Transparency Trainwreck

Photo courtesy of Transparent GMU


Last spring, Transparent GMU exposed several examples of undue donor influence here at Mason. This included revelations that the university allowed the Charles Koch Foundation and other donors to be involved in the hiring of faculty within the economics department.

In response, Mason President Ángel Cabrera commissioned an Internal Review Committee to review active donor agreements supporting faculty positions and current gift acceptance policies and procedures. The committee concluded that it “did not find any egregious practices.”

Transparent GMU disagrees with the Internal Review Committee’s conclusions.  

The committee’s report revealed a number of serious violations of academic freedom and faculty governance. These examples reveal that the university has allowed donors to: specify outcomes of research (pg. 13), be involved in the selection of faculty (pg. 15), withdraw their funding if specific person(s) were not hired or retained in their current positions (pg. 14), oversee fellowship recruitment criteria and processes (pg. 18) and prevent the university from disclosing the existence of gift agreements or its contents (pg. 19).

Furthermore, the scope of this review was insufficient. It did not consider gift agreements related to “affiliated yet independent entities” such as the Mercatus Center. These agreements showed that private donors influenced faculty hires and academic research. Those agreements, which prompted this review in the first place, were excluded. This omission only reinforces our interest in the ways in which private and independent entities are corrupting our public university.

This report proves that Mason has faltered in its commitment as a public university to remain independent of outside influence. The examples outlined in the report represent egregious practices that put our education and the reputation of our future alma mater at risk. The administration’s ongoing attempt to downplay the gravity of these violations is misleading at best.

According to the American Association of University Professors, academic freedom is “the indispensable requisite for unfettered teaching and research in institutions of higher education.” Academic freedom is a core principle of any university, and our institution is no different. As Mason students, we believe that compromising academic freedom is a threat to our ability to continue to pursue diverse and innovative ideas within the Mason community—and for the benefit of society at large.

Over the last four years, Cabrera has misled our community by stating that private donors do not have influence over our education. His reiteration that the Internal Review Committee found nothing egregious during their investigation is yet another example of his deceptive leadership.
It is apparent that our university needs to establish clear policies to hold its leadership accountable. This kind of negligence cannot continue to go unchecked. Transparent GMU demands that the university release all past, present and future gifts, pledges and grant agreements to the public. We further demand that the university expand shared faculty governance and follow Faculty Senate motions to evaluate all major gift agreements and implement veto power on future gift agreements to prevent further violations.

There is no excuse for this kind of negligence. Donor influence appears to have run unchecked for decades, and full transparency of all gift agreements is the only way to understand how deeply rooted the corruption truly is. Without students, there is no George Mason University. This is an institution intended for education, not corruption. We are not asking the administration to release all the gift agreements, and we are not asking for shared faculty governance with veto power—we demand it.