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#UnKoch Campus! U.S. Students Resist the Corporitization of Education

  • Posted on: 4 November 2014
  • By: Connor Gibson

As students in Michigan, Kansas and Virginia attempt to pin down evasive administrators to review grant contracts cut between billionaire Charles Koch and their universities, one campus is working to tie these regional movements together. Photos from across the U.S. are posted below.

Florida State University (FSU) students affiliated with the group FSU Progress coordinated various student groups at 20 campuses across the U.S. to push back against corporate donors who use money to weave their interests into the mission of universities: educating students. For FSU Progress, this not only means resisting the efforts of Charles Koch to capture colleges to wage his long-term political campaigns--at the expense of academic freedom--but protesting the rigged process by which a Koch-backed politician is poised to take FSU's presidency. Inside Higher Ed explains:

"Monday’s event, though, focused on the wider issue of "corporatization of higher education" and homed in on state Sen. John Thrasher’s appointment last month as president. He was approved despite strong objections from students and faculty members.

"Student activists with the FSU Progress Coalition are asking the state Board of Governors to reject Thrasher’s appointment at its meeting this week. About 80 students walked from campus to the Old Capitol Monday as part of a rally protesting the selection of Thrasher. There’s also a walkout and occupation of the president’s office planned for Thursday while the Board of Governors meets, said Lakey, a graduate student at Florida State who only goes by one name. [...]

"Thrasher also was chosen multiple times as legislator of the year by the conservative, Koch-supported American Legislative Exchange Council, Lakey said. And Allan Bense, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, is also chairman of the board of directors of the James Madison Institute, a Koch-funded think tank.

"Thrasher has denied any sort of relationship with the Koch brothers, although he has received modest campaign contributions from Kansas-based Koch Industries."

In solidarity, other campuses took action in solidarity with FSU student organizers.

George Mason University is by far the largest university benefactor of Koch money, receiving $24 million from 2005-2012, excluding tens of millions of dollars from Koch to two Koch-governed think tanks on campus. GMU student protestors petitioned their fellow students to help grow pressure on the GMU administration, which has so far failed to provide the transparency needed to prove to it students and professors that Koch money isn't exerting influence in the classroom. Photo below.

University of Virginia students hosted a teach-in on the student debt crisis that was conducted in solidarity with the FSU protests. Photo below.

Michigan State University students filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain any grant agreements signed between MSU and the Charles Koch Foundation. MSU was Tweeting its support yesterday. Photos below.

Students at University of Kansas are awaiting the results of an open records request submitted in September, which their administration charged them $1,800 for. After making their case in a public op-ed in the Lawrence Journal-World, public supporters helped KU students raise the money needed to get documents relating to former Koch-lobbyist Art Hall who now runs a project in KU's business school with Koch grants. University of Maryland is being criticized by members of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP). SLAP member Chris Bangert-Drowns noted the shady history of Koch Industries, which has faced a range of multi-million dollar fines, lawsuits, criminal and civil penalties for chemical leaks, oil spills, stealing from American Indians and wrongful death due to corporate negligence. Given Koch's history of profiting from such bad business conduct, Bangert-Drowns noted,

"In accepting the donation from the Charles Koch Foundation, this university is condoning the historically criminal, destructive and treacherous behavior of Koch Industries and its leaders."

As with UMD, students have questioned what Koch's six-figure grants are buying at George Washington University, a private school in Washington, DC. Last spring, Freshman student Kinjo Kimea wrote:

It’s impossible to tell whether strings are attached to this donation. The University has declined to disclose if there were any conditions that came with accepting the money. That should raise red flags. Students deserve to know whether politics play a role in these decisions. Donors can be outspoken Republicans or Democrats, yes, but fundraising requires transparency.

Koch is now noticing this nationwide revolt. In response to student protest, the Charles Koch Foundation just created "academic giving principles" that aim to gloss over the documented cases in which academic freedom took a back seat to Mr. Koch's preferences. This is consistent with the activities of Mr. Koch: micromanage the things you fund, and use fancy words to obscure what you're actually doing - in this case meddling with the education of high school and college students.

Charles Koch cannot hide his assault on academic freedom with words. Mr. Koch is attempting to buy a constituency which is actively developing its ability to think critically. Students and professors are asking the right questions, and Koch-funded university administrations aren't helping by behaving in secretive ways.

The primary suspect in examining nationwide attacks on academic freedom is billionaire Charles Koch. Greenpeace has documented that what little is known about the $50 million Koch sent to universities from 2005-2012 puts Mr. Koch's corporate ideologies ahead of the ability for faculty to teach concepts freely.

Resources: Day of Action against the Corporitization of Education.

Photos from FSU and solidarity protests across the country:

GAU UnKoch

University of Oregon Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation

 

GMU UnKoch

George Mason University students

 

Temple University UnKoch

Temple University (PA) Students

 

UVA students UnKoch

University of Virginia students

 

MSU Grad Employee Union UnKoch

 

Michigan State University Graduate Employees Union

Michigan State University students and Grad Employees Union

 

AU UnKoch 2

AU UnKoch 3

American University student

American University students

 

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Michigan State: students highlight Willie Soon's oil and coal-funded climate denial career

  • Posted on: 8 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Image from a USA Today article detailing Willie Soon's at events to confuse the public over climate science.

