You can go to war, meet your ancestors and even play Indian at the local library

By Jacque White Kochak

(This article first appeared in the Auburn Villager)

I’m a nerd, and proud of it. God bless Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish industrialist and philanthropist whose largesse built more than 2,500 libraries in the U.S., Great Britain and Ireland.

Thanks to Mr. Carnegie, I was able to spend long, hot summer afternoons in the cool, domed Dodge City Public Library, located on the western Kansas plains. My child’s body rarely traveled past the stockyard and feedlot at the edge of town, but my mind was free to explore foreign countries, spend a season with a Bedouin or see the world through the eyes of a French madame. My goal was to read every book in that little library.

I have always said that if I suffered a mid-life crisis, I would disappear into the bowels of a library to study ninth century marriage customs or some such esoterica.

And God bless former Auburn University President Ralph Brown Draughon, the moving force behind construction of the Auburn University libraries that bear his name. The libraries—there are several—boast combined collections of more than 2.7 million volumes as well as 2.6 government documents, 2.5 million microforms and some 148,000 maps. The libraries also receive more than 35,000 current periodicals, many available online. And the libraries provide access to more than 227 electronic databases.

I have always said that if I suffered a mid-life crisis, I would disappear into the bowels of a library to study ninth century marriage customs or some such esoterica. And this is the place to do it.

I tend to become enamored of a subject and research it thoroughly. Where else can you find the Colonial Records of South Carolina volumes relating to Indian affairs? I have perused the pages of a master’s thesis about the history of the old Drake Infirmary and wrestled with microfilm to read issues of the Opelika Daily News from the early 1900s. You’d be surprised what constituted news in those days.

I’ve even fended off the advances of a 30-something graduate student. I was carrying a volume about South Carolina’s old 96 District, and I guess the fellow—a history student with a passion for the Revolutionary War—thought he’d found a soul mate.

If genealogy is your thing, check out the archives in the basement. The staff was quite helpful when I begged them to find mention of my great-uncle, an early barnstorming pilot, in their collection of aviation memorabilia (unfortunately they weren’t successful).

The building is imposing, parking is difficult and townspeople may feel they’re not welcome. That’s not true. All bibliophiles are the same, if you ask me. Rich or poor, young or old, they’re all seekers.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got someplace to go. James Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokees is calling my name.

 

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Is a picture worth a thousand words?

This article was first published way back in 2007. I updated it slightly, but it is every bit as relevant today as it was then.


By Jacqueline Kochak

(This article first appeared in The Auburn Villager)

Several years ago, a nonprofit pro-life group from Wichita, Kan., set up professionally designed 18-foot-tall displays covering some 5,000 square feet on Auburn University’s Cater Lawn. Graphic photos of aborted fetuses stopped students in their tracks, sparking some protest.

“I believe everybody has the right to inform people, but I don’t think this is informative,” said Shannon Symuleski, a senior majoring in social work. “When you couple facts with pictures of bloody flesh, you’re not going to get your point across the right way. I’m just out here to show there’s another side. I want to show people that not everybody feels this way.”

Almost no one I know is ‘pro-abortion,’ although many are ‘pro-choice.’ Yet we live in a culture where sex is considered recreation, no more significant than brushing one’s teeth…Is it odious to seek to open a dialogue between opposing groups?

The display, funded by private support, is the brainchild of David Lee, founder and executive director of an organization called Justice for All. Lee says his goal is to get students thinking about what abortion means.

I happened to meet Lee while he was in town. Turns out he was born in Trinity Hospital in Dodge City, Kan., and that’s where I was born. His family is from Minneola, an insignificant speck on the map just south of Dodge. I know the town well. His wife’s family is from another insignificant spot, Kinsley—where my brother lived at the time.

So we talked.

I don’t like people pushing ideology down my throat, and I was at first wary of Lee. I was surprised. He’s something of a scholar. He wasn’t pushy, he wasn’t dogmatic, and he didn’t preach. In fact, he listened.

“I guess a college campus is a good place to ask people to think about abortion,” I said. “But you need to aim this at the young men.”

“That’s why the pictures are so big,” he replied. “Males are visual.”

Several years ago, I wrote a series about date rape on the AU campus. I learned that many young women who leave home for the first time are naive. And some young men are predatory.

“You need to be talking about date rape,” I ventured.

“I know,” Lee said. “We need to be talking about a lot of things. Young men today don’t have enough responsible role models.”

