Money, Power and Influence on Free Speech on US University Campuses

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Right-wing conservatives are using money and power to influence universities and public policy to suppress student dissent on US college and university campuses. Right-wing conservatives like the Goldwater Institute, funded by conservatives such as Charles Koch and the Mercer family, have proposed model legislation, the Campus Free Speech Act, that seeks to quell student dissent in favor of speakers that discredit climate change, LGBTQ rights, and espouse hate speech, Alex Kotch reported for AlterNet in March 2017.

The model bill’s intent is to protect the right for free speech, but it doesn’t consider protest or dissent to be free speech. In fact, the bill sanctions suspension or expulsion of students from school for “infringing the expressive rights of others” (Section 1.9). In other words, students risk severe consequences for speaking up and this allows universities to have speakers of any point of view unchallenged.

The language of the proposed “Campus Free Speech Act” is pervasive and has been adapted in proposed legislature in many states. For example, states including Illinois, North Dakota, Virginia, and Tennessee have proposed free speech bills with some elements of the model legislation. Additional states, including Colorado, Florida, and Utah are also proposing campus free speech bills.

The bill was authored by Stanley Kurtz, James Manley and Jonathon Butcher. Kurtz is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which has received hundreds of thousands in donations from the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which serve as vehicles for wealthy right-wing donors. Between 2006 and 2015, the two groups received $9 million in contributions from Charles and David Koch. Goldwater’s senior attorney, Manley, worked for the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which received donations from Donor groups. Butcher, Goldwater’s education director, worked at the conservative Heritage Foundation—which has been heavily funded by the Kochs—from 2002-2006. Additionally, the Goldwater Institute has received donations of close to $2.5 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund and $75,000 from the Koch Foundation.

“Regardless of motivation,” Kotch concludes, “this campus ‘free speech’ movement is spreading the hate of white nationalism, the racist ‘alt-right,’ Islamophobia and homophobia—not to mention climate change denial and economic policies that benefit only the very wealthy—on campuses filled with young students. Conservative, corporate millionaires and billionaires are at fault.”

Source: Alex Kotch, “Right-Wing Billionaires Are Funding a Cynical Plot to Destroy Dissent and Protest in Colleges Across the U.S,” AlterNet, March 18, 2017,

Student Researchers: Dawn M. Lucier (College of Marin) and Emily von Weise (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluators: Susan Rahman (College of Marin) and Rob Williams (University of Vermont)