Written by Rachna Pannu. This event was covered in the Michigan State News by Simon Schuster, whose interview with Dr. Willie Soon confirms CFACT paid for Soon to attend these events.

Dr. Willie Soon, a well-known climate change denier, was invited by the MSU Campus Conservatives at Michigan State University to talk about climate change.  The event was sanctioned by CFACT, an obscure but vocal group among climate science deniers. We at MSU Greenpeace saw this as a great opportunity to have some of our members attend and question the reasons and methods with which he chooses to deny what 98% of climate scientists have agreed to be true
 
The bulk of Dr. Soon’s talk involved aggressively targeting published or well-known supporters of climate change prevention, including professors, Al Gore, and federal, national and international organizations. He went through the data, attempting to discredit it with conflicting data from other studies and experiments. However, this aspect of his talk left me with more questions than answers, especially since he is a known recipient of oil and coal money.
 

Willie Soon’s fossil fuel-funded career

 
Willie Soon spent a good amount of the talk repeatedly defending himself as an independent scientist simply seeking to learn the truth before anyone had even questioned his motives and his expertise. He ranted that people question his funding and his intentions, but he is just an objective man trying to get to the truth of climate change. He also used this opportunity to criticize the current scientific model of publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, claiming that it was a buddy-buddy system and peer-reviewing did not affect the validity of the article.
 
Essentially, Dr. Soon was warding off the holes in his credentials before anyone had questioned them because his doctorate is in astrophysics, which is not even related to the Earth’s climate, and has only been able to publish one article on climate science in a peer-reviewed journal. Even that article was hotly debated by the editors, who wrote a negative response and resigned from their positions in outrage. And Willie Soon's funding? It comes from fossil fuel companie--like ExxonMobil and Southern Company--totaling over $1 million in the last decade.
 

Questionable Climate ‘Science’ 

 
Willie Soon pulled up a graph showing the temperature range over a series of years in the 2000’s and asked rhetorically whether anyone could see an increase in the temperatures over time. Yes, I could, but I would rather like to question the validity of using a period of less than 10 years to examine the change in the Earth’s temperature over time. In another example, he showed a graph that analyzed both the variance in amplitude and shift in time for the predictions of temperatures by many different model used by scientists. The models were dispersed around the central point of zero difference in amplitude and zero shift in time, but he simply stated that the image showed errors in all of the models and stated that none of them were in the lower left corner. Why they should be in a region of less amplitude and a negative shift in time in relation to the actual temperature patterns baffles me.  
 
Members of MSU Greenpeace questioned Soon about his articles on climate science, and he became aggressive and very defensive, stating that peer-review did not signify greater accuracy (peer-review is crucial to ensuring the highest conduct in scientific research). When a member of The State News, the MSU student newspaper, asked why with about 13,900 published articles on the verity of climate change and only twenty-something that argue the reverse he felt that climate change did not exist, Dr. Soon again became frustrated. Soon referred to a quote from Albert Einstein, saying that it only takes one person to disprove what everyone agrees upon. Read coverage of this event from the State News here.
 
There was no way to have an effective discourse about climate change with Dr. Willie Soon because he refused to accept the very basic premises of our current scientific standards that peer-review ensures accuracy of the published articles and that a large consensus by educated individuals who have done their own research into a matter indicates the verity of the hypothesis. In addition, some of the data and sources he provided seemed either not applicable or reputable as we are taught is critical to reliable scientific research. 
 

Dr. Soon adds Ocean Acidification Denial to his Growing list of Specialties

 
Separate from Willie Soon’s questionable assertions about global temperature trends were his assertions used to dismiss ocean acidification, a serious problem that is linked with increasing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (caused by companies funding Dr. Soon, like ExxonMobil and Southern Company). Soon's sources were shaky--data cited from a BlogSpot website, for instance, not exactly a credentialed scientific institution. He disputed a report by a marine biologist that claims increasing CO2 content of the ocean results in weakening of the shells of marine organisms by interfering with their ability to use calcium carbonate in their shells. 
 
Scientists who are serious about scientific standards tell us that ocean acidification is having a profound impact on coral reefs (they are dying rapidly), and scientists are working to determine if more acidic oceans are impacting crustaceans, ocean animals that have shells. Dr. Soon apparently already has the answers, stating that crabs and lobster shells were not composed of significant amounts of calcium carbonate, and then he provided data that showed lobsters and crabs increasing in size after carbon dioxide was bubbled through their water. If indeed the shells of crustaceans are not mainly composed of calcium carbonate, how does an experiment showing the effect of carbon dioxide presence in the water of lobster and crabs conflict with the statement that it affects the availability of calcium carbonate? 
 

Soon’s Limited Audience

 
The only thing I can say is that I felt some relief in that he was only able to attempt to influence a half-filled classroom composed of 1/3 individuals who did not attend the university and already believed in Soon’s paranoid vision of the world and 1/3 supporters of the movement to protect our planet. There are always a few doubters, a few critics and a few conspiracy theorists that refuse to acknowledge global warming no matter how much evidence is presented to them. If we can get the majority of rational individuals to understand the changes occurring to the environment, we can create change to save our planet and make it a healthier place to live. 
 
Rachna Pannu
Senior, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology B.S. 
Lyman Briggs College
Michigan State University
 

 

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