Efforts by Group at Wake Forest to Restrict Open Inquiry Are Distressing

To the Editor:

As a philanthropy that supports hundreds of colleges and universities each year, the Charles Koch Foundation is committed to academic freedom and open inquiry, which is a driving force behind discovery and human progress. When we say academic freedom, we mean that no one — not a funder nor a faculty member in another department — should be able to tell a scholar what to say, research, or teach. Though critics have sought to mischaracterize our grant making, we have been consistent on this point. It is captured in our giving principles published on our website.  It is memorialized in our grant agreements.  And it’s a prominent point in our discussions with university administrators when they come to us with a request for support.

Unfortunately, this commitment to open inquiry is not one that is shared by everyone in the academy, as recent actions at Wake Forest indicate (“Koch Money Brings Distress Over a University’s Well-Being Institute,The Chronicle, April 4).

A small group of faculty at Wake Forest is insisting on censorship of one of the chaired professors there who receives support from the Charles Koch Foundation. Specifically, they want to require him and his colleagues at the university program he oversees to submit their work to review by other faculty members before they can publish their research or teach in their classroom. Whatever one may feel about the Charles Koch Foundation, those who believe in open inquiry on campus should be outraged.

This group of faculty’s actions are aligned with others across a range of ideological perspectives who believe in silencing ideas with which they disagree. This includes Republican lawmakers in Iowa considering a bill that would require universities to screen professorial candidates based on their political affiliation. In Arizona, a bill recently introduced attempted to prevent schools from teaching courses that promote “resentment or social justice towards a race, gender, religion, political affiliation or other classes of people.” At Cornell University, a measure to increase “ideological diversity” was defeated by one vote in the Student Assembly.

At the Charles Koch Foundation, we join those who would stand up against such egregious restrictions on open inquiry, regardless of their source. Ad hominem attacks on the Charles Koch Foundation by the Wake Forest faculty behind this effort are one thing. The move to censor the ideas of faculty with whom they disagree is another matter entirely and one that all who care about higher education should resist.

John Hardin
Director of University Relations
Charles Koch Foundation
Arlington, Va.

Return to Top