George Soros Is a Big Donor to Colleges. What’s He Buying?

So what’s the liberal equivalent of the novels of Ayn Rand?

The role of the Koch brothers in higher education has been a subject of great interest to higher education observers. Recently a paper in the Journal of Academic Ethics demonstrated that donations by BB& T and Koch Industries were leading colleges to teach about Ayn Rand and the “Moral Foundations of Capitalism.”

But recently conservative commenters pointed out something interesting: it turns out they’re not the biggest private donors to higher education out there. According to a piece by Case Given at Rare:

Koch connected charities gave $19.3 million to colleges across the country but Soros’s Open Society Foundations awarded about $185-million in grants in 2013:

You read that right: Soros spent almost $10 for every $1 the Kochs donated in 2013. So I ask the #UnKoch crowd: do you want to #UnSoros your campus, too?

Of course you don’t because today’s protest is nothing more than petty ideological politics. And nor should you. George Soros has just as much of a right as Charles and David Koch to spend his money as he damn well pleases. Especially now, when many colleges are struggling for funds to cover basic instructional needs, mega-donors should be applauded for their generosity, not condemned as comic book villains.

Soros

This sounds reasonable and the author has a point here; there’s nothing inherently wrong with Charles and David Koch throwing their money wherever they want.

But it’s not exactly the same thing. The problem isn’t that the Koch brothers are giving a lot of money to colleges. The problem is what this money is buying. Mere financial support does not actually indicate an inappropriate role. The problem with the Koch brothers is that their influence is resulting in questionable content. We know this.

If the influence of George Soros–whose academic money mostly goes to fund foreign universities–resulted in students reading low-quality novels that seemed to exist purely as a vehicle for presenting questionable, fringe philosophical doctrine to the ignorant, well that would be cause for worry. There’s no evidence that his support has anything to do with presenting a particular ideological dogma (like, “capitalism: not entirely perfect”) to college students or making them all read the novels of someone like “inspirational fiction” writer Paulo Coelho.

Obviously there’s a reason Soros is giving a lot of money to our universities, but providing “$11.3-million to Bard College to support collaborative liberal-arts programs at four universities,” one of the Soros grants, is not the same thing as promoting capitalist cheerleading or making students read harshly categorical novels dominated by wooden dialogue.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer