Democracy, Current Events

UnKoch My Campus Update: A Concerned Faculty Member at Brown Clarifies Their Letter

Blogger’s Note: This evening I received this following letter from a faculty member at Brown, who desires to remain anonymous to hide the fact that they are fictitious. In accordance with their wishes, I reproduce it in full here:

I recently wrote a letter to the wonderful organization UnKoch My Campus in which I criticized the funding of higher education by the billionaire industrialists and international men of mystery Charles and David Koch. As many are now waking to realize these peddlers of free trade and voluntary transactions are secretly infiltrating American higher education through shadowy front organizations named after themselves.  As a faculty member at Brown I am particularly outraged by their funding of the Political Theory Project at MY university, the place where I drink my Fair Trade coffee and Think Deep Thoughts.

In response to my outrage several Koch operatives/minions/lackeys have dared to criticize my view, thereby demonstrating that they do not understand it. To help them see the light I have deigned to clarify some of my points:

  1. I BELIEVE THAT BROWN FRESHMAN ARE REALLY F*CKING STUPID. I noted that John Tomasi–the “libertarian” professor associated with this “project”–said of his freshman students that “after a whole semester of Hayek, it’s hard to shake them off that perspective over the next four years”. This statement proves just how insidious the Koch approach is. Brown’s Freshmen are just like impressionable new-hatched ducklings, latching on to whichever idea they encounter in college first, unable ever to critically assess it and discard it. That’s why it’s crucial that they be exposed ONLY to the Right (i.e., Left) Ideas, so it will be these that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. If we’re not careful here we’re setting ourselves up for a repeat of the unfortunate events of 2012, when Swift’s *Modest Proposal* was required reading for the entering class.
  2. NANCY MACLEAN IS ALWAYS RIGHT. Some people have objected to my repeating Nancy Maclean’s claim that libertarian ideas owe much to the “bitter resistance of wealthy white southerners to Federal government ‘interference’ in slavery and segregation”. They have noted (in true neoliberal fashion!) that many of her foundational claims are “dubious,” “made up,” and “wrong“. In response to the Koch operatives and shills that draw on such outdated and neoliberal methods as “checking the sources” and “reading the original texts” to press these charges I will point out that these claims do not fit with my preferred narrative, and are therefore false.
  3. I AM NOT AN INTELLECTUAL COWARD! Some people might criticize me for publishing my attack anonymously. But there is a long and distinguished tradition in American political life of publishing arguments anonymously so that their readers can focus on their content, and not be distracted by their source. I thus feel fully justified in anonymously publishing my argument that we should only look at the source of the funding of the Political Theory Project, and refuse to engage with the content of the arguments it presents.

Yours un-collegially,

An Anonymous Faculty Member at Brown





  • King Goat

    Professor Taylor, if the Chinese government offered to fund a center or institute called “Development Issues in Tibet,” to be headed by a scholar who has in the past benefited from grants from the Chinese government, should we so dismiss critics of the proposed institute?

    • James Taylor

      I wouldn’t go near such a Center myself, obviously, but if a university wished to host one I wouldn’t object–assuming that the scholar in question would merit academic employment independently of the Center’s existence.

      • King Goat

        Fair enough. For myself, I think a person can object that such an institute would, at best, be a ‘waste of time’ academically, and at worst, be a vehicle for actual misleading, as one could fairly conclude, as a matter of inductive reasoning, that what’s offered is going to ultimately be propaganda in the interest of those paying for it.

        • Jeff R.

          At my university, they call that the Sociology Department. I have had no success in having it shut down thus far.

        • penrose22

          Unfortunately, virtually all university/college educational programs are financed to a great degree by private donors, often alumni, either by direct donation to specific programs or by donations to the general fund. If they desire, large donors, be they left or right, will likely have substantial influence upon the political leanings of many of these programs by either specific directives or by the general knowledge of the politics of said donors and the fear on behalf of administrators and/or board members of losing said donations. Since so many professors seem to have left-leaning ideology, it would seem that money from left-leaning donors is more compelling.

    • Hollis Butts

      Ah, the old Trump-as-Russian-lackey approach.

      • King Goat

        I wasn’t thinking of either Trump or Russia. Not everyone is always thinking of that, you know.

