Last spring, George Mason University (GMU) showed up in the current events column for its record of accepting large contributions from Charles and David Koch. The Kochs’ money bought them, apparently, some latitude in the hiring of faculty, particularly in the economics department, at GMU. Transparent GMU, an activist group dedicated to exposing the relations between donors and GMU and their effect on disinterested inquiry at this institution went to court over the Koch’s relationship with GMU, which literally put the University on the defensive. GMU is not the only post-secondary institution which has accepted money from the Kochs; indeed, another activist organization, Unkoch My Campus, serves as something of a clearinghouse on the Kochs’ largesse and how it is used to influence inquiry and scholarship in colleges and universities.
Charles and David Koch have long sought scholarly support and credibility for their libertarianism which, by some measures, is a fringe ideology. By way of such organizations as the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), they have also sought to shape the political landscape of the United States through “scholarly” writing and political activism–particularly aggressive lobbying. All of this has been extensively documented just about everywhere someone has taken up pen or word processor to report on the David and Charles Koch’s political activities. That said, I particularly recommend Jane Mayer’s thoroughly documented and in every way excellent book Dark Money, which covers the political effects of corporate spending in elections in the United States by the Kochs and other members of their funding network.
Mark’s Text Terminal is not a political blog, but if this blog and its author stand for anything, it is for learning by way of intellectual independence and scholarly disinterest. If wealthy, self-interested Americans seek to create scholarly and/or institutional legitimacy for themselves at the expense of scholarly freedom, then I must speak. This is one of those moments, and one of those situations.
All the news from GMU is not bad, however. The above excursus is simply a long way around to calling teachers’ attention to the interesting and potentially quite useful Speech Accent Archive at George Mason University. This appears to be one of the intellectual bright spots at GMU. For the classroom teacher at the elementary and secondary level, particularly those working with English language learners, I think this is a valuable resource. If nothing else, though, it is a pretty cool piece of scholarship, for which George Mason University, in spite of whatever compromises it made with unscrupulous, self-interested donors, should be commended.