Commentary, News
Koch brothers

Charles and David Koch – Image:

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

App StateAs the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations convenes this morning to review, among other things, the generous new pay hikes provided to various UNC system chancellors, it’s increasingly clear that rank and file university personnel will get no more than the one-time, across-the-board $750 bonus authorized by the new state budget.

According to a post on the Facebook page Aaup Appalachian (AAUP stands for American Association of University Professors) the Human Resources Director at Appalachian State informed staff on the Boone campus last night that plans to supplement the bonus with another $750 out of university funds has been nixed by the lawyers:

“Dear Appalachian Colleagues,

On November 5, I sent you an email indicating that: “This year, the university has identified non-state funds to provide all SHRA employees with an additional campus-based $750 bonus, doubling the legislated bonus to $1,500.” It was my belief that providing these one-time lump sum bonuses was within our discretion, since we were not increasing base compensation and were not committing any State funds, and I advised our campus senior leadership accordingly.

With deep and sincere regret I must now inform you that I have recently been told by legal counsel that we are not allowed to make additional lump sum payments to employees subject to the State Human Resources Act (SHRA), above the legislated $750 bonus. Unfortunately, my interpretation of Appalachian’s ability to provide an additional bonus for SHRA employees was incorrect. Any such payments fall exclusively within the purview of the North Carolina General Assembly, regardless of the source of funding.”

The letter goes on to apologize profusely and acknowledge the sorry state of campus salaries.

At least the folks in Boone are keeping their (dark) sense of humor about the whole thing. This is from the intro to the Facebook post:

“Good news: The pay raises have been withdrawn!!
Bad news: Not the $50,000 raise for App State’s chancellor, but the $750 bonus for App State’s staff (in addition to the $750 bonus all employees are receiving)”


spellings-400cYesterday in The Nation, Zoe Carpenter laid bare the many reasons people who care about higher education should be concerned about the recent naming of Margaret Spellings as president of the University of North Carolina system.

Those reasons — close ties to the deceptive and imploding for-profit college sector, former leadership of a student loan debt collection company, homophobic comments — may already be old news to state residents, but here’s some elaboration from Carpenter:

At the Department of Education, Spellings tried to bring the focus on performance metrics and accountability that drove No Child Left Behind in higher-education policy.She convened a Commission on the Future of Higher Education, whose final report referred to students as “consumers,” and lauded elements of the for-profit education industry for embracing “an aggressive, outcomes-based approach.” Ironically, it’s the for-profit industry that has failed most egregiously since then to produce positive results for students. Kaplan Higher Education, one of the companies praised in the Spellings report, was forced to refund over a million dollars to hundreds of students in January after a federal investigation into the hiring of unqualified instructors, and another$1.3 million in July.

Spellings went on to work in the troubled for-profit industry after leaving the White House—an experience, she told UNC’s board of governors, that taught her “a lot about how we can serve our students and think of them as customers in providing a product in convenient ways for them.” Beginning in 2012 she served on the board of the Apollo Group, the parent company of for-profit chain University of Phoenix. That “diploma factory” is now under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, in part for its aggressive recruiting of military veterans. Its online program has a graduation rate of just 7.3 percent, and the student loan default rate is up 5 percent from the national average.

Spellings also chaired the board of the Ceannate Corporation, a student loan–collection agency. It’s not surprising that she had connections there: During Spellings’s tenure the education department was accused of acting “as a wholly owned subsidiary” of the student-loan industry. Preying on student borrowers is lucrative business: profit margins for loan collectors average 30 percent. “Despite widespread calls to reform the student loan industry, Spellings and the Ceannate Corporation have simply profited off of it,” two UNC professors wrote in a recent op-ed. “Spellings’ defense of for-profit colleges [following her appointment] is perhaps just as disturbing as the predatory practices these institutions use to fleece students.”

Spellings has also come under fire for homophobia. She used her second day as education secretary to send a letter to the chief executive of PBS, admonishing her for a brief, unaired scene on a show called Postcards From Buster that depicted a same-sex couple. “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode,” she wrote. Spellings asked for the network to return the public funds that had been used to film it. Asked about the comments after her election to the top post at UNC, she said, “I’m not going to comment on those lifestyles.” She defended her actions, arguing that it was “a matter of how we use taxpayer dollars,” not about “any particular view” on “particular groups of people.”

Add to those yesterday’s announcement of a $102 million student loan forgiveness settlement involving Education Management Corporation — yet another connection Spellings had with the for-profit college industry.

Turns out that after leaving the White House Spellings also worked as a consultant to EDMC, and in comments at a forum for higher education leaders, defended the for-profit college world.

