The Ideological Aims of Foundations

Readers of Minding the Campus may have noted the story in Inside Higher Ed entitled “Not Just Florida State” (see here). The piece cites “sizable grants” given by the Koch Foundation to universities to support the study of “capitalism and free enterprise.”  These agreements are, one assumes, to be added to the Florida State grant that was the subject of protest several weeks ago because Koch Foundation asked for some limited power over the hiring of faculty.  According to the agreements noted here, Koch expected “faculty hired with this money . . . to advance ‘the understanding and practice of those free voluntary processes and principles that promote social progress, human well-being, individual freedom, opportunity and prosperity based on the rule of law, constitutional government, private property and the laws, regulations, organizations, institutions and social norms on which they rely.”

To many, this stricture marks a violation of academic freedom.  Cary Nelson, head of the AAUP and English professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, had a lengthy response:
“Although the Koch Foundation’s objectives are written so as to sound upbeat and cheerful, they amount to code words calling for the dismantling of the welfare state,” Nelson wrote in an e-mail. ” ‘Economic freedom’ sounds like mom and apple pie until you realize it means the government shouldn’t collect taxes, and ‘free voluntary processes’ means buy health care on your own if you can afford it.
“It is wholly inappropriate for an outside foundation to use a university to promote its ideological biases in this way,” he continued. “The Kochs can fund positions to hire faculty members who study these issues, but not control what stand the faculty members hired take on them. That distinction is part of the firewall protecting academic freedom.”
Nelson’s position is, to be sure, the position of most members of the professorate.  One wonders, though, what they would say about the fellowship program at Ford Foundation.  The home page for it is here, and the statement of purpose is forthright:
“Through its Fellowship Programs, the Ford Foundation seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, to maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and to increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students.”
Place Cary’s objection to a foundation “controlling what stand faculty members hired take on” certain issues beside the quotation and it obviously applies.  Ford doesn’t just support “diversifying” the professorate (examine Ford’s higher education programs and you find diversity reaching obsessive levels).  As the final aim makes clear, Ford wants to use its funds to steer the way people teach.  Diversity is, indeed, an ideology, and, to use Cary’s term, Ford doesn’t just ask its fellowship recipients (whom it wants to become professors) to study it.  They have to implement it in their educational practice–or no money. 
I wrote to Cary asking what he thought of that program in light of his statement, but he wrote back saying that he was traveling and he could only say that it’s fine for ordinary fellowships to have ideological ends, presumably because it didn’t involve faculty hiring.  But the “use- diversity-as-a-resource-in-education,” it seems to me, coupled with Ford’s aim to place people who do so in faculty positions, crosses the very line Cary draws.


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

    View all posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *