Declines in state funding, growing deficits and budget shortfalls have been a trend for the past three years at the University of Louisville. A proposed $6 million dollar cash infusion from the Charles Koch Foundation and Papa John’s International CEO John Schnatter is being weighed to make up the difference – but the school is split on if it’s worth the cost to autonomy.
According to WFPL-News, the donation would be split between the two mega-donors. Koch would give $1.5 million, and Schnatter $4.5 million. The parties are said to be negotiating, “with Schnatter deferring to Koch on contract terms.” Schnatter, a donor who was identified as a part of the Koch political network in a leaked attendee list published earlier this year by Mother Jones, has not previously publicly awarded any donations as sizable as the one under consideration by U of L. The Louisville resident, who fundraised in 2012 for Mitt Romney at his lush 7.5 million dollar estate, is best known in political circles for his scare-mongering about implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which he opposed. When it passed, he proclaimed that the ACA would cost pizza franchises to add 14 cents to the cost of each pizza — and that it would force some to cut workers’ hours to avoid paying insurance costs.
Tax returns for his John H. Schnatter Family Foundation showed $564,625 in donations to numerous charities last year. Private donations to Super PACs — who are allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals and entities — are not available for public scrutiny.
If the $6 million gift contract is approved and made available for review, it will continue the trend away from public funding of higher education and toward financing by private and corporate parties.
The University of Louisville is not a stranger to corporate donations, according to WFPL-News:
Six years ago, BB&T Bank gave the university $1 million to bankroll a professorship in free enterprise and a new course, then called The Moral Foundations of Capitalism, drawing in part from the philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand. The course is now called Capitalism and Economic Freedom. Students in the class receive a free copy of Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged.”
The BB&T Distinguished Professor in Free Enterprise is longtime U of L economics teacher Stephan Gohmann. Two sources said he would oversee the program created with the Koch and Schnatter money. Gohmann’s roles would include having pre-approval authority over new hires and serving as director of what could be named the Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise.
Gohmann has toured the US giving talks on micro-breweries and presented a paper early this year at the annual National Economic Association meeting purporting that “dry counties” — i.e. counties that don’t allow the sale of alcohol — are responsible for Kentucky’s growing crystal meth trade. He has also done talks about the “negative impact” of the ACA and health care exchanges for the right-wing John Locke Foundation, which has ties to Donors Trust, the Koch brothers, ALEC and Art Pope.
Despite the strings attached to the donation (or stipulated in the contract with Koch) , it’s likely that the University of Louisville will accept the monies – they want to enhance their school’s offerings, and voters aren’t putting people in office who are fond of public financing.
“If the people of Kentucky are worried about corporate influence distorting education, they must insist that the state reinvest in public higher education,” said Avery Kolers, a U of L philosophy professor. “For 15 years now, the state has been cutting budgets, leaving universities scrambling for any dollar they can find.”