        • Rob Gressis

          At some point there’s a difference of degree that makes a difference in kind. If the Carnegie Institute or the Gates Foubdation funded center-left research because it liked its orientation, but attached no strings, it would be odd to liken it to the Chinese government funding a propaganda institute, no?

          • King Goat

            Of course there can be a degree in difference that makes for a degree in kind. My point was simply that you can’t dismiss concerns about the funding of an institute out of hand with ‘well, students aren’t idiots and won’t be brainwashed, so let’s let any possibly propaganda driven institute be set up at our college.’

          • disqus_dHfP7H43qd

            Aside from the Koch’s, which other donors do you look out for when determining the quality of the center?

          • King Goat

            I’ve no specific complaint against the Koch’s or this center, my point was about the general argument that we shouldn’t care if an on-campus institute is propaganda driven because students aren’t idiots/easily brainwashed. I think it’s clear that some propaganda driven institutes should be objected to by those on the campuses they would be on and that such objections wouldn’t imply that the objectors think students would be easily brainwashed by them because they’re idiots.

          • Octavian

            And I’m guessing those institutions that rouse you to interject nearly overlap with those that promote views you happen to disagree with.

            Let’s be clear: nothing taught by Koch funded institutes or professors exceeds, on the propaganda-meter, what is already taught in most social sciences, especially gender/ethnic studies, sociology, anthropology, and even many history courses.

    • geoih

      So donating money to academia is the equivalent of funding propaganda supporting the invasion and occupation of a country?

  • stevenjohnson2

    Following some links, I ran across this: “MacLean seems not to notice Brown is itself an example of the phenomenon MacLean is denouncing: a Constitution being used to overrule a democratic outcome in the name of protecting a minority.” The assumption that segregation was the will of the majority says much more about who the author identifies with than it does about MacLean. There may have been local pluralities in favor of segregation here and there, but it is not at all clear the majority of people in the US favored it. When I was a child I was very surprised to find segregated drinking fountains on a trip South. And history matters too. The implication segregation was duly instituted by a democratic majority following constitutional procedures I believe to be racist mythology. I’m afraid I’m still convinced it’s the claque shrieking about MacLean who is dubious, made up and wrong. I still don’t think the Kochs are the fount of all evil, though. Wish they were, then the problem would be solved so easily.

    And I ran across this: “Science advances when scholars are free to choose their own research agendas, and conduct their research in full view of the broader community.” But, these people are being paid to pursue someone else’s research agenda. Perhaps moral nihilists and jaded cynics can admire such shameless self-contradiction. I do not.

    As to the content of the “research” project, that is sharply limited by the answers it starts with, “The main components of market democracy include: democracy, markets, rule of law, knowledge sharing, and a participatory ideal of inclusion.” The unclarifications, nonexplanations that follow take them up in reverse order. Curiously, but symptomatically I think, when they get back to the beginning, they talk not about “democracy,” but freedom of expression instead. Even the mission statement is shady.

    Of course, not everything is predetermined by the propaganda mission. There are the questions the project means to address. The thing is, in science, very often the key to progress is asking the right question.

    “What are the ideas and institutions that make societies more free, prosperous, and fair?”
    Why is one nation in world society more prosperous than another, or more free, or more fair? Whose freedom? Whose prosperity? Whose notion of fairness?

    “What causal explanations account for the historical co-development of advanced market economies and inclusive democratic polities?”
    Why were revolutions so essential to the development of democracy? How can democracy be so compatible with imperialism?

    “How do market economies and democratic governments interact and shape social outcomes?”
    Do democratic governments act on the economy according to majority will? Is the hallmark of democracy the inability to shape economic outcomes?

    “How significantly are contemporary distributions of wealth shaped by historical injustice?”
    How can social science educate the population to the fact that contemporary distributions of wealth are shaped by historical injustice?

    “Can emerging economies develop in ways that are just, equitable, and ecologically sustainable?”
    How can wealthy countries compensate the damage done to the environment by their long time exploitation?

    “Can economic science inform our understandings of politics and governance?”
    How can we keep wealthy people from pretending that the pronouncements of economists are like decrees from God, even though economists have persistently failed to predict economic events?

