“The important thing for you to understand about PPE is that in a state overrun by racially motivated gerrymandering and voter suppression, the curriculum and the context of this strategy is really critical,” Banks said. “There’s a reason why North Carolina was chosen for this.”
PPE was established as a minor at UNC in 2005. It also exists as a certificate program at Duke University, and students from both schools can take classes at the other to fulfill their requirements.
Michael Munger, director of PPE at Duke, thinks there is a double standard where faculty disagree with Koch funding, but have less of an issue with donors such as David Rubenstein — who contributed heavily to Duke’s School of Public Policy — and George Soros.
Still, Munger believes that donors almost always have an influence on university programs. The important distinction to make, he said, is that what happens with funding should be something faculty wanted to do anyway and should be led by faculty through transparent processes.
“And so the PPE program — to look at the people they’re hiring, those are people the philosophy department would have hired anyway," Munger said. "So the faculty at UNC who are objecting don’t know what they’re talking about, and it’s just ideological bias.”
UnKoch My Campus, on the other hand, has a stated mission to protect higher education from “actors whose expressed intent is to place private interests over the common good.” UNC Professor Emeritus of sociology Sherryl Kleinman, who was at Saturday’s conference, said some faculty believe taking money from the Koch Foundation is fine if the foundation does not interfere with programming. Still, she said this is problematic because those who take the money may find themselves, even if unconsciously, shaping the program in ways that will please the donor.
Kleinman said the Kochs have been major funders of climate change denial, adding to her concerns about the University accepting Koch donations.
“Taking money from the Koch Foundation legitimates an organization that denies the major crisis of this historical moment,” she said in an email.
A major theme at Saturday’s talk was Koch money in North Carolina specifically, where some say conservative values already dominate the state assembly and the UNC System’s Board of Governors.
“I’m wondering how we can start to unify the fight at a state level on individual campuses in light of the state assembly and opposing forces at the state level,” Michael Palm, UNC-Chapel Hill AAUP chapter president, said during the conversation.
Banks said resisting Koch money looks different at every campus, but faculty can unite to resist and have independence outside a system that has already been infiltrated.
“A lot of this is about not depending on the law of how things operate to save us,” she said. “We have to be people who use collective bargaining — organizing ourselves and resisting our administration if we have to — or resisting donors, and that can look all sorts of ways.”