PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona’s Republican leaders have proposed earmarking millions of dollars for programs at the state’s public universities that are backed by billionaire Republican donor Charles Koch.
The proposal would funnel $5 million to support programs at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona that have received millions in funding from the Charles Koch Foundation — a nonprofit backed by the petrochemicals CEO known for supporting limited government and lower taxes.
That money makes up a significant chunk of the $13 million set aside for new ongoing spending at Arizona’s three state universities, as part of the $9.58 billion budget plan negotiated between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey.
It is not unusual for billionaires — including those on the other end of the political spectrum — to donate large sums to schools, which can raise unease among students and faculty about maintaining academic independence.
Democratic Rep. Ken Clark of Phoenix called the use of the funds “indoctrination through state government dollars.”
Clark said that although universities are often seen as bastions of liberalism, it doesn’t mean the state should fund programs that could be seen as supporting conservative causes.
“So what we are just going to do, favor one over the other? That’s absurd,” he said.
The governor’s office dismissed the concerns, saying the proposal would simply increase students’ exposure to a variety of opinions.
“It’s our position that students in our university system should be exposed to a broad range on all issues including economics,” said spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.
The centers, which offer classes at the universities, maintain their curriculums are unbiased.
University of Arizona would receive between $2 million and $2.5 million for the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, which says its mission is to promote the ideals of freedom and responsibility.
Arizona State University would receive $3 million to establish a new school comprised of the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty and the Center for Political Thought and Leadership, to study ideas surrounding free markets, private property rights and entrepreneurship.
Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said the earmarked funds are an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.
“The argument that there’s some kind of inconsistency with wanting to teach our young people about the virtues of free enterprise and our American political traditions is just nonsensical to me,” he said.
The Charles Koch Foundation offers grants for 300 colleges and universities around the country, said John Hardin, director of university relations for the foundation — including $48 million to George Mason University, in one form or another, from 2011 to 2014, tax records show.
Hardin said the generosity comes without conditions as long as they are pursuing questions about freedom and prosperity.
“Our role is to provide the funding. They do the research,” he said.
The foundation has given at least $4.5 million to the two centers at ASU and at least $1.3 million to the U of A philosophy program.
David N. Gibbs, a professor of history at U of A, said the Charles Koch Foundation is using academia to influence public opinion to win support for policies that will benefit Koch and his business interests.
“The question would be, ‘Why would they be funding it unless they want some sort of ideological payoff?’” Gibbs said.