Late last month, the Informer reached out to Peter Orazem, an Ames City Council member and Iowa State University economics professor, about a report in the Cedar Rapids Gazette revealing that Orazem is leading an effort to secure $3.7 million from the Charles Koch Foundation and another donor to help fund research on underperforming local economies in the Midwest.
Orazem, who got the foundation’s attention because he served as a Koch visiting professor of business economics at the University of Kansas in 2004 and 2005, said he was “not concerned that the quality of my work or the work of individuals who get research funding from this venture will be compromised” as a result of the involvement of the foundation, established by the libertarian-minded Republican billionaire after which it’s named. Since 2014, ISU has already received $127,000 from the foundation; part of that went to the Midwest markets research program, which Orazem heads as part of ISU’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative established by GOP agribusiness tycoon Bruce Rastetter.
Later, Orazem sent us a copy of the full proposal he wrote to apply for the additional funding. Embedded below, it details the program’s research focus and, on the final page, describes how a funding agreement with the Charles Koch Foundation may work. The foundation, according to the proposal, “will provide start-up seed funding to cover all costs of the program for the first 3-5 years of operation” as the university seeks out additional funding to cover ongoing costs.
Aware of past controversies at other universities where funding from Koch family foundations came with ideological strings attached, Orazem’s proposal ends with a brief section on academic freedom. “Koch Foundation funding is intended to promote an environment at the University where ideas can be exchanged freely and useful knowledge will benefit the well-being of individuals and society,” it reads. “Thus, the foundation and ISU agree that the academic freedom of the University, the Program and their faculty, students and staff is critical to the success of the Program’s research scholarship, teaching and service.”