michigan state

#UnKoch Campus! U.S. Students Resist the Corporitization of Education

  • Posted on: 4 November 2014
  • By: Connor Gibson

As students in Michigan, Kansas and Virginia attempt to pin down evasive administrators to review grant contracts cut between billionaire Charles Koch and their universities, one campus is working to tie these regional movements together. Photos from across the U.S. are posted below.

Florida State University (FSU) students affiliated with the group FSU Progress coordinated various student groups at 20 campuses across the U.S. to push back against corporate donors who use money to weave their interests into the mission of universities: educating students. For FSU Progress, this not only means resisting the efforts of Charles Koch to capture colleges to wage his long-term political campaigns--at the expense of academic freedom--but protesting the rigged process by which a Koch-backed politician is poised to take FSU's presidency. Inside Higher Ed explains:

"Monday’s event, though, focused on the wider issue of "corporatization of higher education" and homed in on state Sen. John Thrasher’s appointment last month as president. He was approved despite strong objections from students and faculty members.

"Student activists with the FSU Progress Coalition are asking the state Board of Governors to reject Thrasher’s appointment at its meeting this week. About 80 students walked from campus to the Old Capitol Monday as part of a rally protesting the selection of Thrasher. There’s also a walkout and occupation of the president’s office planned for Thursday while the Board of Governors meets, said Lakey, a graduate student at Florida State who only goes by one name. [...]

"Thrasher also was chosen multiple times as legislator of the year by the conservative, Koch-supported American Legislative Exchange Council, Lakey said. And Allan Bense, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, is also chairman of the board of directors of the James Madison Institute, a Koch-funded think tank.

"Thrasher has denied any sort of relationship with the Koch brothers, although he has received modest campaign contributions from Kansas-based Koch Industries."

In solidarity, other campuses took action in solidarity with FSU student organizers.

George Mason University is by far the largest university benefactor of Koch money, receiving $24 million from 2005-2012, excluding tens of millions of dollars from Koch to two Koch-governed think tanks on campus. GMU student protestors petitioned their fellow students to help grow pressure on the GMU administration, which has so far failed to provide the transparency needed to prove to it students and professors that Koch money isn't exerting influence in the classroom. Photo below.

University of Virginia students hosted a teach-in on the student debt crisis that was conducted in solidarity with the FSU protests. Photo below.

Michigan State University students filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain any grant agreements signed between MSU and the Charles Koch Foundation. MSU was Tweeting its support yesterday. Photos below.

Students at University of Kansas are awaiting the results of an open records request submitted in September, which their administration charged them $1,800 for. After making their case in a public op-ed in the Lawrence Journal-World, public supporters helped KU students raise the money needed to get documents relating to former Koch-lobbyist Art Hall who now runs a project in KU's business school with Koch grants. University of Maryland is being criticized by members of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP). SLAP member Chris Bangert-Drowns noted the shady history of Koch Industries, which has faced a range of multi-million dollar fines, lawsuits, criminal and civil penalties for chemical leaks, oil spills, stealing from American Indians and wrongful death due to corporate negligence. Given Koch's history of profiting from such bad business conduct, Bangert-Drowns noted,

"In accepting the donation from the Charles Koch Foundation, this university is condoning the historically criminal, destructive and treacherous behavior of Koch Industries and its leaders."

As with UMD, students have questioned what Koch's six-figure grants are buying at George Washington University, a private school in Washington, DC. Last spring, Freshman student Kinjo Kimea wrote:

It’s impossible to tell whether strings are attached to this donation. The University has declined to disclose if there were any conditions that came with accepting the money. That should raise red flags. Students deserve to know whether politics play a role in these decisions. Donors can be outspoken Republicans or Democrats, yes, but fundraising requires transparency.

Koch is now noticing this nationwide revolt. In response to student protest, the Charles Koch Foundation just created "academic giving principles" that aim to gloss over the documented cases in which academic freedom took a back seat to Mr. Koch's preferences. This is consistent with the activities of Mr. Koch: micromanage the things you fund, and use fancy words to obscure what you're actually doing - in this case meddling with the education of high school and college students.

Charles Koch cannot hide his assault on academic freedom with words. Mr. Koch is attempting to buy a constituency which is actively developing its ability to think critically. Students and professors are asking the right questions, and Koch-funded university administrations aren't helping by behaving in secretive ways.

The primary suspect in examining nationwide attacks on academic freedom is billionaire Charles Koch. Greenpeace has documented that what little is known about the $50 million Koch sent to universities from 2005-2012 puts Mr. Koch's corporate ideologies ahead of the ability for faculty to teach concepts freely.

Resources: Day of Action against the Corporitization of Education.

Photos from FSU and solidarity protests across the country:

GAU UnKoch

University of Oregon Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation

 

GMU UnKoch

George Mason University students

 

Temple University UnKoch

Temple University (PA) Students

 

UVA students UnKoch

University of Virginia students

 

MSU Grad Employee Union UnKoch

 

Michigan State University Graduate Employees Union

Michigan State University students and Grad Employees Union

 

AU UnKoch 2

AU UnKoch 3

American University student

American University students

 

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Koch & Exxon-funded scientist challenged by students at climate denial event (VIDEO)

  • Posted on: 9 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Rarely do we meet those who have made careers selling us lies. Consider the oddball doctors who took tobacco money to deny a link between cigarette smoking and cancer, or the handful of scientists who take oil and coal money to discredit global warming science, or the people who have done both.

