George Mason Senate Wants Ban on Donor-Faculty Strings

The faculty senate at Virginia's largest university passed a resolution Friday calling for a moratorium on certain kinds of donor agreements in the wake of revelations that the school gave the conservative Charles Koch Foundation a say in the hiring and firing of professors in exchange for millions of dollars.

The George Mason University senate held a special meeting to address concerns about academic integrity following the school's release of texts of some of its agreements with the Koch Foundation in response to one of several Freedom of Information Act requests.

The agreements show that the foundation was given the rights to appoint members of selection committees that would recommend professors for hire to certain slots at the Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank at Mason. The agreements gave similar access to advisory boards that can recommend dismissing professors who fail to meet expectations.

After years of denying that the deals posed any problems, President Angel Cabrera acknowledged as the documents were released that some of them fell short of standards for academic independence.

The senate failed to pass some harsher measures, including calls for censure.

The measure that passed Friday asks the school to stop making agreements to fund but not endow the hiring of new faculty with donor gifts.

As originally drafted, the senate also wanted to postpone a recent $5 million gift from the Koch Foundation to the school's economics department. But the senate agreed to change its request to address only future deals.

The senate also opted not to vote on measures that would have censured university officials _ including former Provost Peter Stearns and Tyler Cowen, an economics professor and director of the Mercatus Center _ for entering into the agreements with the Koch Foundation in the years before Cabrera took office.

Cabrera "has nothing but respect for them as colleagues and scholars," whose "academic record is in all cases impressive and their record of service to the university admirable," university spokesman Michael Sandler said. "While there may be valid differences of opinion about decisions past, he believes the idea of censuring them is misguided and, quite frankly, unfair."

The senate also called on the university administration to publish donor agreements in a permanent online database for public review. The faculty senate's resolutions are non-binding, and it's up to the administration to implement them.

While the Koch Foundation gives money to hundreds of universities across the country, Mason receives tens of millions of dollars annually and has some of the oldest and most extensive ties to the foundation. The university's law and economics schools have developed reputations as powerhouses of conservative thinking.

Faculty senate Chairman Keith Renshaw said professors at the school are disturbed about the gift agreements, but he believes Cabrera is taking the faculty's concerns seriously.

Elizabeth Mathews, a graduating senior majoring in history who has been active in efforts to force disclosure of the donor agreements, said the issue has been a big topic of discussion this week as students prepared for final exams.

"Time will tell if the administration really does take this issue seriously and wants to improve," she said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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