And that got me to thinking.

Almost no one I know is “pro-abortion,” although many are “pro-choice.” Yet we live in a culture where sex is considered recreation, no more significant than brushing one’s teeth. Television and movies portray a world where casual sex is accepted, normal and even glorified, with real passion and meaning removed from the formula.

Is it wrong to suggest that casual sex can have consequences, and that a human life can result? Is it odious to seek to open a dialogue between opposing groups?

“We wanted to educate our fellow students about the reality and truth of abortion. People are pretty ignorant about what really occurs,” said Diane Phelps, a sophomore majoring in history and president of Auburn Students for Life, the group that invited Justice for All to campus.

“We wanted to be able to talk in a reasonable and compassionate manner,” she said. “We knew people would get mad about it. I think it’s worth that. If this exhibit saves one life, it was worth offending someone.”

Lee has told other newspapers that he wanted to bring the kind of discussion he experienced during his college years at the University of Kansas—where I also went to school—to campuses throughout the U.S. When Lee was a student in the early 1970s, KU was wracked by turmoil because of racial tensions and the country’s involvement in Vietnam.

That’s why each panel included a question aimed at pushing students to examine their own beliefs. Outright condemnation was not part of the show.

“We wanted to do this in a compassionate and loving way,” Phelps said. “We are prepared for women who have had abortions being upset and prepared to deal with it in a respectful and compassionate way.”

That’s not how many people saw the display, however.

“They are scaring people out of a choice they have every right to make,” said Lauren Bahr, a senior majoring in social work. “They say they’re educating, but I don’t think they’re here to educate. They’re here to scare people.”

“It’s pretty damn disturbing,” agreed Bryan Andress, a sophomore majoring in hotel and restaurant management.

And maybe that’s the point.

An apology after half a century

‘At the time, the Tuskegee Methodist Church was in its heyday, and was deciding who could receive the love of Christ and who couldn’t. They were letting one group of folks in the door, and asking another to go find their own church.’

By Jacqueline White Kochak

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Tuskegee News on June 22, 2006, as part of a four-part series.

Dr. Martin Luther King observed some 40 years ago that the most segregated hour in America is 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. That spells trouble for Tuskegee’s handful of historic white churches, whose members struggle to keep their congregations alive as the city’s population exceeds 95 percent black.

On June 30 (in 2006), the Tuskegee First United Methodist Church made a dramatic gesture to bridge the gap between Tuskegee’s handful of white residents and the rest of the city. The church’s 18 or so members were already equally divided between blacks and whites, and on that day the congregation reached out to the people of Macon County by hosting a community-wide concert featuring the Three Inspirational Tenors, renowned in the region for their Christian and message-oriented secular music.

Tuskegee, AL, USA - Cities on Map Series
The struggling, historic Tuskegee, in Macon County, is located just a few miles from the thriving city of Auburn.

The free concert in the church’s sanctuary was meant to be more than a pleasant evening for residents. The performance was an apology to the community for events that took place nearly half a century ago, when white members physically barred the door to blacks who wished to worship in the church.

“…we knew that in order to move on and rid ourselves of the blot of racism we had to confess the sin so that God could then forgive and cleanse us of our unrighteousness,” pastor Kent Cecil wrote in a grant request to the United Methodist Church’s Alabama-West Florida Conference.

Although the Tuskegee First United Methodist Church has changed, an ugly stain on the church’s reputation lingers, Cecil said. The conference funded not only the concert but also the mailing of a brochure about the apology to every address in Macon County.

Long ago, but memories linger

Before the Civil War, Tuskegee area whites and blacks attended the same churches, with black slaves sitting at the back. After the war, black members of various denominations formed their own congregations. An uneasy truce prevailed. Neither group could really be blamed, because people naturally like to worship among friends and family, and they like to feel safe and comfortable in church. As late as 2002, a study showed that just 8 percent of Christian churches in the U.S. were multiracial, defined as one ethnic group making up no more than 80 percent of membership.

Tuskegee’s once vibrant white churches faced a turning point in the 1950s when their members—and Tuskegee’s money—started leaving. Tuskegee was a cultured and relatively affluent town, but segregated like nearly every Southern city. Tensions escalated when black servicemen came home to Tuskegee after serving their country, asking why all the businesses were owned by whites, and why they couldn’t live in some parts of town.

