Follow the Money

[Note from Save Catholic: This is an excerpt from a comment sent to us by a tenured professor who wishes to remain anonymous]

The University says the proposed firings at Catholic are necessary for budgetary reasons. But there are good reasons to be skeptical. If the budget is at issue, why have the salaries of the top seven administrators increased more than eighty per cent over the past seven years? And why is the university advertising eleven new tenure track positions?

The only clues given thus far as to which tenured faculty will be fired have come from a controversial report from a consulting firm engaged by the university to identify units with “surplus faculty.” [link] The report was controversial not only because of its findings, but mainly due to its basis in faulty data and methodological inadequacies, which departments have tried repeatedly to correct with limited success.

Administrators have provided no additional information about the criteria they will use to terminate tenured faculty. In his address at the Spring Luncheon, President Garvey assured the faculty that no “school, department, program, or course” would be eliminated. What kind of due process will be followed, then? A lack of transparency means there is no way to insure that positions are not being eliminated simply because the administration wants to target particular faculty and quiet their ideas. Under this cloud of uncertainty, some faculty members have rushed to accept early buy-outs, and in some cases, have been pressured to take them.

President Garvey’s comments on the need to fire “only five or six” tenured faculty, it should be noted, were made while he stood in front of a slide that showed the University had raised $10 million in unrestricted funds in the 2018 Fiscal Year. It would seem as if some of those funds could be used to defend tenure.

Many of us see a connection between these firings and the direction the university has taken in the last five years. It looks a lot like cleaning house of non-Catholic and insufficiently Catholic faculty. It certainly would facilitate President Garvey’s stated goal of hiring Catholic faculty. “We should expect Catholics to carry the ball,” he writes in a column on the university’s website. Consistent with numerous expressions made in a variety of publications and venues, this view has translated into a hiring process that seems designed to weed out insufficiently Catholic applicants, many of whom said they found it odd that job interviews they had with high-level administrators centered around questions about their faith rather than their scholarship or teaching credentials.

A new emphasis on conservative Catholicism emerged following renewal of Mr. Garvey’s contract as university president in the fall of 2014. In December 2013, the university received a $1 million donation from the Koch brothers, which fifty well-known Catholic educators protested as inconsistent with the ideals of the only national university of the Catholic Church in America. In January 2015, the Koch Foundation donated another $1.75 million to the business school.

The Koch foundation made a much larger donation of $10 million to the University in 2016. In thanking Charles Koch for the donation at the university’s 2017 “Good Profit” Conference, Tim Busch (after whom the Business School at Catholic is named) introduced him as “an inspiration.” He then argued that the almost $50 million gift that he and Mr. Koch had delivered to the university, had “reenergized the Catholic University of America. We made it great again.”

A recent New York Times article on the undue influence of the Koch brothers on hiring at George Mason University suggests that what is happening at Catholic University may be part of a larger pattern. And a recent Washington Post editorial notes that the Koch foundation “had been given a voice in faculty selection and evaluation.” The Catholic University of America has not made public the terms on which the donations given to us were made, and these are unlikely to be disclosed.

It is worth noting that universities historically have rewarded donors by naming buildings after them. Only recently have they begun to reward donors by allowing them to shape their faculties.

This connection – between donations, hiring, and Catholic mission – is the subtext of this discussion. In an April 2016 article in Commonweal, Anthony Annett pointed to three ways in which accepting money from the Koch Foundation was inconsistent with Catholic beliefs: their libertarian politics; their promotion of climate denial; and their unethical business practices. Our students haven’t missed this. Last fall, in an article entitled, “One Nation, Under the Kochs,” a guest commentator in the university student newspaper, The Tower, posed a question we hope our Board of Trustees is considering: “Why is The Catholic University of America letting the views of a non-religious billionaire be taught over the teachings of the Catholic Church?”

One imagines Catholics all over the country would also have something to say about the influence of the Koch Foundation on the only national university of the Catholic Church in America.