Two North Carolina universities are launching programs with a significant infusion of money from the conservative Charles Koch Foundation.
Western Carolina University announced Thursday that it would establish the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise with a $1.8 million gift from the foundation named for Charles Koch. He and his brother, David Koch, are wealthy businessmen known for funding conservative, libertarian, pro-business and anti-regulation candidates and causes.
University officials said the new entity will focus on economic development in North Carolina and particularly the western part of the state. The controversial center has been in the works for about a year and was endorsed by Chancellor David Belcher and approved by trustees, despite the Faculty Senate’s 21-3 vote last year opposing it. Professors said they were concerned about cost, inadequate review and potential threats to academic freedom.
The announcement came two weeks after Wake Forest University unveiled plans for its new $4.2 million Eudaimonia Institute, dedicated to the study of “human flourishing.” The center is funded largely with money from the Charles Koch Foundation, which pledged $3.69 million during the next five years. Another $500,000 will come from Liz and Chris Wright, CEO of Liberty Resources and Liberty Oilfield Services.
The center is named for Aristotle’s term for “flourishing.” A university news release said scholars from various disciplines will “explore the concept beyond the typical scope of how happiness is understood or used in everyday conversation.” The funding will cover faculty development and workshops, student research, programs, conferences and speakers on campus. The institute will be led by James Otteson a professor of economics and business ethics who is an expert on Adam Smith, the 18th century Scottish philosopher and pioneer of political economy.
At Western Carolina, the free enterprise center was proposed by Edward J. Lopez, a professor of economics and BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism.
The center will include research, policy and community outreach in the form of seminars, conference presentations, workshops, a speaker series and training for school teachers.
After the initial faculty opposition, Belcher assembled a faculty committee under a policy that calls for faculty review of external gifts with academic implications. That panel offered recommendations about the future oversight of the center. The recommendations were presented to Belcher on Sept. 19.