In the late 1950s, Tuskegee’s blacks collectively stopped trading at white businesses. Some folded. Others hung on, but the trouble wasn’t over. Tuskegee Institute attracted the best and the brightest black professors and students from all over the country, and the already troubled little municipality became a focus of the nascent Civil Rights movement. Scared white citizens —always in the minority—hunkered down. While church governing bodies around the country called for peace and reason, fearful and defiant local whites retreated to their churches and prepared to defend their way o life.

“In the 1960s I was a member of the National Guard and I stood in the road to protect both sides,” recalled Asa Vaughan of Vaughan Feed & Seed in Tuskegee. “At the time, the Tuskegee Methodist Church was in its heyday, and was deciding who could receive the love of Christ and who couldn’t. They were letting one group of folks in the door, and asking another to go find their own church.”

Coming back home

Only the lazy characterize all members of any one group as bad. During the anguished ’60s, some Tuskegee whites turned belligerent. Others, more reflective and troubled, withdrew.

Dismayed by seeing his own father turn blacks away, the newly married Vaughan stopped going to church entirely.

Vaughan, whose grandfather moved to Tuskegee in the early 1900s as a county agent, grew up in the Tuskegee First Methodist Church. He remembers youth group functions that could pull 200 kids between the three churches, as well as church choirs and Sunday School classes. Dismayed by seeing his own father turn blacks away, the newly married Vaughan stopped going to church entirely.

On a good Sunday these days, 18 people—half black and half white—cluster at the front of the cavernous sanctuary to receive communion from the Rev. Cecil. Asa Vaughan is one of them, even though he lives in Hurtsboro.

“I came back home,” he said.

He’s not the only one. Although Sunday mornings are likely to find either the First Presbyterian Church or the First Baptist Church, both located on North Main Street, locked and empty because neither church has a permanent minister, members meet together on alternating Sundays. Effie Jean Corbitt, a long-time member of the Baptist church, makes a circuit every Sunday to play the organ for the congregations of the three churches.

Corbitt, a graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City, came home herself to teach at Huntingdon College in Montgomery back in the old days, when the churches were filled. Today, not a one of the Presbyterian Church’s five remaining members lives in Tuskegee, Corbitt said.

“They live in places like Auburn, Dadeville and Notasulga,” she said. “They hate to see it go. The main backbone of the Presbyterian Church is a 93-year-old lady named Louetta Segrest who lives in an assisted living home in Dadeville. She’s not going to let that church die.”

The First Baptist Church’s 30-odd members are just as tenacious, said interim minister Dr. David Bentley of Auburn. When the church needed painting and repairs, long-time member John Conner of Auburn’s Conner Brothers Construction Co. sent a crew to do the work. Workers also installed new air conditioning and heating systems.

“The people love those old churches,” Bentley said. “We know that it’s a struggle to keep them, but they are so historically important, and the worship is very traditional.”

Church ties are strong

Church congregations often are families, especially when membership dwindles, Corbitt said. The Baptist and Presbyterian Church congregations not only meet together, moving to each church on alternating Sundays, but on every fifth Sunday, they join the Methodists for a fellowship dinner.

That affection bodes well for the struggling city of Tuskegee, because the historic town apparently maintains an inexplicable hold over those who grew up here.

“That’s the thing that really has sustained us,” Bentley said. “So many, many people grew up in Tuskegee and had affiliations to the church that they still have affection for it. When you have a funeral down there, you can’t get them in the house. They really support that church.”

That affection bodes well for the struggling city of Tuskegee, because the historic town apparently maintains an inexplicable hold over those who grew up here. One of them is architect Joe Slaton, who works from his home between Shorter and Tuskegee and has been compiling information on the city’s wealth of historic buildings. As a child he was a Baptist.

“In the old days the church was filled,” Slaton said. “When we had revivals you had to sit in the balcony.”

In fact, the Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches all built additions in the 1950s, before the boycott pushed Tuskegee toward economic stagnation.

“They were still optimistic,” Slaton said. “They had money and people to build.”

When asked why he didn’t leave Tuskegee during the era of white flight, Joe Slaton paused and said, “Well, I did leave. In 1973 I moved to Memphis, but I came back to Shorter in ’87.”

Heeding the sweet, secret call of home

The lurid murders of several elderly white women spurred a second diaspora in the 1970s. Children who earlier left in search of good jobs returned long enough to pack up their aged parents and move them, too. Slaton’s widowed mother lived in a house built in the 1850s, and when he left for college the family had to figure out how to lock the doors.

