UPUA Representatives Push Back Against Undue Donor Influence From Koch Brothers
Ever since the controversial Citizens United decision in 2010, the term “undue influence” has become a buzzword in American politics when it comes to the role of money — who can give it, how much can they give, what does the money go toward, how public are the disclosures pertaining to that money, etc. — in the democratic process.
Although universities don’t comprise any branch of the government, the intellectual mainstays of the country pride themselves on housing departments devoted to the training of what are often called “future leaders.” These students have the potential to go on to be the movers and shakers in American policy, or play a role in the private sector or in government.
Let’s say an entity donates to a university department that holds sway over those future leaders — that entity could use that money and the corresponding influence to have a hand in the ideologies perpetuated by the department to the students.
Jacob Klipstein, at-large representative for the University Park Undergraduate Association and the Penn State College Democrats’ chief of staff, has co-sponsored two resolutions that deal with donor influence at Penn State and a disaffiliation with the Koch Foundation. The foundation has allegedly influenced decisions regarding faculty hirings and firings, syllabus preparation, and other university matters at several schools like George Mason and Florida State.
“One of my main concerns is that — I trust the people who are in charge now at Penn State,” Klipstein said. “I think they’re all great guys and women; they have the best interests of the university at heart, but when I saw what was happening at these other schools, I decided to look into our policy and see if we had public donor influence policy to stop large donors from influencing aspects of Penn State that should really be left to Penn State.”
The resolutions, which are co-sponsored with representatives Derek Menges and Zachary McKay (at-large and College of Arts and Architecture, respectively), both passed though the committees, but Klipstein noted that they were recommitted with work still to be done.
The Koch Foundation has donated $170,000 to Penn State, spread among the Smeal College of Business, the Liberal Arts research fund, and the Economics department.
“I’m not concerned about any department in particular,” Klipstein said. “But seeing what other big donors at other schools have tried to influence… [the resolutions are] just making sure Penn State is safeguarded from all of them.”
Although the question of the Koch brothers’ influence played a key role in the drafting of the resolutions, the forthcoming resolutions may omit the Koch-related specifics in the language and simply cover the Academic Donor Influence Policy. UPUA’s 13th Assembly has just two meetings left after spring break before next year’s leadership is elected.
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