Image: AP

A student-led lawsuit revealed that the Charles Koch Foundation had a hand in the hiring and firing of George Mason University professors, the Washington Post reports.

University president Angel Cabrera conceded that some financial agreements “fall short of the standards of academic independence I expect any gift to meet,” but also that “all but the earliest of these agreements explicitly stated that the final say in all faculty appointments lies in university procedures.”

From the Post:

The gifts supported faculty positions in economics, and the agreements granted donors “some participation in faculty selection and evaluation,” Cabrera said. The pacts were accepted between 2003 and 2011, and all but one have expired. Agreements ­obtained by The Washington Post show that, in some cases, committees that helped select professors included members designated by a donor.

“It’s now abundantly clear that the administration of Mason, in partnership with the Mercatus Center and private donors, violated principles of academic freedom, academic control and ceded faculty governance to private donors,” Bethany Letiecq, a professor at George Mason, told the Post.

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The Charles Koch foundation, a philanthropic arm of the Koch brothers’ petrochemical empire, has recently increased its higher education donations, giving $77 million—mostly to universities—in 2016 to over 300 schools, and even more in 2017. They’ve been involved with George Mason University for some time, however, donating millions of dollars to the Mercatus Center, a “free-market” organization based at the university that backs the sort of deregulatory agenda that Trump’s cabinet is now gleefully doling out. A Koch Foundation spokesman insisted to the Post that “we champion academic freedom and do not seek to influence the hiring practices of university departments nor have input on curricular or research decisions.”

That’s certainly one (quite misleading) way to describe the dark money phenomenon happening at colleges and universities around the country. Here’s another: “You take corporate money and give it to a neutral-sounding think tank,” an environmental lawyer told New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer back in 2010. The think tank then “hires people with pedigrees and academic degrees who put out credible-seeming studies. But they all coincide perfectly with the economic interests of their funders.”