“All these old ladies lived by themselves, totally unprotected,” Slaton recalled. “When I left, my mother and two of my brothers also left.”

Slaton came back, and so did Asa Vaughan. Others also have returned to Macon County, drawn by the sweet, secret call of home. The wounds of the past, however, are just beginning to heal, and Corbitt bemoaned the fate of the once-proud churches.

“It’s just so sad sitting in those great big buildings and rattling around,” she said.

Recently, the Tuskegee First United Methodist Church hosted a ceremony commemorating the National Day of Prayer. Some black ministers commented they never expected to step inside the church, Vaughan said.

“When the local Main Street organization asked the Rev. Oliver Mize (the church’s former minister) if they could use the Methodist Church annex for meetings, some people were shocked when he said they were welcome,” recalled Wendy Slaton, Joe Slaton’s wife.

That’s why the Methodist Church is reaching out, Vaughan said.

“We can’t pick that church up and take it someplace else,” he said. “Our church has already died and is being resurrected. At one time this was the prime place to be, so why not today?”

 

 

Ukrainian famine shows that a journalist’s job is not always pretty

The job of an honest journalist is to climb to the top of a hill and shout, ‘Look what I see!’ no matter how messy or ugly.


By Jacque White Kochak

This article first appeared in The Auburn Villager

My maiden name is White, and every three years the White clan holds an enormous family reunion. The descendants of all my grandfather’s siblings show up at the appointed place—we’ve been to Kansas, Arkansas and New Mexico so far—to update each other about our families.

Inevitably, my children ask why I have so many relatives, and my husband has so few. The short answer is that he is Ukrainian, and his great aunts, great uncles and a vast assortment of second and third cousins are still in Europe, not in the United States.

The long answer is that many of them didn’t survive the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933.

The state-orchestrated famine, designed by Josef Stalin to break the backs of Ukrainian peasants who refused to join collectives, claimed the lives of at least 4.8 million Ukrainians. That is the conservative estimate; others say the figure was closer to 10 million. No one knows for sure because Stalin suspended routine census taking during the period.

Stalin sealed the borders of the region and then sent soldiers through every home to steal any food that might help the peasants survive. Some resorted to cannibalism. While his own people starved, Stalin exported grain to the West, refusing offers to help from international relief organizations.

Never heard of the famine? I’m not surprised. Although Stalin’s genocide rivaled or surpassed Hitler’s, the history books I read when I was growing up were mum on the subject. The searing Canadian film Harvest of Despair finally started educating Americans about the holocaust in the early 1980s.

‘Whatever I may do or think in the future, I must never pretend that I haven’t seen this. Ideas will come and go, but this is more than an idea. It is peasants kneeling down in the snow asking for bread.’

Stalin’s oppression of the story was a triumph of “public relations.” He spoonfed the news that he wanted told to eager journalists who didn’t want to lose their cushy jobs in Stalin’s Moscow. After all, foreign correspondents had been “advised” to remain in Moscow by the press department of the Soviet Commissariat for Foreign Affairs and not go poking around the countryside.

And some of them believed in the idea of a Communist utopia. They couldn’t—or wouldn’t—see the truth. One of them, Walter Duranty of the New York Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for his vivid, glowing dispatches about Stalin’s Five Year Plan, in which he attributed the deaths to errors in Stalin’s plan. Duranty was fooled—or he lied.

Other journalists tried to tell the story, but their veracity was attacked. In 1932, you see, negotiations were underway to accept the Soviet Union into the League of Nations. Criticizing Stalin’s regime wasn’t “politically correct.” Available archival evidence testifies that several Western governments were well-informed about the Ukrainian genocide but adopted a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of a foreign sovereign state.

The British scribe Malcolm Muggeridge, who was sympathetic to  Communism when first posted to Moscow, was one of those journalists who told the truth. He described peasants ravaged by hunger, kneeling in the snow and begging for crusts of bread.

“Whatever I may do or think in the future,” Muggeridge wrote in his diary. “I must never pretend that I haven’t seen this. Ideas will come and go, but this is more than an idea. It is peasants kneeling down in the snow asking for bread. Something that I have seen and understood.”

Another was William I. Shirer, author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, who recorded the sight of ragged peasants crossing a river to escape the Ukrainian famine. And dispatches from another British journalist, Gareth Jones, left no doubts. “I walked alone through villages,” he wrote. “…everywhere was the cry, ‘There is no bread. We are dying.'”

