SALT LAKE CITY — The Academic Senate of the University of Utah, through a working group and resolution, wants guidelines and policies that address the "intersection" of faculty, administration and donor voices with respect to the U.'s larger institutes and centers.
On Monday, the Academic Senate approved a resolution that gives a committee formed last spring to review donor agreements the additional responsibility of reviewing and recommending revisions to policy and guidelines regarding establishment of centers, institutes and bureaus, including those under provisional status.
The committee was formed in the wake of the rift between the University of Utah administration and the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
More recently, a $10 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation to Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis, provisionally approved by the U. board of trustees, stirred concerns among faculty members. The Charles Koch Foundation gift matched a like sum given by the Eccles family through two foundations to create the institute within the School of Business.
This summer, 194 faculty members signed a statement of concern submitted to the Academic Senate Executive Committee saying that the grant from the Charles Koch Foundation "raises serious concerns" about intellectual independence and academic freedom.
The letter said transcripts from a 2014 Charles Koch Foundation Donor Summit meeting "made it clear that the aim of the Koch Foundation’s widespread investments in higher education is to 'leverage science and universities' for their specific public policy agenda."
Dean Taylor Randall of the David Eccles School of Business assured member of the Academic Senate that leaders of the business school had similar questions and concerns about the Charles Koch Foundation's participation in the institute.
But the Eccles family brought the proposal forward to honor Marriner S. Eccles, who served as Federal Reserve chairman from 1934 to 1948, Randall said.
"They bring us good deals. They care a lot about academic freedom," he said.
The negotiations over the Koch Foundation's gift were faculty led because Randall wanted faculty members to fully understand the agreement and what it meant, he said.
"Any agreement has to protect academic freedom and the integrity of our research. This was very important to every person involved," Randall said.
As faculty members began to research other agreements the Charles Koch Foundation had with other colleges and universities, it found language in some agreements that said the foundation would not fund faculty positions unless it approved of them.
"That was a nonstarter for us. In fact, we went right at the issue. We said 'Is this going to be a part of the agreement? Because if it is, we're out,' " Randall said.
But some faculty members said other institutions who have received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation with similar agreements have still experienced interference from the foundation with respect to faculty governance and the exercise of academic freedom.
Mark Button, chairman of the Department of Political Science, an author of the statement of concern, said faculty members conducted interviews and reviewed agreements the Charles Koch Foundation has with dozens of other colleges and universities to learn more about their experiences.
"To invoke a great philosopher's warning 'We learn from history that we do not learn from history,' " Button said.
Others such as Paul Cassell, distinguished professor in the S.J. Quinney College of Law, said the concerns "about this very generous gift are unsubstantiated."
While Button said the faculty's concern did not rise from the fact the Charles Koch Foundation has a conservative ideology, "I have to wonder about," Cassell said.
A lack of ideological diversity poses greater threat to academic freedom at the university, Cassell said, perhaps most pronounced in the law school and the College of Social and Behavioral Science and the College of Humanities.
"My sense is only a tiny fraction of the faculty at these colleges would be identified as being on the right side of the political spectrum That's certainly the case at my own school, the College of Law. The vast, vast majority would be identified as being on the left side of the spectrum," he said.
The lack of diverse viewpoints "creates a culture where conservative students feel unable to express their points of view in class and conservative scholars feel the need to trim their sails to the prevailing academic winds in order to succeed," Cassell said.
Cynthia Berg, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science, said programs within the Marriner S. Eccles Institute would duplicate others on campus, which "is problematic where there are scarce resources."
The university administration, in a prepared statement, acknowledged faculty, students, staff and members of the community have differing views on the Charles Koch Foundation donation. The administration supports the expression of these diverse views and the use of university governance processes to convey input, it said.
"All of the gift agreements associated with the Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis were thoughtfully crafted by appropriate university offices, working in partnership with the faculty members who will be responsible for the work of the new institute. Our goal was to protect the autonomy of the institute’s operation, ensure the academic freedom of those working there, and align with university practices.
"The university neither endorses nor condemns the personal or political viewpoints of any of its donors, nor does it believe it is appropriate for administrators to control the funding agencies and foundations where faculty members seek support for their research," the statement said.
In a related matter, Academic Senate President Mardie Clayton announced the faculty governance organization plans an expanded role for a committee that previously examined smaller centers, institutes and bureaus on campus.
"The way I’ve been explaining this to people who ask 'What’s this all about?' is, I think of it as a Venn diagram. Where is the intersection of the faculty voice, the administration voice and the donor voice in our bigger institutes and centers? By that I mean Huntsman Cancer Institute, Moran, the Eccles Genetics Institute and our provisionally approved Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis," Clayton said.
The Academic Senate's executive committee is in the process of sending invitations to potential participants in the process, she said.
"The outcome of this task force will ultimately be some policies, some guidelines, some rules on how we as an institution wish to interact with our donors and manage our institutes," Clayton said, adding that the ultimate product, will be a policy to guide how the university moves forward in areas of philanthropic giving.