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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, June 16, 2024

Dark Money at Tufts, Part 1: Illuminating Tufts’ multimillion-dollar donor network



Editor’s note: This is the first part in a four-part series from the Daily's Investigative Team. Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 can be found online.

Tufts has accepted over $22 million since 1985 from charitable foundations that have openly expressed a desire to promote their political agenda at institutes of higher education, or which have directly funded academically controversial, racially antagonistic research at Tufts, a multiyear Daily investigation has discovered.

Through an analysis of tax records made available by American Bridge 21st Century, Foundation Center and ProPublica — in addition to financial information publicly released by Tufts’ Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development — the Daily has charted the flow of controversial charitable donations the university has accepted over the last 33 years.

Tufts’ continued acceptance of these funds is indicative of a donation review process that prioritizes the immediate on-campus implications of potential donations over the histories and motives of the donors.

Monica Toft, director of the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and Richard Lerner, director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development, told the Daily that they accepted money from the Charles Koch Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation, respectively, without knowing about the organization’s political intentions or without fully understanding the highly controversial funding schemes these foundations have engaged in at Tufts and across the United States.

The seven foundations included in this report are the John M. Olin Foundation, which gave $1,626,051; the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which gave $7,620,000; The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which gave $1,018,250; the John Templeton Foundation, which gave $6,699,828; the Earhart Foundation, which gave $1,413,008; the Smith Richardson Foundation, which gave $1,193,017; and the Charles Koch Foundation, which pledged to donate $3,000,000 over a six-year period beginning in 2017.

Some of the donations and grants given by these foundations have funded racially and religiously divisive research initiatives at Tufts. One such project was the now-closed Cultural Change Institute at Fletcher, which received financial support from the Templeton Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation. The Cultural Change Institute was founded in 2007 by former Fletcher adjunct professor and senior research fellow Lawrence Harrison, who also directed the institute from its establishment until he retired in 2010, according to Miguel Basáñez, who was named director following Harrison’s retirement.

Fletcher tapped Harrison to direct the Cultural Change Institute in 2007, even though he had a long history of producing racially divisive scholarship dating back over 20 years. In one written work, Harrison argued that black slaves benefited from British slavery and in another argued that black subculture is the primary cause of black underachievement in America.

Not all of the foundations included in this report have supported controversial scholarship at Tufts, but they have all engaged in questionable donation campaigns at universities across the country.

The Charles Koch Foundation, which funded Fletcher’s CSS through a $3 million grant over six years, has attempted to influence faculty hiring decisions and academic curricula at several universities to which it donates, according to documents signed in 2008 by Charles Koch Foundation officials and administrators at Florida State University (FSU) that were released in 2011 by UnKoch My Campus and the FSU Progress Coalition.

[aesop_document type="pdf" src="" caption="Documents signed in 2008 by Charles Koch Foundation officials and Florida State University administrators"]

Ralph Wilson, co-founder of UnKoch My Campus, said that his organization's release of the FSU documents provided evidence to support its claim that the Charles Koch Foundation attaches conditions to its donations.

“The FSU contract was the first time we got to see the conditions on this money and we could say, ‘Look, there’s a legal document. We're not making this up, we're not shouting at the donor's politics’ — we're reading a legal document that says ‘here's what the donors get for their money’ and shows those strings attached,” Wilson said.

Tufts’ Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins told the Daily in an email that donors sometimes retain the right to give final faculty approval but did not directly respond when asked if donors can influence the hiring process.

“For some awards, the agreement will call for Tufts to select personnel and for the sponsor to give final approval based on the personnel’s qualifications,” Collins said. “This is common for agreements with federal government agencies, e.g. with the United States Agency for International Development.”

The Charles Koch Foundation contributed funding to the Center for Choice and Market Process at the College of Charleston. In 2010, the foundation requested that the center’s director, Peter Calcagno, share students’ personal email addresses so that it could recruit them for other foundation initiatives, according to an email released by the Center for Public Integrity.

[aesop_document type="pdf" src="" caption="Email sent in 2010 from Charles Koch Foundation to the Center for Choice and Market Process at the College of Charleston"]

“Please submit names and permanent e-mail addresses (preferably not ending in .edu), if your program includes any activities that include a roster of students,” Charlie Ruger, director of university investments at the Charles Koch Foundation, and Derek Johnson, vice president of education at the Charles Koch Institute, wrote to Calcagno. “Given our goals, this section of the report will factor substantially into our evaluation of future funding requests.”

Toft, director of CSS at Fletcher, said that she has never been asked to provide the Charles Koch Foundation with students’ personal information and added that she was unaware the foundation engaged in this behavior.

Collins did not directly respond when asked if Tufts has any rules that bar the sharing of personal student data with charitable foundations, but noted that he does not know of any such occurrences.

“We are unaware of any agreement requiring the university to provide students’ personal information to funders and we typically would not agree to such a requirement,” he said.

At a secretly recorded Association of Private Enterprise Education conference in 2016, Ruger said that the foundation can tap into its large network of philanthropists to pressure universities that do not adhere to its goals.

“It really helps if we can call the donor and say, ‘Hey, you know the university. Call up the vice president of development and ask him what the hell he’s doing.’ That’s incredibly powerful, and it goes way beyond just the dollars contribution that they put into this,” Ruger said.

