Understanding Donor Influence at GMU


By Ashley Stewart, Staff Writer

UnKoch My Campus, a national organization with the stated goal to “expose and expel undue donor influence in academia,” organized an event Oct. 24 in Research Hall.

Transparent GMU, a campus student advocacy group currently involved in a lawsuit against the school to reveal documents related to donations from the Charles Koch Foundation and other related donors, hosted the meeting.

The event focused on explaining donor influence on college campuses nationwide, and their specific activities at Mason. Their presentation gave an overview of the history of the billionaire Koch brothers, their involvement in higher education, and their history of donations to George Mason.

Ralph Wilson, a researcher with UnKoch My Campus, detailed the size of the Koch family network, and spoke about their ties to the John Birch Society (JBS), a conservative advocacy group. The JBS site states that Fred Koch was an “early member” of  the JBS National Council. The JBS site also states its mission “To bring about less government, more responsibility, and — with God’s help — a better world.” According to Wilson, the JBS has been famous for “pushing anti-communist and white supremacist ideals” since its formation in 1958.

Wilson is an alumnus of Florida State University, another school that has received significant donations from the Koch brothers. As a result of the influence of the Koch donations, Wilson said Florida State gave the Koch brothers veto power over the university’s hiring process for some of their faculty.

After Wilson finished speaking, Mason alumna Samantha Parsons, who founded Transparent GMU, spoke about the Kochs’ involvement on campus. Parsons began researching donor influence at Mason in 2012, and said that she “wanted to know who was funding [her] education.”

Lindsey Burger, the executive director of UnKoch My Campus, explained that she believes these large donations are “a way for businessmen to hide from the public eye, while donating to universities for their own personal gain.”

UnKoch My Campus representatives said they hope to continue doing events at George Mason, citing Transparent GMU’s concern that large donations to the school could have serious repercussions for academic freedom.

Photo Courtesy of Ashley Stewart