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Lexi Santoro / Gavel Media

Rally Calls on BC to Reject Grant from Koch Foundation

Dozens of students called on Boston College to reject funding from the Charles Koch Foundation during a Thursday night rally at O'Neill Plaza.

The Koch Foundation's donation would be used to finance the political science department's proposal for a "New Perspectives on U.S. Grand Strategy and Great Power Politics" program, which has been past by the majority of the department.

The rally, organized by Climate Justice at Boston College (CJBC), featured several students and faculty members who voiced concerns about academic integrity. They also argued that the acceptance of the Koch Foundation's donation makes BC complicit in the business activities which made the Koch family among the wealthiest in the world.

History professor Prasannan Parthasarathi said he decided to speak at the rally for reasons best expressed in a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: "A man dies when he refuses to stand up for what is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true."

"For decades, the Kochs have been on the wrong side of what is right, what is just, and what is true," said Parthasarathi.

Parthasarathi, who co-teaches "Planet in Peril: The History and Future of Human Impacts" with sociology professor Julia Schor, talked about what his students are learning about and how Koch Industries' plays a role as one of the biggest polluters.

"[Koch Industries] dumps chemicals into our waterways, spills oil on pristine lands, and releases toxins into our air," said Partharathi. "The company has been fined repeatedly, but it has not changed its ways. It is cheaper for it to pay those fines and continue to pollute."

Partharathi also talked about the Kochs' current attempts to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency to benefit their company under the Trump administration. He also pointed to Koch Industries' decision against moving toward public ownership a few years ago as evidence of their corrupt business practices.

"A lawyer for Koch warned that such a move would require Koch to disclose so much about its activities that it would land all of Koch's executives and board members in jail," said Paratharathi. "Is this the kind of money we want to accept at Boston College?"

According to Paratharathi, the impact of Koch's political agenda is already being felt here at BC and "is leading to self-censorship."

"Gerald Easter, the chair of the political science department—the department that is pursuing the Koch money—has reported that climate change was left out of the proposal that was sent to the Kochs because including it would be a poison pill," said Paratharathi. "I ask you again, is this the kind of money we want to accept at Boston College?"

EcoPledge members Carli Brenner, MCAS '21, and Carmen Chu, MCAS '22, spoke next about how environmental pollution disproportionately impacts marginalized people who have the least control over fossil fuel emissions. In particular, Brenner described the existential threat facing Pacific island nations such as Kiribati, which is threatened with complete submersion by rising sea levels as the climate changes.

EcoPledge's representatives also talked about the Koch family's history of interfering in the hiring processes at other universities, such as George Mason University.

"The political science department must not set the precedent of ignoring student voices in favor of corporations and wealthy donors who demonstrably impose their ideologies on universities and the political sphere," said Chu. "Let us set precedent—show to other schools that we can't be bought [and] that student voices matter. We are men and women for others, not the Koch brothers."

Rachel Schlueter, a representative of the Better Future Project, further discussed how the Kochs have weaponized their wealth and "created a lot of pillars of support to make them the status quo" through donations to politicians and universities.

"Your position here on campus is powerful because you can start to chip away at one of those pillars, which is eventually going to topple down the entire empire," said Schlueter, who urged for students to stand in solidarity with divestment campaigns at other universities.

CJBC member and political science/history major Kayla Lawlor, MCAS '20, spoke about her disappointment with the professors who supported the proposal, emphasizing that the Koch grant was sought out by faculty members.

"Money is never just money, any credible political science professor knows that," Lawlor said. "Yet, most of our political science professors are choosing to ignore that fact and instead are protecting the status quo."

Lawlor pointed out that even though the climate crisis is already impacting communities, BC is slow to address the roots of the problem.

"Even divestment [from fossil fuels] and reinvestment in alternative energies, which is a literal market solution, is considered radical and dangerous on this campus, as something that would hurt the university and make us less competitive," said Lawlor.

Ultimately, Lawlor emphasized that "Boston College does not exist in a vacuum," and that the university's choice to maintain the status quo perpetuates the suffering of communities who are already affected by climate change.

"It very much frightens me that the overwhelming majority of political science professors have chosen indifference, I would say more complicity, under the appearance of academic integrity," said Lawlor. "The climate crisis is the priority. Transforming our society in the midst of this crisis will be the biggest foreign security threat of our lifetime."

CJBC member Audrey Kang, MCAS '22, closed off the night by acknowledging fears about the enormity of the climate crisis, as well as guilt for contributing to the problem and not doing enough to address it.

"This guilt and fear has caused stagnation across the global community," said Kang, who compared the world's lack of attention to addressing climate change to procrastination on an assignment.

"When it comes to climate change, the time for procrastination is over," said Kang. "The assignment is due in our hour, and the time to act is now."

She also addressed the issue that students see the university administration as working against solving the issue of climate change.

"BC's actions in taking the Koch Foundation money goes even beyond just playing into the inactivity surrounding climate change issues—it actively works against it," said Kang. "[The Koch Foundation] work[s] actively to silence the truth and misinform the public."

As she closed off the night, Kang urged attendants to sign a petition opposing the program, as well as leave a message on a banner that will be shared with the political science department. A livestream recording of the rally is available on The Gavel's Facebook page.