By Michelle Boorstein
Fifty prominent Catholic educators — including deans and department heads of Catholic universities — have signed a letter protesting Catholic University of America’s recent acceptance of a $1 million grant from a foundation affiliated with the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers, saying the gift sends “a confusing message” that the brothers’ “anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing” of a school created by U.S. bishops.
The letter, which was made public Monday but delivered last week to Catholic University of America President John Garvey and Dean Andrew Abela, says the Koch brothers’ activism against unions and climate change science, among others, are in “stark contrast” to the church’s “traditional social justice teachings.” The brothers have given hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative and tea party groups particularly focused on energy policy and health care, among other things.
“The Koch Foundation does noble philanthropic work as a leading patron of arts and culture. We commend them for these charitable endeavors,” the letter reads. “However, we must not ignore the stark contrast between the Koch brothers’ public policy agenda and our Church’s traditional social justice teachings.”
The university’s public affairs office issueda strongly worded defense Monday, framing critics as condescending, small in size and politically motivated themselves.
The grant has not been controversial on campus, the statement says. “The negative attention to the grant has all been externally driven by organizations with a political agenda.”
The Koch Foundation grant to support “principled entrepreneurship . . . is fully consonant with Catholic social teaching,” the university letter says.
Catholic University announced in November that the Charles Koch Foundation had pledged $1 million to support the university’s School of Business and Economics, which opened in January. The money, the university said in a statement, will be used to hire four visiting scholars to conduct “research into the role principled entrepreneurship can and should play in improving society’s well-being.”
Among the signers of the protest letter are Susan Ross, chair of the theology department at Loyola University Chicago and past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America; Miguel Diaz, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and a professor of faith and culture at the University of Dayton; and the Rev. Stephen Privett, president of the University of San Francisco. Those are all Catholic schools.
William Barbieri Jr., theology professor at Catholic University and one of the signers, said he is among faculty who wish to hear from the administration that the gift comes with no conditions that would impede academic freedom.
“Whether it’s broad economic theory, the role of government, labor rights — there is a whole set of issues where this funder and donor is poison really,” he said.
(This article originally appeared in the Washington Post.)