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A group of students critical of their college's ties to the billionaire Koch brothers wants to know how much of the pair's money is flowing to Utah State University.
The university's Koch Scholars program offers $1,000 stipends to 15 students in a selective book club. It received an annual $45,000 grant from 2009 to 2013, and a $650,000 donation from the group also helped the school hire more instructors.
But the terms of a current contract with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation are still hidden, points out USU student Diego Mendiola. The sophomore journalism major on Monday filed a records request for the information. He believes the petrochemical businessmen, known for backing conservative and libertarian causes, are buying influence on campus.
"A lot of people don't really know who the Koch brothers are," Mendiola added. "I think it'll get a real conversation started."
Charles and David Koch have donated millions to elect politically conservative candidates and have taken aim at green energy programs.
The foundation's website says it "supports scholars and universities interested in advancing an understanding of the link between free societies and well-being."
On Thursday, university spokesman Tim Vitale said administrators immediately began working with Mendiola to grant his request.
"We will gladly give them all the information they want," Vitale said. "We have no qualms about that."
In the extracurricular book program hosted by the business school, much of the required reading espouses the virtues of free markets.
But Dave Patel, associate dean of Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, notes participants also are required to read "The Social Contract" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "which in today's political spectrum," he notes, "would probably be to the left."
"This criticism that the Koch Foundation is unduly impacting higher education that they're buying academics and inculcating young minds into their philosophy I don't see that," he said.
Patel said he's "agnostic" about the source of donations and works hard to maintain academic integrity. Students in the program, he said, express a range of political views.
Still, maintains Mendiola, taxpayers and students at the public university should know details of a continuous gift with such obvious political ties.
Mendiola and a group of about 30 other students on Thursday rallied at the school's business building, then marched to President Stan Albrecht's office to draw attention to their effort.
John Hardin, the Koch foundation's director of university relations, said "transparency is important" but called the Utah State demonstration "unfortunate."
The group, Hardin said, foots the bill for dialogue and research on roughly 300 campuses across the country. Those academic endeavors, he added, might otherwise go unfunded.
The student group won't get the information on the agreement, set to expire in 2018, until next week. Under its contract with the foundation, the university must give the organization 10 days' notice before releasing those figures.
The school, Vitale said, notified the foundation on Tuesday.