The job of a journalist is to climb to the top of a hill and shout, “Look what I see!” no matter how messy or ugly. That’s a lesson to remember, even here in Auburn.

With the rise of blogosphere and every Tom, Dick and Harry spouting “facts” to support opinions, have honest journalists become irrelevant? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all.

 

 

A mountain of names—mine included

I’m cleaning house and ran across some old essays. I’ll post them on here just for fun (and for my kids).


By Jacque White Kochak

This essay was first published in The Auburn Villager

It’s happened again. I’ve been referred to as “Mr. Kochak.”

I don’t have anything against men. Really I don’t—but I am definitely of the female persuasion. Let me explain. But where to begin? At the beginning, I guess.

My given name at birth was Jacqueline Lee White. I was named after my father, Jackie Lee White. He was named after his father, Jack White.

You may note that we’re not very creative with names in my family. In fact, I’ve definitely traced my ancestry back to about 1760. Patrick White begot James White, who begot Patrick White, who begot James White, who begot Patrick White. The photo above is one of those Patrick Whites (my great grandfather) and his wife, Minnie Boyd White.

Then, for some reason, Jack makes an appearance, followed by Jackie and Jacqueline. I couldn’t possibly be known as “Jackie Lee,” now could I? I would have been confused with my father. Therefore, somebody got creative and spelled my name “Jacque.” That’s where the trouble started. Add an “s” to Jacque and you’ve got Jacques, a perfectly respectable name for a French male—which I am not.

I’ve been known as Jacque—Jack-ee—all my life. I don’t like to be called Jacqueline, because it sounds pompous.

When I started writing, however, I soon found that if I used Jacque as my byline, I got letters addressed to “Mr. Kochak.” I quickly adopted the byline “Jacqueline Kochak,” so people would know a woman penned the brilliant tracts I regularly produced. A little feminist feeling there, I guess.

When I wrote for a national publication it didn’t matter much, because I didn’t run into my readers on the street. When I started writing locally, however, I cringed every time someone addressed me with that cumbersome, haughty first name. “Just Jack-ee,” I usually replied.

When I started writing for The Villager, I cast caution to the wind. I know everyone anyway, don’t I? Guess not.

I find names fascinating. When I started studying genealogy, I found names are almost like DNA markers, passed down from generation to generation. In the past, they have taken on almost mystical importance, honoring those who have passed.

In Scots, Irish and English tradition, the eldest son was usually named for the father’s father, and the next eldest son for the mother’s father. The third son was named for the father, and on down the line until all the father’s brothers were included. Female names followed the same pattern.

In recent times, of course, we’ve abandoned that pattern in favor of the nom du jour. My parents were no different. As the oldest daughter I really should have been named Melva, you know.

That brings me back to all those Patricks. There are still Patricks in the White family, my cousin and nephew included. When my cousin was born, my grandmother told my uncle (Joe Pat, by the way), “You have to name him Patrick, because there has always been a Patrick in the White family.”

Turns out she was right. The first Patrick White appears in Virginia records in 1653, and his name is commemorated through generation after generation, some far removed from me. I discovered a long-lost cousin in Texas named Patrick White, and his line branched off in the 1850s.

The point? I don’t have one, really. Just call me “Jack-ee,” please!

 

 

 

 

Racism, or honoring one’s family?

I saw an article yesterday about ‘a new Memorial Day tradition—burning the Confederate flag.’ My visceral reaction was that these were my ancestors who died in a bloody, awful war that literally pitted brother against brother. I hate it when the heartbreak of this history is trivialized to make someone’s point. I thought this article, although brief, captured different points of view, both valid. We need to hear each other.


By Jacque White Kochak

This article was first published May 6, 2009, in the Auburn Villager.

As a prelude to what turned out to be a poignant but peaceful Auburn City Council meeting Tuesday night, police stopped those attending at the door to check for weapons.

The Rev. Arthur Dowdell, the only African-American council member, stirred up a bee’s nest the week before Confederate Memorial Day when he removed miniature Confederate battle flags from the graves of Confederate veterans at Pine Hill Cemetery.

At the beginning of Tuesday night’s meeting, the council passed a resolution asking Dowdell to apologize for the act and, after a long meeting filled with citizen comments, Dowdell did so.

Dowdell said news reports had not told the whole story; when he was contacted by students about the flags, he didn’t know who placed them and feared a hate group might have been responsible.

