University Senate

University Senate clashes over Koch Grant in most-attended meeting of the semester

Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

University Senate meeting held on Wednesday had another tumultuous turn as faculty members crashed over the controversial grant given to the Martin J. Whitman School of Management from the Charles Koch Foundation.

Syracuse University community members packed Maxwell Auditorium to hear and debate the University Senate Committee on Research’s report on the controversial Charles Koch Foundation grants.

The auditorium was buzzing with excitement at the most attended University Senate meeting of the semester. The research committee addressed the grant acquired by the Martin J. Whitman School of Management from the Charles Koch Foundation that created academic freedom concerns among SU faculty. In the past, Koch gifts to universities have often come with strings attached.

There was tension in the room between those demanding more transparency and those protecting the confidentiality of the grant’s details.

Vice Chancellor and Provost Michele Wheatly ended her brief remarks with a statement about academic freedom. She reaffirmed her February statements that every grant the university receives has been properly vetted, and that includes the grants that SU colleges have received from the Koch foundation.

“I want to say, unequivocally, that Syracuse University is committed to advancing and protecting fundamental ideals of academic freedom,” Wheatly said.

She scolded faculty that have made speculative claims against their colleagues, and have made them feel that their research is “contaminated.”

The Committee on Research was charged with “determining that the gifts from the Koch Brothers to SU are fully in accordance with academic freedom and other values of the university” and “to develop guidelines to help guide future solicitation and acceptance of gifts from donors whose practices might conflict with SU values.”

The interim report outlined the inconsistencies in calling the monies a “grant” or a “gift.” The grant was ultimately reviewed by the Office of Sponsored Programs and met all the required standards, but it originated in Corporate and Foundation Relations in the Office of Development.

The committee was unable to find the Office of Development’s guidelines for pursuing and accepting gifts and grants. A meeting between Jamie Winders, a member of the Committee on Research, and Sara Wason, assistant vice president of Corporate and Foundation Relations in the Office of Development, was canceled the day before they were set to meet.

Winders said at the Senate meeting that she has a meeting with the Chief Advancement Officer of Development, and believes it’s a good sign for transparency.

Ultimately, the committee did not see the contract agreement and could not verify the proper vetting claims. Winders said it was standard practice to not disclose grant contracts.

In its report, the committee makes three recommendations for the future.

It asks that all research-related funding originate in the Office of Sponsored Programs. It also suggests the formation of an ad-hoc Senate Committee to further look into “ethical guidelines related to gifts.” Winders said her committee has been “swamped” and that this is an important topic that needs further research.

Finally, it recommends “gifts/grants to establish courses and programs proceed only after approval from the Senate Committee on Curriculum and the Graduate College.” The language of “gifts/grants” in this final recommendation was hotly debated, and will be further reviewed.

Once Winders opened the floor to questions, a dozen hands shot into the air. The discussion went back and forth between SU’s grant philosophy and the specific $1.75 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation given to Whitman.

Mark Rupert, political science professor, spoke vehemently about the responsibility of the Senate to approve curriculum, and asked if the Senate would be asked to “rubber stamp” a class or program that could have strings attached to it.

Several non-senate members from the Whitman school were given permission to speak, and they all expressed their dismay with the rhetoric used in “attacking” their colleagues.

Peter Vanable, dean of the Graduate School and vice president for Research, said it is a “slippery slope” to demand this specific grant be made public, and that it both unfairly questions the integrity of faculty members and of the current grant vetting process.

He said that faculty won’t always agree with foundations’ missions, but that it’s not for a group of faculty to decide whether a colleague should accept a grant from one of these “controversial” foundations.

Margaret Thompson, an associate professor of history and political science, and Dana Cloud, professor of communication and rhetorical studies, were both interested in reviewing what kind of grants SU faculty would be willing to accept in a more philosophical sense. They both mentioned large military grants, and both promoted more transparency if strings were attached to large grants.

As soon as Can Isik, Senate Agenda Committee chair, moved onto the next item of the agenda, a dozen people left the auditorium.

At the end of the meeting, the Student Life Committee made recommendations about SU’s alcohol-related policies.

In October, the committee presented a report that that the number of intoxicated students transported to the hospital as of early March in the 2015-16 academic year was almost on par with the number of intoxicated students transported in the full 2014-15 academic year. It did not have specific recommendations and was sent back to the committee for further review.

The committee was frustrated by the lack of data and information available, and the report says it expressed these concerns to Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz, senior associate vice president and dean of the Division of Enrollment and the Student Experience.

The first recommendation asks for the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities to report annually on the number of incidents of alcohol intoxication or consumption to the Division of Enrollment and the Student Experience and to the Student Life Committee of the University Senate. It also asks for an annual public report.

Additionally, the report suggests “to increase significantly the price of alcoholic beverages at the Carrier Dome, and to limit these at tailgate events and others.”

The other five recommendations are wide-ranging and include suggestions “to invest in the creation of new student spaces.”

The Senate approved the recommendations.

Other business:

The Campus Framework Advisory Group, pending Board of Trustees approval, will release the latest version of the Campus Framework on May 15.

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