A Virginia-based think tank heavily funded by billionaire Charles Koch is among the financial backers of a Middlebury College lecture series that reignited an intense debate about campus free speech this week.
Middlebury's Alexander Hamilton Forum was to host a public talk by conservative Polish politician and writer Ryszard Legutko on Wednesday. College administrators canceled the lecture, citing security worries, as protestors who branded Legutko a homophobe prepared to demonstrate.
The Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University helps fund the Alexander Hamilton Forum, the forum's director, Middlebury assistant professor Keegan Callanan, confirmed to Seven Days Friday. The Hamilton series is meant to broaden debate and inquiry at the highly selective private liberal arts college.
Callanan, via email, said the grant came entirely from the institute's free speech project, funded by the Asness Family Foundation. Clifford S. Asness is a billionaire hedge fund manager. All grants, including the ones for the Hamilton Forum, are reviewed by college officials, Callanan said.
Koch, a conservative political activist who Forbes magazine says is worth $52 billion, has given the institute millions of dollars. He serves on its board, as do two representatives of the Charles Koch Foundation.
The institute gave the Alexander Hamilton Forum $15,000 this school year.
Two other organizations also funded the series, according to Callanan: The J.P. Morgan Charitable Giving Fund gave $78,000, and the Jack Miller Center contributed $2,000.
"The Hamilton Forum has no ideological litmus tests for speakers or donors," Callanan said via email.
Student protesters at Middlebury who oppose Legutko's views issued a statement saying the administration had falsely implied that they posed the security risk that prompted the cancellation. In response, administrators sent out an email to campus Friday clarifying that they were concerned for the protesters' safety.
The issue arose two years after ultra-conservative author Charles Murray's talk on campus was shut down by protesters who injured professor Allison Stanger as she helped escort him to a waiting car.