A group of about 50 Catholic scholars from across the United States has urged Catholic University President John Garvey to get with the Pope Francis spirit and take advantage of “an opportune time to educate students about the importance of business ethics and global solidarity.”
By treading carefully with a fat donation from the Koch Brothers Foundation. (Other groups are urging CUA to return the dough outright.)
CUA hopes to raise $5 million to support research “into the role principled entrepreneurship can and should play in improving society’s well-being.” The Koch Bros, they of ALEC and Tea Party fame, have offered up $1 million toward that goal. Some Catholic academics, however, are wondering about what ideological strings might be attached to that donation, warning, “We must not ignore the stark contrast between the Koch brothers’ public policy agenda and our Church’s traditional social justice teachings.” The scholars say, “We are concerned that by accepting such a donation you send a confusing message to Catholic students and other faithful Catholics that the Koch brothers’ anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing of a university sanctioned by Catholic bishops.”
According to Catholic University, the grant will enable its School of Business and Economics to recruit and hire three visiting scholars one visiting scholar-practitioner from the business world for research and teaching.
With Pope Francis just selected Time magazine’s person of the year and his recent exhortation ringing with denouncements of economic inequality and the inimical affects of global capitalism, the timing of the CUA donation from two of the world’s more notorious capitalists and plutocratic activists could not be worse. On issues from the aforementioned economic inequality to worker rights to climate change and stewardship of the earth, the teaching of Francis and other recent popes could not be further apart from the political agenda and interests of the Koch brothers, the scholars point out in their letter to Garvey and Andrew Abela, the dean of the business school.
The scholars write: “Both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have raised ethical and moral questions about global financial markets, and emphasize the need for preparing business leaders to not simply serve a profit motive but to serve the common good.
“While we understand the challenges of starting a business school during a time of fiscal constraints and restrained philanthropic and government funding, we must raise our serious concerns about a recent $1 million gift the university has accepted from the Charles Koch Foundation. Given the troubling track record the foundation has in making gifts to universities that in some cases include unacceptable meddling in academic content and the hiring process of faculty, we urge you to be more transparent about the details of this grant.”
The statement to Garvey continues: “The Koch brothers are billionaire industrialists who fund organizations that advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship. As you well know, Catholic social teaching articulates a positive role for government, an indispensable role for unions, just tax policies, and the need for prudent regulation of financial markets in service of the common good. …While the Koch brothers lobby for sweeping deregulation of industries and markets, Pope Francis has criticized trickle-down economic theories, and insists on the need for stronger oversight of global financial markets to protect workers from what he calls ‘the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.’”
In a response, a Catholic University spokesperson in a statement dismissed the letter as "an unfortunate effort [by the political lobby Faith in Public Life] to manufacture controversy and score political points at the expense of The Catholic University of America." CUA's Victor Nakas said, "The University controls the search, recruitment, and selection process for all positions funded in the agreement. The University will independently select all faculty and staff related to this grant in accordance with existing University hiring policies. All the activities funded in the grant are related to the core mission of the University to teach and conduct research in service to the church and the nation."
Nakas called the letter "presumptuous on two counts."
"First, its authors cast themselves as arbiters of political correctness regarding Charles Koch Foundation grants. They judge the Foundation’s support of the arts and culture to be 'noble philanthropic work;' its underwriting of grants to universities elicits their 'serious concerns.' Second they seek to instruct The Catholic University of America’s leaders about Catholic social teaching, and do so in a manner that redefines the church’s teaching to suit their own political preferences. We are confident that our faculty and academic leadership are well versed in Catholic social teaching and well equipped to apply it. We created a school of business and economics for the express purpose of promoting respect for the human person in economic life, based on the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, human dignity, and the common good. The aim of the Charles Koch Foundation grant—to support research into principled entrepreneurship—is fully consonant with Catholic social teaching."
According to Nakas, the Koch brothers foundation has previously supported programs at 270 colleges and universities, including 25 other Catholic institutions, adding that he grant "has not engendered any controversy on our campus." Nakas said, "The facts bear out a long record of involvement in higher education by the Charles Koch Foundation, without any serious claim of interference with recipients of their funds."
He complained, "The negative attention to the grant has all been externally driven by organizations with a political agenda."
In their letter, the scholars remind Garvey and Abela that the Koch brothers gave generously to Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who stripped public employee unions of their rights to bargain. The church of course endorses the right of workers to collective bargaining and union representation. The statement further notes that the Koch brothers’ primary political arm, Americans for Prosperity, “has aggressively opposed Medicaid expansion in several states and demonized elected officials who support expansion that will improve the lives of the working poor, pregnant women, the disabled, and seniors in nursing homes”: that Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the United States, “also has an abysmal environmental record.”
“In addition, Koch Industries funds an array of organizations that deny the reality of climate change, which the Vatican and many Catholic leaders around the world have made a central pro-life concern because of the disproportionate impact climate change has on the poor and most vulnerable.”
The letter's signatories include CUA academics—William A. Barbieri Jr.; Frederick L. Ahearn Jr.; Ken Pennington of the CUA law school; and William V. D’Antonio, a senior fellow at CUA’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies—Miguel Diaz, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican; Stephen A. Privett, S.J., president of the University of San Francisco; Fred Kammer, S.J., head of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University in New Orleans; and the Drew Christiansen, S.J., former America editor-in-chief.