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[Editor’s note: Protesters, demanding reconsideration of the UNC Board of Governors’ recent decision to name Margaret Spellings as UNC system President, are expected to demonstrate at today’s board meeting. The following essay in support of the protest was written by frequent N.C. Policy Watch contributor Michael C. Behrent, a Professor at Appalachian State, and Ralph Wilson, a researcher at the higher education advocacy group UnKoch My Campus.]

Margaret Spellings: It’s all about the party
By Michael C. Behrent and Ralph Wilson

In late November, incoming UNC president Margaret Spellings made a trip to North Carolina, during which she tried to quell some of the outrage her record and secretive appointment by the UNC Board of Governors has triggered. She told the News and Observer that she had learned from her experience as President George W. Bush’s Education Secretary that public service “has to be about the ideas and the ideals, as opposed to party.”

Yet as more facts emerge about Spellings’ record, it becomes increasingly apparent that her “ideas and ideals” have always been first and foremost those of her party and its ideological agenda. For over a decade, she has worked tirelessly to end public education as we know it, be it through privatization, high-stakes testing, the imposition of a right-wing ideology on the school system and profiteering off of student debt.

True, she recently informed the News and Observer that she would resign at the year’s end from her position on the advisory board of Ceannate, a for-profit college loan company. But her political connections to movements to privatize public education, deny climate change, and dictate school curricular changes reflective of her own ideological agenda make her unfit to serve at the helm of UNC, a system that has long exemplified this country’s ideals of accessible, high-quality public education serving the common good.

Consider these facts:

As Bush’s Education Secretary, Spellings buried a study commissioned by her own Department that found that public schools performed as well as, if not better than, private schools. This finding, in conflict with the Bush administration’s pro-charter school/pro-privatization reform agenda, went completely unreported by Spellings’ office as it prepared to make $100 million dollars in school vouchers available under the No Child Left Behind Act. When confronted about the lack of disclosure, Spellings claimed that it was “was overlooked in [an] internal memo.” She later sent NPR a statement rejecting the findings: “This study, while it does contain noteworthy findings, it is an academic comparison of averages, and does not provide families the tools to make real world choices about their children’s education.”

Though Spellings has said little in public about her own views on environmental policy, she has close political and financial ties to influential climate change deniers. In 2010, Spellings became President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The Chamber of Commerce, notorious for its climate denial, is intimately tied to the political machinations of Charles Koch’s network of donors, called the Freedom Partners. For instance, leaked information from Koch’s secret donor summits

Read More

Commentary, News

As reported in this space two weeks ago, administrators at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee are considering a proposal by the controversial fossil fuel magnates, the Koch Brothers, that would give $2 million to the university to establish the WCU “Center for Study of Free Enterprise.” The proposal would make Western one of the largest university gift recipients in the country out of the scores of campuses currently receiving Koch money.

Monday, in an email to faculty, the chancellor at Western, David O. Belcher, announced that he is endorsing the proposal. Here is the text of the email:

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share with you my decision to endorse the recommendation of the Provost and Provost Council to establish the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise (CSFE). Western Carolina University’s Board of Trustees will consider this recommendation at their meeting scheduled later this week.

I have appreciated the healthy, robust conversation that this proposal has generated and which informed my own contemplation. It is my firm belief that the university, of all places, is and must be the locus of civil discourse and debate on the worthy issues and ideas of our time. I am grateful that, as demonstrated in this case, Western Carolina University is such an institution.

I trust you had a good Thanksgiving holiday and wish you well in these last weeks of the fall semester.

Yours,
David Belcher

As we also also reported previously, the proposal (which is being spearheaded by an arch-conservative economics professor) is opposed by Western’s Faculty Senate, which drew particular attention in an October statement to the fact that the Koch proposal is contingent upon the university matching the gift to the tune of $1.4 million. Unfortunately, the faculty opposition, which also highlighted the fact that other campus programs with outside funding could benefit from $1.4 million in matching university support, appears to have fallen of deaf ears.

As Chancellor Belcher noted in his email, Western’s Board of Trustees (which includes, among others, conservative firebrand and former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer), will consider the proposal later this week.

Commentary, News
Koch brothers

Charles and David Koch – Image: www.thinkprogress.org

As multiple news outlets have reported of late, the controversial and conservative fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch have spurred a rising tide of controversy in recent years with dozens of gifts to universities around the nation. Moreover, as The Atlantic reported last month in “Spreading the Free-Market Gospel: What’s new and interesting about the Koch brothers’ approach to funding academics” there is clearly a method to their largess:

“Last year, a staffer for Charles and David Koch’s network of philanthropic institutions laid out the billionaire brothers’ strategy to spread their views on economic freedom.

Political success, Kevin Gentry told a crowd of elite supporters attending the annual Koch meeting in Dana Point, California, begins with reaching young minds in college lecture halls, thereby preparing bright, libertarian-leaning students to one day occupy the halls of political power.

‘The [Koch] network is fully integrated, so it’s not just work at the universities with the students, but it’s also building state-based capabilities and election capabilities and integrating this talent pipeline,’ he said.”

