A professor who says she’s an easy target for a think tank with ties to the conservative Charles Koch Foundation has responded to a voluminous open records request by sharing those records not only with the organization but anyone else who wants to read them. Laura Wright, the chair of English at Western Carolina University who vocally opposed the Koch Foundation’s proposed $2 million gift to establish a center for the study of free enterprise on campus, detailed the story on her blog, The Vegan Body Project. She also posted the 100 pages of emails requested by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy: those with references to Koch, BB&T Bank (which has backed free-market-education initiatives on many campuses in the South) and Ayn Rand, whose books are required reading on other campuses that have made deals with BB&T and Koch to establish free-enterprise centers or programs.
Wright said via email that she thought her emails should have been protected, since her communication regarding the proposed center constitutes academic freedom. But because she had to release all of them, Wright said she wanted to make them available to the public, lest her words be taken out of context or otherwise used against her. “I just wanted to put everything out there along with the context for my statements, so that the full record would be available for anyone interested in the broader discussion,” she said via email. Many of the released emails include correspondence with local and national media on the proposed Koch gift.
Jay Schalin, a writer for the North Carolina-based Pope Center, which has loose ties to Koch, said he asked for Wright’s emails because he supports the proposed free-enterprise center. “I understand it to be a truly academic enterprise: the intent is to ‘study’ free enterprise, warts and all, rather than to be a one-sided cheerleader,” he said via email. (Note: An earlier version of this sentence misstated Schalin's first name.) “The contentious opposition to it by certain segments of the faculty made it a story-worthy event. … If it is acceptable to question whether the founding of a center is political rather than academic, it is equally acceptable to ask whether the opposition to the center is political.”
As for the status of the center, Bill Studenc, a university spokesman, said that it has been approved by the institution’s Board of Trustees, but at this point there’s no funding for it. The university is currently trying to address faculty concerns about academic integrity, articulated in a November Faculty Senate resolution against the center.
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