Last week, students in Wisconsin and Michigan stepped up to such an opportunity when CFACT Campus, the student arm of a well-known cabal of fossil fuel apologists, hosted climate change denier Willie Soon at several campus events around the country.

Dr. Willie Soon is a Smithsonian Institution astrophysicist paid by Charles Koch, ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and coal utility Southern Company to write papers dismissing climate change, publish op-eds saying coal pollution won't affect our health, refute the seriousness of ocean acidification, and apparently anything else he can be paid to deny. Dr. Soon has misrepresented himself by repeatedly claiming affiliation with Harvard University and using his credentials as an astrophysicist to make people believe he's a climate expert, and he shows no sign of stopping. Indeed, he told students in Madison, "I am as as qualified as anyone on the planet on this topic."

In both Madison, Wisconsin and East Lansing, Michigan, Dr. Soon was caught with his pants down. As the Michigan State News documented in its article and accompanying audio interview, Soon claims that all the scientists around the world who study and recognize the seriousness of climate change are motivated by money, yet somehow his funding from coal and oil companies for his extremely marginalized viewpoints doesn't matter.

Here is the dialog with Willie Soon at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with direct links to key clips below:

1) Willie Soon insinuates ExxonMobil will no longer fund him (emphasis added): 

"I have been receiving money from whoever that wants to give me money. I write my scientific proposal. I have received money from ExxonMobil, but ExxonMobil will no longer give me any money for a long time. American Petroleum Institute, anything you wish for, from Southern Company, from all these companies. I write proposal and let them judge whether they will fund me or not, always for a very small amount. If they choose to fund me, I'm happy to receive it." Click to watch (starts @ 1:52).

2) Dr. Soon stands behind his attempts to discredit the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with help from ExxonMobil lobbyists: 

"I was trying to bring down IPCC--is that what you imply?! [...] Let it be known that I do not like IPCC, because IPCC does not stand for science, it is corrupting science." Click to watch (starts @ 3:32).

After a question referencing emails with ExxonMobil lobbyists to undermine climate research at the United Nations before it even hit publication, Dr. Soon quickly loses his cool over his record of global warming denial, peppering the student with mild insults before owning up to his actions.

3) Dr. Soon thanks anyone who uses petroleum products or electricity from coal for supporting his work:

"I really want to thank her, because she's receiving the electricity used for her house, she's driving cars, she's doing all of these things because you are funding me. It's not an oil or coal company. They are a company that provides a service to humanity--to people who want to use electricity." Click to watch (starts @ 5:14)

Anyone looking at Southern Company's record of pollution and political interference would be skeptical about its commitment to serve humanity. Soon continues with an aggressive rant claiming that the student isn't qualified to question his fossil fuel payments until she stops driving, using electricity, and wearing nylon. 

4) Willie Soon states "I don't like to claim that I am an expert on anything," despite listing himself as an "expert in mercury and public health" for a discredited Wall Street Journal op-ed dismissing health concerns over mercury pollution from coal plants. Soon invented similar credentials for another opinion piece in the Washington Times, before he swapped back to being a 22-year veteran of "researching the relationship of solar radiation and the Earth's climate," research Dr. Soon did on the dime of oil and coal companies.

Basically, Willie Soon is an expert in whatever problems vested industries will pay him to deny. Michigan State students note how Willie Soon now refutes research indicating adverse impacts from ocean acidification, a global crisis that is married to climate change (both problems stem from humans burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).

That's effed up. This man makes a career lying to the public, not to mention our lawmakers, about some of the most serious issues of our time. Climate change is already contributing to the deaths of 400,000 people each year and costing global GDP about $1.2 trillion, according to a report commissioned by multiple nations. 98% of actual climate scientists (a distinction Dr. Willie Soon does not earn) agree that global warming is real and primarily drive by humans burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.

Not only has Dr. Soon lied to us and our lawmakers about the seriousness of global warming--he even lied directly to Congress in 2003 about his sources of funding at a time when he was promoting his study funded by the American Petroleum Institute, the $200 million/year oil and gas lobbying group. The Guardian wrote last year:

"In 2003 Soon said at a US senate hearing that he had "not knowingly been hired by, nor employed by, nor received grants from any organisation that had taken advocacy positions with respect to the Kyoto Protocol or the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."

This is why it's crucial to demand accountability of people like Willie SoonHe is a public relations tool of oil and coal companies, and as a scientist attempting to publish in fields well outside of his expertise, that oil and coal money is crucial to recognize.

Here are some of the best examples of Soon's pseudo-science paid for by Big Oil and King Coal:

Dr. Soon's work is like a joke, but not the type you'd laugh at. While he cracks these fossil-funded zingers, reputable scientists warn that humanity is running out of time to stop climate change from self-reinforcing to the point that it spirals out of human control. As quoted by the Michigan State News, young conservatives on campus had trouble taking Dr. Willie Soon's presentation seriously:

“I’m not a science major, but I think (Soon’s presentation) has got valid points, but also other scientists who disagree with him have valid points,” Sobecki said. “I’m not crazy enough to think that six billion people don’t have an effect on climate in the world we live in.”

Science majors attending the MSU event didn't agree that Soon's points were particularly valid. See this account from a MSU Greenpeace student activist on PolluterWatch for more details.

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