    “What are the moral implications of trade and global economic growth?”
    How can we educate the population to the fact that everybody in the world is not going to be able to get rich by the old kind of economic growth, because that will trash the planet? And that casually hoping the rest stay poor may not really be moral?

    “How do the findings of social science and institutional operations shape our moral theories of governance and politics?”
    How do we refute motivated reasoning by hirelings of the rich purporting to prove their wealth is basically a just moral order, aka God’s will?

    “What are the moral and practical limitations of democracies and markets?”
    How can we elevate our students beyond the worldly cynicism that insists, in defiance of history, that things can’t get any better, only more so?

    These people can’t even get the questions right.

    • Greg Tobler

      I recall as a child making the trip north and being surprised at water fountains that anybody could drink from. But then we found that while black people, brown people, etc might be able to use the same water fountains, they still couldn’t live in the same neighborhoods. And they couldn’t get the same jobs or access the same credit sources and while a precious few might go to an integrated school most were relegated to segregated and typically inferior schools. It’s pretty clear that segregation was the will of the majority, north and south. Enforcement was simply more brutal in the south. Getting any measure of equality took physical and political actions; leave those out and we’d still be as segregated as the 1950s. Yeah, there is a racist mythology; it’s the one that tries to pretend everything is just so fine now and hey, it wasn’t really as bad as we’re told it was back then. Yeah, it was bad, real bad. And we still have a long ways to go.

      • stevenjohnson2

        You should have been around to explain how nothing has changed, and all that excitement about desegregation was mere hysteria. Market forces and limited government are entirely compatible with the preservation of racism untouched. Conservatives must be very happy: The happy ways of your childhood haven’t gone with the wind.

        Nonetheless, historically, de jure segregation, as in separate school systems, was never a democratic majority policy, for the good and simple reason a local plurality is not the majority of the nation. You’re very much like the historians who think the majority of the southern people favored secession. They include states like South Carolina where black people were the majority. The only way this kind of thinking makes any sense is if there is a tacit understanding that not everyone counts as “people.”

        • Greg Tobler

          Except that segregation was the majority policy in a majority of locations in the nation. That makes it the democratic majority policy. And there wasn’t a “tacit” understanding that not everyone counted as “people”. It was spelled out in the Constitution and local laws and policies. Certain “people” were only 3/5 of a person for representation and nothing of a person as far as voting rights go—north and south. Yes, market force and limited government as you understand them are compatible with the preservation of racism. I’d argue that market forces don’t operate if certain people are excluded from the market for non-monetary reasons. Not sure why you’d think I think nothing has changed. It has. Big time. But still a long ways to go. Not sure why you want to pretend that de jure and de facto segregation were not majority beliefs and practices in this country. I’m familiar with the history, both from reading and personal experience.

          • stevenjohnson2

            You’re the one whose position is premised on the idea nothing has changed. Getting called on it, then pretending it doesn’t, doesn’t change that.

            The Constitution was written to protect slavery, not segregation, neither de facto nor de jure. I don’t know whether you are trying to confuse things, or are just confused. In addition to conflating slavery, segregation official and practical, discrimination legal and illegal and, apparently, mental phenomena of racial prejudice, you have confused law enforcement with continued majority support. By your standards, the majority of the people supported Prohibition. And the majority still support the war in Afghanistan. If the point of your comment was supposed to be something about the majority of Americans are generally “racist,” considering how many are not white, and, unless you assume that melanin-deprived means depraved, surely not the entire white race is evil, I’m not quite sure you’re right about that. But you may be.

            The thing is, even if you are, it still doesn’t support your claim about how it’s the independent courts using conservatism that protect the persecuted minorities from the overweening majorities. Plessy v. Ferguson trumps Brown if you insist on playing that game. The whole point about conservative notions of democracy is that they want a system where a minority can set up laws that a majority can’t change. I think in practice the laws that enforced all sorts of bad things were put in by a minority, and the Jim Crow system was one. That’s why it took the KKK along with the with rotten Compromise of 1876 and prolonged redemption campaigns to set up segregation…in the South, not the majority of places. (By the way, the majority of locations is not the majority of the people, anyhow, so why claim it, except to be confusing?) It was a minority of one, Woodrow Wilson, who ordered Jim Crow federal government, not the beastly mob, not even one at the polls.

