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The Fight for Transparency at George Mason

As President Angel Cabrera headed to the Arlington Campus on Thursday to celebrate the Antonin Scalia Law School, student protestors made their way over to let their message be heard. 

Cabrera was joined by six of the United States Supreme Court Justices at Hazel Hall (Arlington Campus) to celebrate the renaming of the George Mason Law School to honor the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The renaming of the school sparked much controversy among the general public earlier this year, as Scalia was known to be a notoriously conservative and debatably intolerant Justice. While alumni and others condemned the name change, a new issue arose among the student-body.

The name change was prompted by $30 million in donations- $10 million of which, came from the Charles Koch Foundation. The Koch Foundation, associated with conservative think tanks, is known to be a large contributor to universities such as Auburn, UNC, and our very own, George Mason. This may sound like a positive thing, and it very well may be- but the lack of transparency that lies in the agreements made between the university and the foundation is what makes the situation problematic.

Transparent GMU is a student-run organization that works to shed light on this exact problem. It is an organization that “advocates for the public disclosure of donor agreements, along with their terms and conditions”, according to co-President, sophomore Janine Gaspari. This passionate group of students works towards preventing private donors from being able to dictate the functions of public universities, which are supported by taxpayers- particularly, George Mason. It has been suspected for a while now that the university has been making changes (such as the law school name change) in favor of private donors, such as Koch, for their contributions. The agreements made between the university and the Koch Foundation have not been disclosed, which leaves room for possible strings to be attached.

This idea did not appear from thin air, however, it appeared in light of the donor agreement made between Florida State University and the Koch Foundation in 2008. It was exposed that in the $4 million grant agreement between the two bodies, lied the agreement that the donor have power over the college curriculum, control over who the university hired, and its functions- which is a complete overstep in a public university.

According to the agreement, FSU was to hired faculty that promoted well-being, constitutional government, and whose research promised to “advance [the mission]”. The foundation also had the power to approve faculty on a case-by-case basis, in case some were not deemed “qualified”. This overstep is one that allows private donors to dictate parts of the universities that they fund, which is problematic for public schools.

The problem here at Mason is that the donor agreement has not been disclosed to the student-body, which raises a lot of questions, and makes students, such as those from Transparent GMU, suspect that our situation may be like the one at FSU.

Thus, Transparent GMU protested outside the law school on Thursday, stressing that their concerns of the privacy in donor agreements had been ignored by the university administration. The student organization is still working toward their goal, but was able to gain much attention from organizations such as The Washington Post from their protest.

The organization is calling upon students and faculty to stand in support so that we, the students, can all understand how our university is being affected by its private donors, and to prevent these donors from being able to control the education that we all strive and pay for.

All Photos from of Greenpeace USA 2016

Nancy Nyamaa

George Mason University '19

Nancy is currently a senior at George Mason majoring in communication (concentration in journalism) and minoring in conflict analysis & resolution. She's passionate about true crime podcasts, baking, and editing. After she graduates she hopes to pursue a career in journalism and eventually go to grad school.
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