- Associated Press - Thursday, April 16, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi State University will create an Institute for Market Studies, with the Charles Koch Foundation likely to give $365,000 over two years to help fund it.

The College Board approved the plan Thursday. MSU officials say the donation is not yet finalized.

MSU projects a total budget of $2.5 million over six years for the center. An agenda presented to the board said the Charles Koch Foundation would be the source of all that money, but university spokesman Sid Salter said that was a misstatement.

John Hardin, the foundation’s director of university relations, said the organization is working with MSU economics professor Claudia Williamson to create the institute and could add more money in the future.

Williamson has had a long association with Koch-funded academic centers at other universities. An assistant professor at MSU since 2012, Williamson has given lectures named for Koch at six universities since 2009, according to her resume.

The foundation has also funded a speaker series and student development coordinated by Williamson for two years since she’s arrived at MSU.

Salter said it was premature to discuss what faculty would lead the institute.

Charles Koch and brother David Koch lead the Koch Industries conglomerate. It includes oil, chemical, lumber and paper companies. The Charles Koch Foundation has long made grants to universities, with a focus on promoting free-market economics and libertarian principles.

Donations to other universities have faced criticism about claims that Koch has improperly interfered with functions such as selecting faculty. Foes of the Koch brothers say the industrialists use universities to aid political goals.

“I haven’t been shown another example where someone’s political and economic interests were so aligned with the centers they’re funding,” said Connor Gibson of Greenpeace. The group, which opposes positions of Koch-linked organizations on environmental regulation, has been tracking Koch donations to universities. He also views Koch efforts as trying to recruit students to their beliefs.

Hardin said the foundation wants faculty to go where their ideas lead them and isn’t trying to control research and teaching outcomes.

“Those accusations are false,” he said. “They’re unfair. We believe that academic freedom is an absolute core value.”

Salter said MSU has not yet finalized the donation, so no final document exists governing the terms of the MSU grant. MSU President Mark Keenum said the institute is a university-led plan and that faculty will be free to pursue research interests without outside interference.

“This is a Mississippi State University research center. It’s not a Koch research center,” Keenum said. “It’s faculty-led. Faculty will have complete freedom.”

David Shaw, MSU’s vice president for research, noted that the 20,000 student university accepts grants for purposes ranging from research into furniture-making to veterinary medicine

“We strongly support academic freedom, and accept funds to support independent research activities from a wide variety of foundations with widely divergent backgrounds and focus of their efforts,” Shaw said in a statement.

If MSU accepts the gift, Salter said it would count toward the university’s current fundraising campaign, which the university said Wednesday has passed the $500 million mark

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy


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