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George Washington University’s Koch Problem

By Bret Thompson

How the Kochs create kaws

Taylor Lincoln’s recent report spotlighting the deep ties between the Koch Brothers and just one of the fifty plus college research centers they help fund is making waves.

Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education both published lengthy write-ups on the report, which focused on the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University. Located just block from the White House, the Koch-funded outfit consistently produces work that is lockstep with the Koch agenda of slashing corporate and environmental regulations to make a profit.

This presents a significant academic integrity issue. The study found that this center’s “unbiased” study of regulations somehow managed to come down against increased regulation 96% of the time.

More pressing for the public at large however, is what ultimately happens with the work product coming out of the university. Koch-funded lobbyists have a strategy of taking research from the academic centers they fund — which carries with an implicit stamp of approval from a well-regarded university — and using it to advance their priorities, like helping to dismantle vital environmental protections. A Koch Foundation director has previously admitted as much, saying, “We’ve got a constellation of network organizations that are focused on applying what comes out of the universities to change the world.”

George Washington University has a decade-old Office of Sustainability, offers a graduate certificate in Climate Change Management and Policy, boasts fifteen experts from across the university willing to talk to the media on climate change, and is invested enough in renewables to house something called the The Solar Institute. Yet, they also gladly accept funding from the Koch Family Foundations, which have given over $125 million to groups hostile to climate change science and solutions.

The issue of whether non-profits should return or refuse gifts from individuals or organizations that are at odds with their values is one that has gained prominence lately. Perhaps the most prominent example are the museums distancing themselves from the Sackler family, whose fortune is now seen inextricably as tied to the opioid epidemic. It is GWU’s choice whether to continue accepting funds from the Kochs, however at odds their reputation is with the image the university seeks to project when it comes to environmental issues.  However, the calculation is much more fraught when you consider that the money isn’t going towards funding a fossil exhibit or the like, but rather a research center whose output is suspiciously in lockstep with the Koch’s underlying ideology of dismantling public protections.

So far over 10,000 people have signed our petition calling on George Washington University to shut down their Regulatory Studies Center unless they’re willing to put serious reforms in place.

We’ll be delivering these to the school this fall, so sign today.