Click here to check out a database that demonstrates just how broadly their tentacles have already spread.

Edward Lopez

Prof. Edward Lopez

Now, comes word that the Kochs have offered to make a UNC system school — Western Carolina University in Cullowhee — one of their largest university gift recipients. Under a proposal currently under consideration by WCU administrators, the Charles Koch Foundation would give $2 million to the university to establish the WCU “Center for Study of Free Enterprise.” The faculty member driving the process appears to be Economics Department Professor Edward Lopez, who also boasts the title of “BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism.” Lopez, who gave the “Friedman Legacy Lecture” this summer at the John Locke Foundation, is a graduate of the Kochs’ largest university grantee, George Mason University, and an energetic proponent of “free market” economic theories.

While accepting one of the Kochs’ largest gifts in the country to promote conservative economic theory is, for some, controversial in and of itself, what has added extra impetus to the debate at WCU in recent weeks is the fact that the grant is contingent upon the university kicking in another $1.4 million of its own. Read More

Commentary, News

Solar powerCharlotte-based Duke Energy, the nation’s utility company, does a lot (and spends a lot) to cozy up to powerful politicians of both parties and to promote an image of a responsible corporate citizen. Unfortunately, when it comes to the well-being of the planet, it’s clear that Duke is solidly aligned with the polluters and exploiters. A new report from the good people at Environment North Carolina explains:

“Duke Energy is front and center in a new report connecting the company to a national network of utility interest groups and fossil-fuel industry-funded think tanks providing funding, model legislation, and political support for anti-solar campaigns across the country.

‘North Carolina is a solar success story, providing a clean, renewable source of energy to power our homes and businesses,’ said Rachel Morales, clean energy organizer with Environment North Carolina. ‘Duke Energy, with help from fossil fuel interest groups, are fighting to take away that progress, preventing us from reaching our full solar potential.’

The report, Blocking the Sun, was released by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center, and shows that while Duke Energy touts its support for solar energy, the company is simultaneously lobbing against policies that would help solar grow. In Florida, Duke Energy is actively giving campaign contributions to anti-solar politicians. While here in North Carolina, the company is an active opponent of the same policies that have helped North Carolina rank fourth nationally for solar capacity added two years running.

‘It’s tragic that Duke Energy was able to recklessly disrupt North Carolina’s once-growing renewable energy industry,’ said Jim Warren, director of NC WARN, an energy and climate justice group. ‘They are killing jobs and slowing the urgently needed national shift to clean, affordable energy. This excellent report exposes those shameful efforts.’

Duke Energy is not alone in its effort to scale back solar energy’s growth. In September, the American Energy Alliance, a Koch brothers front group, held a forum to voice concerns about the growing renewables market it North Carolina. Representative Mike Hager, R- Rutherford, former Duke Energy employee and outspoken opponent of North Carolina’s renewable energy standards and renewable energy tax incentives, organized the event.

‘By wide margins, North Carolina supports pro-solar policies,’ said Morales. ‘Duke Energy, the Koch brothers, and their friends in the legislature are working to dismantle commonsense energy policy that is working for North Carolina. We need our leaders in the General Assembly to stand up to Duke, and support solar energy initiatives that make it easier for every farm, family, and business to go solar.'”

Click here to download and read the entire report.

Commentary
© Greenpeace, David Sorcher, 2012

© Greenpeace, David Sorcher, 2012

There’s a fabulous op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by a fellow named David Jenkins of the Virginia-based group, Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. In it, Jenkins exposes the outrageous and dishonest war on renewable/sustainable energy being waged by fossil fuel front groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and their allies in the Pope empire here in North Carolina:

“We have all heard about President Obama’s ‘war on coal,’ but the challenges facing the coal industry are much more complex than the ‘war’ label would imply.

There is a war on energy, but the target is not coal, it is wind and solar energy.

The attack dogs in this war are funded by Koch Industries and include Americans for Prosperity, American Energy Alliance and the American Legislative Exchange Council. They frame their attacks as a defense of the free market and fiscal conservatism. Yet even a cursory examination of their positions reveals they’re not defending the free market but attempting to protect the fossil fuel industry from competition.”

Jenkins goes on to explain that all energy sources are subsidized by government and that the subsidies provided to fossil fuels greatly surpass those provided to renewables. (Indeed, as was explained in this post the other day, the subsidies provided to fossil fuels once one factors in the environmental costs are truly staggering — as much as 6.5% of GDP!)

Here’s Jenkins:

“These groups seek to bolster certain federal subsidies by attacking others, rig the market in the name of preserving it, pick winners and losers under the pretense of opposing such things, stifle freedom while pretending to promote it and encourage waste and inefficiency. All of this while pretending to support free market principles.

This special interest hijacking of the conservative label comes at the expense of real conservative values – and our nation’s long-term energy security. Only courageous and principled conservatives can effectively defend conservatism from such abuse.”

The bottom line: Call it what you want — conservative or liberal — but the simple truth that fair and true competition can help save the planet when it comes to energy is undeniable.