Ruger further explained that the Charles Koch Foundation seeks to elevate select scholars whose conservative views differ from the vast majority of modern academics.

“We do this because professors with certain classical liberal sympathies are outnumbered in the academy about 125 to one,” Ruger said. “Those 125 professors aren’t just quietly stewing about how much they dislike classical liberal ideas. They’re actively taking the opportunity to fight against liberty, against freedom. So, when we go to build new academic institutions in partnership with universities, we’re doing it because in order to make a dent, we’re going to need to have a disproportionate impact.”

Toft said that she thought the Charles Koch Foundation changed its behavior after the Center for Public Integrity first reported on its attempts to influence personnel decisions in 2014 but was unaware of foundation officials’ recent statements, which suggest that the Charles Koch Foundation continues to pressure academic institutions into adopting its preferred scholarship. When asked if it was her responsibility to know about the Charles Koch Foundation’s intentions, given that it pledged $3 million to the CSS, Toft said that it was, but that she ultimately felt “clean” because she has never allowed the foundation to impinge on her academic freedom.

“From my perspective, I am a scholar who does research to save lives,” Toft said. “It’s really about training the next generation of scholars … they’re already coming in with dissertations and, from my perspective, that’s the full story.”

Top officials at several of these charitable foundations — all of whom have donated to Tufts — have also publicly stated that they donate to universities with the intention of forming academic networks meant to support their political initiatives.

In a 2005 Philanthropy magazine article, former Executive Director of the John M. Olin Foundation James Piereson explained that the foundation, through its donations, hopes to present an alternative to an overwhelmingly liberal academic consensus in higher education.

“Frankly, we rarely thought of our work in terms of winning a dominant place for non-left-wing thought on campus, but only of establishing ‘beachheads’ at leading colleges,” Piereson wrote. “With enough funders joining in such work … donors, alumni, students, and discerning faculty may wish to challenge head on the ideological bias of the contemporary university and seek to have their ideas represented on an even plane with those of the current orthodoxy.”

Piereson added that conservative philanthropy is necessary to counteract universities’ efforts to promote faculty diversity, which he said were created to warrant hiring from traditionally progressive demographics, including “radical blacks and homosexuals.”

“‘Diversity,’ for example, is a doctrine developed out of whole cloth … to justify recruiting more radicals to the faculty to teach ever more radically charged courses,” Pierson wrote. “Diversity, in practice, has been little more than a patronage scheme for various special interest groups: feminists, radical blacks and homosexuals, environmentalists, and representatives of other groups that have been recognized by the liberal establishment.”

The John M. Olin Foundation gave $1,626,051 to Tufts from 1986 to 1998 to support several professorships and media seminars, according to financial records released by Greenpeace.

Michael Joyce, executive vice president of the John M. Olin Foundation from 1979 to 1985 and president of the Bradley Foundation from 1985 to 2001, articulated a similar vision of supporting an ideological battle within higher education in a 2003 speech at Georgetown University.

“At Olin and later at Bradley, our overarching purpose was to use philanthropy to support a war of ideas to defend and help recover the political imagination of the founders: the self-evident truth, that rights and worth are a legacy of the creator — not the result of some endless revaluing of values,” Joyce said.

Foundations at which Joyce held leadership positions donated over $2.5 million to Tufts between 1986 and 2015 during and after his tenures.

A video shown at the Bradley Foundation’s Kohler Impact Conference in 2016 explained that the organization still promotes conservative ideology through its charitable donations in an orchestrated effort to aid the electoral prospects of the Republican Party.


“No matter the outcomes of [the] Nov. 8 [elections], state think tanks will continue to research and implement conservative ideals in exactly the way our founders had intended — not from Washington, but from individual states,” the narrator said. “We at Bradley and the Bradley Impact Fund hope you will join us in recognizing and supporting these outstanding resources. Together, we can work to keep our Great Lakes blue and our states red.”

Between 1990 and 2015, the Bradley Foundation donated over one million to Tufts, including to the International Security Studies Program at Fletcher, according to its website. Fletcher Professor of International Politics Richard Shultz repeatedly declined to comment on the organization’s support of the International Security Studies Program, which he is director of.

Charles Koch Foundation Vice President Kevin Gentry similarly stated that his foundation seeks to build “fully integrated” grassroots networks through its donations to universities at a June 2014 donor conference hosted by Freedom Partners, a political fundraising organization associated with the Koch brothers, according to a transcript of the conference released by the Center for Public Integrity.

“You can see [support for] … higher education is not just limited to impact on higher education,” Gentry said. “[Students] … populate our program, these think tanks, and grassroots.”

Gentry continued by explaining how these grassroots networks can be used to support the Charles Koch Foundation’s electoral priorities.

“It's not just work at the universities with the students, but it's also building state-based capabilities and election capabilities, and integrating this talent pipeline,” he said. “So you can see how this is useful to each other over time. No one else has this infrastructure.”

This week’s four-part Daily investigation spotlights seven controversial foundations that have supported Tufts in the last 33 years and reveals the process by which the university accepts such donations.

Part 2 will explore these foundations’ national funding efforts, which at times supported racially divisive and inflammatory media campaigns and scholarship.

Part 3 will examine Tufts’ donation acceptance policies and explore their ramifications for students.

Part 4 will compare Tufts’ donation acceptance record with other universities across the United States and examine how they comport with national trends.

Liam Knox contributed reporting to this article.