Dowdell said he called Mayor Bill Ham as well as City Manager Charlie Duggan’s office, and no one could enlighten him. He even asked Mary Norman, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, if she knew who placed the flags, and she said she didn’t.

In fact, the UDC did place the flags, but Norman was no longer a member of the Admiral Semmes Chapter that sought to honor the veterans at Pine Hill Cemetery.

“If I had known that the UDC put the flags there, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” Dowdell said.

“I’ve always thought I was American by birth and Southern by the grace of God, but I know racism is alive and well. Still, it is painful to me for someone to tell me I can’t honor my family members.”

As news raced across the Internet, many were enraged. Attending the meeting were Sons of Confederate Veterans from as far away as Tallahassee, Fla., and cities in Georgia.

One after another, they said placing the flags was not about racism, but about honoring their forebears. They said Dowdell had desecrated the graves, which are on private property, and violated their right to free speech.

Dowdell’s supporters were equally eloquent in explaining the flag’s power as a symbol to them of racism and terror. One showed a picture of three lynched black men that had been sent to Dowdell, and Dowdell described e-mails describing him as a “greasy monkey.”

In the end, however, even Dowdell seemed to agree the issues were free speech and property rights, not racism.

“The First Amendment doesn’t only protect things you like,” noted Sandra Fagin of Auburn. “I’ve always thought I was American by birth and Southern by the grace of God, but I know racism is alive and well. Still, it is painful to me for someone to tell me I can’t honor my family members.”

How Auburn kept its campus Koch-free

The other day a researcher with an organization called UnKoch My Campus contacted me. “That article has quickly become a favorite of mine, as I am compiling all known oversteps of the Charles Koch Foundation,” he said, referring to a piece I wrote in 2008. As it turns out, very few campuses have successfully deflected overtures by the billionaire Koch brothers—so stay tuned.


By Jacqueline White Kochak

The article was first published Sept. 18, 2008, in The Auburn Villager

For months, controversy has swirled around Auburn University’s new Center for International Finance and Global Competitiveness, with critics raising questions about the source of funding and the procedure used to hire the center’s director, Dr. Robert M. Lawson. Now, Rep. Craig Ford, a Democrat from Gadsden, has requested documents pertaining to the new center, housed in AU’s College of Business.

The center is being funded by an initial $300,000 grant from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, with a total of $5.5 million requested over five years, according to a memo distributed to AU deans by College of Business dean Paul M. Bobrowski on Jan. 10.

“…the Kochs share the conviction that the advancement of their philosophy is contingent upon investment in academia.”

Charles G. Koch and his brother David between them control three family foundations, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.

The foundations have contributed so much money to advance conservative causes that they have caught the attention of liberal watchdogs such as the People for the American Way, which says that the Kochs share the conviction that the advancement of their philosophy is contingent upon investment in academia.

Koch is chairman of the board and chief executive of Wichita, Kan.-based Koch Industries, the largest privately held company in the U.S. with annual revenues of about $90 billion. According to Forbes Magazine, his personal fortune totaled some $17 billion in 2008, placing Koch at number 37 on the magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires.

A NETWORK OF CONSERVATIVE THINK TANKS

Koch is also a libertarian whose foundation funds a network of conservative think tanks nationwide and is a growing presence in the academic world. In addition, he is the founder of the influential libertarian Cato Institute, based in Washington, D.C.

Koch is the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation’s one and only benefactor. According to the foundation’s IRS form 990, accessed at guidestar.org, the foundation received $40,021,911 in 2006. Charles G. Koch is listed on the form as contributing exactly the same amount.

In 2005, according to tax forms, Koch contributed $30,020,760 to the foundation, and again was its only contributor. The form 990 for 2007 is not yet available online. Directors include Koch’s wife, his children and Koch Business Holdings, making up a majority.

“I have worked for some of these foundations and came up with the answers they wanted,” said one former AU professor who is concerned about the center. “I don’t have a problem with that, though I realize I wouldn’t have been asked back if hadn’t come up with those answers.”

To underscore his point, the professor pulls out a quote from the 2007 book “Radicals for Capitalism,” a 700-page tome that traces the lineage of the libertarian movement in the U.S.

“If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent,” David Koch told author Brian Doherty. “And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with we withdraw funding. We do exert that kind of control.”

“If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent.”