            Lastly I disagree with the assumption that being excluded from the market is the cause of all ills, not least because it’s not quite a thing….What happens, the turnstile to the market won’t take a black man’s token?

          • Greg Tobler

            where the hell do you get the notion that my premise is that things haven’t changed? where do I claim that “independent courts using conservatism that protect the persecuted minorities etc…”? Apparently, you have no clue how black people and others were treated in the north or what local laws and customs were, before and after the Civil War. Segregation was in place long before Reconstruction. Sorry dude, but you speak word salad.

          • stevenjohnson2

            There were no schools for black people in the South before the Civil War. After the defeat of Reconstruction ended the revolution, “separate but equal” school systems were built to institute a system of segregation. The OP referred directly to Brown and my original comment on that never changed the topic.

          • James Taylor

            I was referring to Brown University, not Brown v. Board! 🙂

          • stevenjohnson2

            “So the strangest thing about Democracy in Chains—a book that contains many, many strange claims—may be how its author, the Duke historian Nancy MacLean, treats Brown. On one hand, she believes that those who want to bind majorities with preset constitutional rules are up to something sinister. Her chief villain on this score is James Buchanan, an economist and political philosopher who argued that government actors ought to be subject to built-in structural constraints. On the other hand, MacLean clearly thinks Brown was correctly decided. Indeed, she accuses Buchanan of working to undermine the ruling.”


            My original comment starts “Following some links…” I suppose you could have it both ways. The links are part of the OP or not, if you catch a commenter ignoring the link. And they aren’t when acknowledging the link doesn’t serve.

            Preset constitutional rules that prevent national majorities from excising such obscenities as Jim Crow segregation with fake “separate but equal” school systems and separate toilets and drinking fountains and so on and so forth, can indeed be legitimately argued to be up to something sinister. (Pardon the excessively long sentence but your peer Tobler has reminded me that one should be precise, lest the unscrupulous seize the opportunity to equivocate.) Whether you are convinced depends upon your ability to change your mind as well as the argument offered.

            Since Jason Brennan highlighted the objectionableness of George Soros’ background to libertarians concerned with this issue, your reference to the Kochs’ as “international men of mystery” is evidently ironic, emphasizing how, unlike George Soros, the Kochs are not international men of mystery. Such intellectual consistency of principle! Well done!

          • James Taylor

            “The links are part of the OP or not, if you catch a commenter ignoring the link. And they aren’t when acknowledging the link doesn’t serve.” That’s a REALLY unfair comment. I was merely noting that the “Brown” that I was referring to was the University, not the legal decision. If you wish to discuss MacLean’s discussion of Brown, that’s fine–and not at odds with what I posted above.

          • stevenjohnson2

            It seemed to me that you were implying I had stupidly misread you as referring to the court decision when you weren’t talking about that at all. That seems really unfair to me, as well as intentionally insulting. And for that matter, it seems really unfair that people ignore how the initiative’s own mission statement shows how limited its supposed independence is.

          • Chris Morley

            Steven Johnson has found a great way to win arguments:

            1) Demand that everyone accept his self-serving definition of the terms in dispute;

            2) Write enough convoluted prose that everyone gets bored and leaves.

          • Sean II

            Confession: if nobody else is responding to one of his, I give myself permission to skip it.

  • Jason Brennan

    UnKoch My Campus is funded by George Soros. These people present themselves as if they are fighting against billionaires’ power over universities, when in fact they are pawns of and prostitutes for a different billionaire. I enjoy laughing at them.

    • stevenjohnson2

      But pawns of and prostitutes for the Kochs are not to laugh at. This is unfortunate, because it sounds so misleadingly as if the problem with Soros’ money is that he’s Jewish. I’m sure you don’t want to cozy up to anti-Semites.

      Obviously you meant to condemn all of them as pawns of and prostitutes for billionaires.

      Unfortunately, as of now, there isn’t the slightest indication you’re right. As a metaphor, people who do something immoral for money are the prostitutes. As a practical matter, since none of them are really prostitutes, we should consider the prima facie case for intellectual corruption is taking money for pushing pre-determined conclusions. In the Koch-sucker initiative, the mission statement shows how tightly constrained the “research” is. I don’t know the dollar figure but it is evidently quite considerable (admittedly, by my low standards.) As of now, I don’t know of any such tight direction of UnKoch My Campus. And I rather suspect that not one member will have their salary boosted, publication opportunities, grants, tenure track, etc. But these things would be good to know, because I’d have to change my opinion about this one organization.

