TTU Faculty Member Responds to Reports of Funding, Influence From Koch Brother Donations


On Monday, the Texas Observer published an article entitled Hostile Takeover: How the Koch brothers and their libertarian allies pushed their way into Texas Tech — and used public funds to do it. The article claims that an institute at Texas Tech is fueled by funds connected to the Koch brothers ( Charles and David Koch), the massively influential conservative donors and business moguls who run Koch industries. 

One faculty member had the bulk of the focus in the article: Ben Powell,  executive director of the Free Market Institute (FMI) at Texas Tech.  The article said FMI is “bankrolled by the Koch network and other conservative interests and individuals”

Specifically, the article said FMI, ” is backed by more than $11 million in funding from entities and individuals in the Koch network, a review of records by the Observer found.”

Benjamin Powell, spoke exclusively with Wednesday, and took issue with several points in the piece. Notably, he feels it made unfair jabs at FMI’s academic credibility.

“Our faculty members that we’ve hired publish an average of more than four peer reviewed journal articles per year, since coming to Texas Tech they’ve published in the top political science journal, the top agricultural economics journal, many top field journals in economics,” Powell said. “So it’s a complete inaccuracy to say that this isn’t a scholarly institute engaging main stream academia in a way with Tech’s Tier 1 mission.”

The article questions whether the influence of donors–Koch related and otherwise– on FMI impacts their academic integrity. While Koch funding has been heavily linked to conservative and libertarian political endeavors, Powell insists that his researchers maintain academic independence just as any other faculty member would.

“We’re completely non-partisan and we don’t address social values and other things, it’s an institute concerned with the workings of markets,” Powell said. 

He explained that FMI currently has seven Ph.D. students and teaches roughly 100 students.

Beyond the funding details, the article also ties the institute to a larger campaign by Koch-connected organizations in an attempt to influence universities.

“I have no knowledge of what this Koch network that they’ve described includes and doesn’t include, the vast majority of our support comes from West Texas foundations that are concerned with promoting [free market research] at Texas Tech,” explained Powell.

Powell says the institute was started by funds from a West Texas rancher and since then West Texas donors have made up the largest percentage of donations to their institute.

“Since then as we’re building a Free Market institute at Texas Tech,  I think we would be crazy not to appeal to a national donor who’s known for wanting to donate to things that promote free markets so we have approached Charles Koch and received funds from him,” Powell explained.

“We’re willing to accept funding from any other rational source that agrees with our mission,” he added. 

Powell said he doesn’t see concerns with affiliating his public university institute with Koch funding, especially considering the FMI discloses their Koch funding in research projects they do tied to those funds.

“We got a grant to study the impact of immigration on the U.S. economy from the Charles Koch Foundation, we commissioned a number of scholars and we published a book with Oxford University Press publishing our findings, acknowledging Charles Koch’s foundation in the acknowledgements,” he said.

“I think as long as faculty members at the institute determine their own research program, all of us have the same freedom as any other academic on campus to pursue funds to pursue our research programs,” Powell said.

He explained that the institute is housed under the office of the vice president of research at Texas Tech, individual faculty members also acquire affiliation with other university departments upon department approval. 

The article also cited faculty and departmental resistance to Powell and the FMI being installed at Texas Tech. Powell said there was “some shuffling” prior to the installation of FMI, but that happened before he arrived on campus. 

The article also reported that Powell used some of the private donations FMI received to secure $1.4 million in state funding. Powell explained that all research at Texas Tech is eligible to apply for state matching funds. 

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