The Conversation

Could the Koch Brothers Save Higher Education?

There's been a lot of talk about the possibility of the Koch Brothers buying the Tribune Company (which owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and others).  However, Minding the Campus has another idea:

Leaving aside the obvious arguments about buying dinosaurs and whether the brothers could ideologically re-shape these papers, let me suggest a better investment--establish an undergraduate college heavy on the humanities and social sciences (including economics) that recruits only top students. (David Koch took a step in this academic direction in 2007 when he gave $100 million to MIT for the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research). In a nutshell, it's better to create an elite alternative to today's left-leaning academy than to exercise the owner's droit de seigneur to write weekly op-eds on the evils of Washington's regulation. The Koch boys surely must appreciate how innovation can destroy the old economic order and higher education is no exception. Moreover, creating a college via a 501(c)(3) foundation would provide huge tax savings, perhaps even making the enterprise "free." 

I am not advocating "Libertarian U." America hardly needs another politicized, indoctrination-minded university. Rather, and perfectly consistent with libertarian values, today's higher education could benefit from a top-notch undergraduate-oriented college unfettered by political orthodoxies, a true marketplace of ideas where, at least in principle, the  brothers' cherished laissez-faire could get clobbered. Surely Charles and David will agree--no ideological litmus tests, and may the best ideas win.

While I agree that higher education needs help, I'm not sure starting "our own" is the key to solving the problem.  (Also, it's worth noting that the Koch Brothers do fund a lot of free-market intiatives for college students).  We have several conservative colleges like Hillsdale College, Grove City College, Patrick Henry College, and Liberty University.  They do well. 

Having hired dozens of interns for the DC organizations I've worked for in the last 14 years, I had certain preconceived notions about people enrolled or with degrees from these colleges.  Not bad, just preconceived.  In most cases, I wanted interns who could go back to a liberal campus and make a difference.  I wanted fighters. Personally, I'd prefer funding programs that give students resources to take back to their leftist-dominated campuses.  Similarly, I'd prefer the Koch brothers to buying existing institutions, like Tribune Media.

For years conservatives have dealt with leftist-dominated institutions by creating our own.  Many of these, particularly in online media, are successful.  But are they changing the established institutions that still have greater reach?  I'm not sure. 

I'd love to hear some of the other contributors' thoughts on this.  If you had $1 billion to spend for the good of the country, what what would you do?


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