“We need to again use better data to make our case … to tell our story in credible ways,” Spellings was quoted by Inside Higher Ed as having told the folks gathered at that forum.

“We’re seen as wild-eyed, often profit-making, the wild west of higher education, and often don’t get credit for what we do.”


The governing board of the state’s public university system decided Friday to hand over audio recordings and documents to legislative leaders from a closed-door discussion last month raising the pay of a dozen chancellors.

Friday’s  meeting of the university system’s Board of Governors was called in order to deal with a request from Republicans state Senate leader Phil Berger and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore for details on whether the board complied with open meeting laws when it decided  to raise the pay for 12 of the system’s 17 chancellors.


The UNC Board of Governors voted Oct. 30 to give pay raises of up to 20 percent, or $70,000, in a closed session portion of their meeting. Media outlets with reporters at the meeting, including N.C. Policy Watch, objected to the secrecy of the discussions and the vote behind closed doors.  (Click here to read more about the raises.)

UNC officials have also been called to appear at a Nov. 18 legislative hearing, to discuss open meeting concerns over the Oct. 30 vote.

On Friday, several board members made vague references to the October closed session discussion, saying discussions had been robust and the votes for pay raises close.  N.C. Policy Watch, and several other media outlets, has requested details about the votes, but no information has been released.

Friday’s meeting also included a request by acting chair Lou Bissette for a briefing at the board’s December meeting about its requirements under the state’s open meeting and public record laws.

Bissette said Friday he would release a summary of the closed-session vote to offer more information about what transpired.

Members of the state’ public university governing board also aired some of their differences Friday with each other and lawmakers.

Joe Knott, a Raleigh board member appointed this summer, said he was wary of interference from the political forces at the legislature and feared a “dangerous precedent” could be set by acquiescing to the lawmaker’s requests.

In his comments, Knott then said that a lawmaker pressured former UNC Board Chair John Fennebresque to favor a particular candidate in the search for a new president.

Knott, when asked by reporters, would not provide details about how he obtained that information, nor the name of the lawmaker allegedly involved. Fennebresque, whose leadership of the board was marked by discord, resigned days after former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was hired in mid-October.

Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington attorney and board member who previously served in the state Senate, said he has not faced any pressure from his former colleagues.

“Nobody told me who I should vote for,” he said. He also added that he welcomed scrutiny from lawmakers. The UNC Board of Governors consists of 32 members, all of whom received their appointments from the state legislature.

“They should be looking at us,” Goolsby said.

Marty Kotis, another board member from Greensboro, said he objected to Knott’s allegations, and that the board has the duty to act in a transparent manner with lawmakers as well as the public as a whole.




UNCsystemBe sure to check out this morning’s front page Progressive Voices commentary over on the main Policy Watch site by Appalachian State professor Michael Behrent. In it, Behrent decries the massive expansion in the number of highly paid university system administrators and calls on the chancellors of the various UNC campuses to return the fat raises bestowed upon them by the Board of Governors. This is from Behrent’s essay:

“Seriously, though: as contemptuous as the Board of Governors’ decision is of faculty and students everywhere, chancellors have options. Like a handful of rare but inspiring university leaders across the country, they can resist administrative bloat and academic inequality by simply refusing the new salary hikes….

These university leaders set an example UNC chancellors should follow: they should renounce the Board of Governors pay increase. They should make it clear that they cannot be bought. And they should openly declare that a vibrant system of higher public education means investing in faculty, staff, and students. It does not mean handsome rewarding the agents entrusted with dismantling it.”

Some of the substance of Behrent’s piece is echoed in an editorial this morning in Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled “Spread the wealth to NC state workers.” As the N&O notes, the root of the flawed salary structure has much to do with the trickledown tax policies of the General Assembly:

“But the awarding of these raises at the executive level spotlights the need for the General Assembly to do more than award a one-time $750 bonus to faculty and staff and state employees. The on-the-cheap treatment of all those employees is going to cost the state valuable workers and set up a teacher shortage.

Do legislative leaders not see the irony here, that people who are already among the highest paid in the state get raises of tens of thousands of dollars retroactive to the start of the fiscal year on July 1, while regular employees get a relatively small bonus?

The problem, of course, is that Republican legislators have reduced state revenue by cutting taxes for the wealthiest North Carolinians and big business. After the rich get richer, there’s not much left for the rank and file.”

Sadly, there is little mystery about what’s going on here. As is noted in the post immediately below, the folks running North Carolina right now are employing precisely the same tactics that modern American capitalists have used to transform our once broadly middle class society into, effectively, a plutocracy. And unless caring and thinking people wake up and fight back, even our public institutions and structures will soon be poisoned and transformed by this toxic and destructive trend.