I was intrigued to receive an invite over the weekend to the University of Maine Machias' inaugural Koch Speaker on Environmentalism and Freedom, October 6. It's part of a new lecture series sponsored by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the philanthropy of the conservative billionaire of the same name, who has been the subject of considerable scrutiny of late.
How did this arrangement come to pass? I explored this for this short piece in the new Portland Phoenix.
With space and time constraints, I left the bigger question open for unaddressed: is it appropriate for a public university to have a lecture series funded by a controversial and politically-engaged organization? If not, why not? If so, where does one draw the line, bearing in mind the academic ideal of being open to a diversity of opinion? Is, say, the John Birch Society an appropriate donor? How about the Church of Scientology? Is it ok, so long as local academics -- not foundation officials -- choose who to invite? Share your thoughts if you have any.
A side note: I requested the grant contract for the series from UMM -- a public university whose documents are public records -- just to be sure there were no unusual strings attached (as there were in the foundation's much larger grant to Florida State University.) Will update here after I read it.
[Update: 9/22/2011: I received the grant documents and associated correspondence from UMM, which handled my request promptly and professionally. They confirm the information imparted to me in interviews and reported in the story.
Correspondence also shows that Dr. Reisman was entirely open with his colleagues about his associations with the Kochs. He sent a May 2011 email to the entire UMM faculty informing them of his "growing relationship with the Charles G. Koch Foundation" and an upcoming trip to a Koch industries forum in Witchia on "management philosophy," for which he would receive (from the foundation) travel expenses and an honorarium.
In terms of transparency, Reisman and UMM both deserve gold stars.
The speaker series was originally to be entitled "Sustainability and the Road to Serfdom: Can Environmentalism and Freedom Co-Exist?," and was scheduled for last spring. It March, however, Reisman decided to postpone the program, largely because Gov. LePage's regulatory reform initiative had "heated up" Maine's environmental policy world. Reisman also decided the series should berecast with "a broader and perhaps less threatening topic." and the Koch foundation concurred.]
NBC picks up series based on Republic of Pirates
4 years ago