      There is debased adulation of money, which would despise UnKoch My Campus precisely because it’s not making its proponents big bucks. And adoring the clever boys in the initiative because they do. Sort of like favoring call girls over streetwalkers, because, you know, good taste.

      • Jason Brennan

        Steve, your continued parodying of dumb leftists is really enjoyable, too. Thanks for all you do.

        • stevenjohnson2

          Yes, it was dumb of me to give you an out. I now see you really do despise Soros’ pawns and prostitutes more than the Kochs’ pawns and prostitutes. And it was dumb of me to think libertarians would find that disquieting, rather than be quietly satisfied.

        • Jeff R.

          That really was one of his best.

        • Chris Morley

          It’s like someone loaded an iphone with The Nation’s back-catalogue and writes comments using only the predictive text function.

    • Connor Gibson

      got a source for your lie there, Jason?

      I’ll wait.

      Connor, with UnKoch.

      • George Soros’s Accountant

        1. UnKoch My Campus received financial, staff, and fundraising support from the Center for Media and Democracy – a repeat six-figure recipient of grants from Soros’ Open Societies Foundation.

        2. UnKoch My Campus received a $10,000 donation from the American Federation of Teachers on 2-10-2017. AFT is a part of the Democracy Alliance, Soros’ secretive fundraising network of donors and organizations that holds invite-only high dollar donor sumits.

        3. UnKoch My Campus claims to have received a donation from the Solidaire Network. The Solidaire Network is also a part of the Soros-Democracy Alliance network.

        Note that any similar level of association with a Koch-financed organization would be sufficient for Mr. Gibson to label it a recipient of Koch funding or support.

        Unfortunately, UnKoch My Campus does not practice transparency in its own accounting despite demanding the same from other groups. It also has a habit of laundering its fundraising operations through other 501c3 groups that hide its donor names. Or using those same groups to pay its employees without having to worry about little things like paper trails (cough) Greenpeace (/cough). Maybe one day we’ll get some transparency for all the Dark Money that UnKoch My Campus uses to sustain itself. But I suspect that today is not that day, even though Mr. Gibson could easily make the disclosure.

        • Connor Gibson

          lol, so the short answer is no, brave troll?

          • Jason Brennan

            That would be a yes, dipshit. Can’t UnKoch afford better intellectual prostitutes than you?

          • Connor Gibson

            you seem to think I’m on their payroll – I’m not.

      • Jason Brennan

        Connor, a propagandist and intellectual prostitute, knows it’s strategic to cover up UnKoch’s funding in order to make it seem as if it’s a grassroots organization.

        • Connor Gibson

          lol you live in your own reality, huh.

          you seem like an angry man, Jason.

          • Connor Gibson

            also, how come the moderator gets to be such an asshole, but critical comments challenging your assertions are liable to be banned?

            aren’t you supposed to be a Libertarian?

  • CJColucci

    Interesting to see how acceptable the gender-neutral singular “they” has become. If folks as un-PC as those here use it, it won’t be long before it is broadly accepted in formal written English.

    • Brooklyn Boricua

      You are several centuries late in noticing its acceptance in standard written English. (The masculine can also be used.) The only innovation is in using it in “nongeneric” contexts to refer to a specific person–the most moderate example of the “boutique pronoun” trend for those who refuse to “identify” with any human biological reality. (As the Damore suit demonstrates, this is itself the most moderate form of a trend of demanding social acceptance of human “identification” as plural beings, animals, fictitious mythical creatures, etc.)

      Also, if my search function is not mistaken, no one who has used the word “they” in any context on this particular page is the slightest bit “un-PC.”

  • Connor Gibson

    What are these here grants, directly from Charles Koch Foundation to you, James Taylor, that you failed to disclose?

    Does that mean you are the PI for all $90,000+ that Koch has provided to TCNJ?

    You linked to the Wikipedia page for “Irony.” How appropriate, since it’s ironic for you to accuse us at UnKoch of actually inventing fake Brown professor…but to preserve your own legitimacy, you had to omit your real-world payments from the very donor we are criticizing.