New Koch-backed institute at U of Utah raises questions about academic freedom and whether it is designed to “rival” economics department

The Charles Koch Foundation’s annual giving to higher education has jumped in recent years — from $12.7 million in 2012 to $44 million in 2015 — and faculty concerns about the libertarian group’s campus influence have grown proportionately. The site of most recent clash between professors and the foundation is the University of Utah, where Koch has matched a separate $10 million donation to establish the Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis.

Named after the late Utah banker who served as chairman of the Federal Reserve, the institute this summer was granted provisional status in the David Eccles School of Business on campus. The institute’s mission is to “push the frontiers of knowledge through academic research and provide university students access to education in economics, game theory and econometric analysis,” according to its agreement with Koch. Funding will support the hiring of seven faculty economists, research and $1.6 million in student scholarships.

A major curricular focus of the institute will be developing students’ quantitative skills. Trouble is, Utah already has separate economics and finance departments that do just that. And while key finance professors are on board with the new center, others — including those in economics — are not.

Some 18 professors from the economics department, along with 176 others on campus (mostly faculty members), signed a statement of concern about the institute submitted to the Academic Senate’s Executive Committee this summer. And on Monday the Senate approved a resolution charging a recently established faculty committee with the additional task of reviewing policies and procedures for approving institutes and centers.

The “funding agreement between the Charles Koch Foundation and the University of Utah raises serious concerns about the principles and practice of intellectual independence and academic freedom,” reads the faculty letter drafted…

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