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LSU abstains from drama in accepting gift

Let’s hope Louisiana’s political left and its members ensconced at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge act maturely regarding a recent gift to the school’s E.J. Ourso College of Business.

The school will receive $5.6 million to launch hiring of faculty, staff, and graduate assistants for a program in entrepreneurship. The money will give it unprecedented authority in these personnel decisions. Officials praised their largesse and outlined for this area of study an exciting future, possible in part because of such generosity.

That reaction stands in great contrast to the one people in some places have given to awards from the Charles Koch Foundation. Yes, it was founded by that Koch, head of Koch Industries, worth about $100 billion now, assisted by his brother David whom together the left regards as evil incarnate for their willingness to put their money where their conservative public policy mouths are.

Nearly 40 years ago, Charles Koch took a chunk of his wealth and established the foundation. It bases its giving decisions on programs that will permit debate along the lines of its “Framework for a Free Society,” which is based along five dimensions – a free society maximizes peace, civility, and well-being; free societies are characterized by integrity, respect, responsibility, and toleration; free societies secure rights, including property rights, equally for all; in free societies, everyone is able to express ideas and markets function freely; and, in free societies, individuals succeed by helping others improve their lives.

These, of course, stand in direct contract to liberalism’s core principles, especially amplified by the ivory tower: equality comes through the dictates of government correcting the inherent abuses caused by property rights; free markets allow bad ideas to flourish, both of which government must circumscribe; and, in a free market of transactions and ideas individual success comes at the expense of others, so only government can help individuals succeed and improve lives.

The Koch Foundation has given away hundreds of millions of dollars to higher education across the country, and in some instances driven leftist academicians into apoplexy. Most recently, alarmed liberals at the University of Utah circulated a letter condemning a Foundation gift of $10 million to fund half of a new institute that will study economics. Ironically, they accuse the donation as a means to stunt academic inquiry when the Foundation explicitly supports programs that seek to broaden it.

Understand, of course, the left’s objection here simply uses “academic freedom” as a synonym for preventing challenges to liberal orthodoxy that infuses academia. And such outrage seemed absent in discussing, for example, leftist financier George Soros giving Bard College $76 million that goes to funding a variety of activities and programs steeped in the school’s self-described “progressive” nature, including creating an entire academic department to be run by his wife.

None of this is unusual nor objectionable. Donors have the perfect right to designate uses for their gifts, just as higher education institutions have the perfect right to refuse to accept if they don’t wish to adhere to the conditions of aid. Just such happened over two decades ago with a high-profile grant to Yale University.

Fortunately, LSU realizes that academic inquiry wins when donations encourage the most expansive playing field of ideas. It should not be too much for Louisiana’s liberals, trained to recoil at the mention of anything with “Koch” in it, to come to the same understanding.

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