”
That practice has concerned some proponents of academic freedom, who say that donors should not have a role in hiring or firing faculty, according to a 2012 article in Academe published for the American Association of University Professors.
A $1.8 million gift for the institute at Bardo’s former college, Western Carolina, was officially announced in September. Faculty there fought its formation, according to the Smoky Mountain News.
According to Western Carolina’s gift agreement with the Koch Foundation, the institute will “help contribute to an environment at the university where ideas can be exchanged freely to the benefit and well-being of individuals and society” and that curriculum, personnel and activities would be determined by the university. It also prohibits the money from being used to influence legislation, elections or to fund voter registration drives.
It is not clear whether the foundation would have a role in hiring faculty at WSU if the institute were to be created here.
Koch Companies Public Sector and the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation also provide the primary funding of the new GoCreate makerspace at WSU’s Innovation Campus, according to contracts with the university.
GoCreate will contain industrial equipment – for metalwork, woodwork and textiles – that community members can access for a monthly fee. The standard fee will be about $125 a month, but there will be discounts for students, seniors and veterans.
The Koch Foundation is providing up to $3 million for scholarships and fellowships to use the makerspace, and Koch Companies Public Sector is funding up to $750,000 in other support, such as operations, according to the contracts.
“It’s incredibly rare to have, for a membership fee, access to that level of equipment,” Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who is the director of GoCreate, told The Eagle. “It’s a new phenomenon across the nation. Creation is the foundation of all economic development.”
Masterson said GoCreate will differ from MakeICT, another makerspace in downtown Wichita.
“(MakeICT) is a much smaller entity because of their funding levels,” said Masterson, who is also a MakeICT member. “They don’t have some of the larger, more commercial equipment. We will have a much larger capacity for people.”
Masterson has been employed since January as the GoCreate director, where he is ordering equipment, testing it, and will be responsible for moving it from the NIAR building in Park City to the campus later this year or early next year.
Masterson’s salary is $60,000 for the part-time position, according to Lou Heldman, WSU spokesman. The position could turn into a full-time one, according to Heldman.