There are still many unanswered questions about Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at the University of Kansas, and the Koch Foundation and KU.
Recently released documents obtained through a Kansas Open Records Act request begin with the fund agreement in 2004, establishing a fund for the center. Following this is an odd three-year gap until an e-mail in 2007. Does this gap conceal such documents as the donor agreement between the university and the Koch Foundation, and records on Hall’s recruitment and hiring processes, teaching responsibilities and objectives, and research trajectories?
Two things are made clear by documents that were released.
First, Hall, a former economist for the Public Sector Group of Koch Industries, is using the center and Koch money to create “intellectual products” to “promote smaller government and a more robust free-enterprise policy platform.” The purpose is to distribute these reports “to targeted policy audiences for use as a tool in economic policy debates.” This indicates that the Center for Applied Economics is a Koch-backed project to warp public opinion and public policy toward unfettered free-market capitalism and an erosion of state services – all of which is done under the legitimizing facade of the university.
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Second, according to the center, the effectiveness of this project is measured by how well its research can be disseminated. As stated in the documents released, “The best measurement proxy for this test of effectiveness involves citation by other researchers and discussion by news media – particularly print and Web media.”
This is not how the effectiveness of faculty members is evaluated. In academia, effective research and effective researchers are those who have been vetted through the peer-review process and are then published in peer-reviewed journals.
It seems clear that the center and Hall are engaging in the type of ideology production typically done by think tanks. Unfortunately, because the center and Hall are affiliated with KU, it lends an air of scientific credibility to the research that he and the center produce, regardless of whether the work was conducted with appropriate academic vigor.
More needs to be done to address the encroachment of corporate interests on college campuses. The KU faculty and student senates can put pressure on the administration to investigate the Koch brothers’ influence via donor agreements. Most importantly, KU needs a clear donor policy that protects the academic freedom and academic integrity of KU and its faculty.
David Cooper and Ruth Stamper are graduate students at the University of Kansas.