Although the public generally identifies libertarianism with politics, its ideas have actually been much more important in economic theory. In fact, the story of the American libertarian movement has been a combination of small numbers and big influence, to quote a review of “Radicals for Capitalism” that appeared in the New York Times.

“Why is a university working with a foundation like this?” the professor asked. “It might be a good idea to study the stuff they want to study, but if you don’t get the results they want, what happens?”

THE ‘ECONOMIC FREEDOM INITIATIVE’

AU President Jay Gogue was apprised of the proposed institute in a memo dated Dec. 12, 2007, from Provost John Heilman, who said he had been briefed about the project several times. He said the center had the support of his office, and he recommended approval.

According to the memo, the center would “promote understanding of the concept and measurement of economic freedom, and the interaction of economic freedom, political freedom, individual liberty and economic growth and prosperity” through its “Economic Freedom Initiative.”

Key to that mission, the memo said, is “enhancing the research and teaching efforts around the Economic Freedom of the World Index.” The index ranks 123 countries on measures including size of government, top marginal tax rates, interest rate controls and freedom of citizens to use alternative currencies.

The index is published by Canada’s Fraser Institute, a libertarian think tank that has received funding from both the Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, according to the Web site Sourcewatch. The Cato Institute, founded by Koch, co-publishes the index as do more than 70 think tanks around the world, according to the Cato website.

Co-authors of the index are Lawson and economist Dr. James Gwartney of Florida State University, where Lawson received his doctorate in economics. Also receiving his doctorate in economics from Florida State is Dr. Dan Gropper, associate dean of AU’s College of Business and one of three people proposed to serve on the center’s board of directors.

The others are Dr. John Jahera, head of the College of Business finance department and Colonial Bank Distinguished Professor; and Dr. James Barth, the Lowder Imminent Scholar in Finance, who will also serve as co-director of the center.

Research efforts would include yearly production of the index, as well as a series of business case studies and academic symposia, perhaps in conjunction with the West Virginia University Center for Entrepreneurship or the Independent Institute. Both the West Virginia University Foundation and the Independent Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Oakland, Calif., were the recipients of Koch largesse in 2006, according to the foundation’s tax filing.

According to the memo, some of the center’s activities would involve marketing the Economic Freedom of the World Index. The center would produce high-quality Economic Freedom of the World maps to disseminate to schools and other organizations, as well as high-school-level materials. The center would also host a comprehensive Web site and produce a one-minute video series called “Freedom Minutes,” as well as other video projects.

Finally, a speaker’s bureau would offer a “cadre of well-trained faculty” to communicate with the press and general public about “economic freedom issues,” would invite seminar speakers, host lectures on campus, offer seminars for finance professionals and support a number of undergraduate, masters and doctoral level assistantships or fellowships.

DISSENT PERCOLATED THROUGH RANKS

Concern started percolating up through the ranks of the College of Business in January of this year, when many faculty members first learned of the proposed center after the memo to deans.

Key to the existence of the center, obviously, was recruiting someone associated with the Economic Freedom of the World Index, around which most of the center’s proposed activities would initially revolve. That someone was co-author Lawson, then George A. Moor endowed chair at tiny Capital University, an institution of fewer than 4,000 students in Columbus, Ohio.

According to the memo from Heilman to Gogue, the proposed budget called for a $95,000 supplement to the director’s salary, as well as $95,000 in salary from AU starting Aug. 16, 2008. It is unclear how much the director will actually receive in salary, but it appears that at least part of it would come from grant proceeds, straight out of Charles G. Koch’s pocket.

When they learned of the center, some faculty members asked if a national search had taken place and started looking for the job announcement. The job was not advertised on the AU Web site or on any of the recognized venues where economics faculty are usually recruited, they say.

“So we think that we have, and we will have, enough protections in order to ensure that it’s without strings.”

One professor said he finally found the job advertised only once on a Web site called Social Science Research Network. The advertisement was posted Nov. 4, 2007, with enquiries to go to Jahera. Review of applications was to take place Dec. 1, 2007. On Nov. 9, however, Lawson was already going to be on campus to give a seminar, according to e-mail to a College of Business faculty member on Nov. 5, one day after the job was advertised.

According to a faculty recruitment checklist posted online by AU’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity, a search committee is mandatory. The search committee reviews the advertisement and sets a timetable to review applications. The search committee then screens applications on the basis of advertised criteria, requests letters of reference and prepares a short list of candidates to be interviewed. Then candidates are interviewed and a candidate is selected.

‘PEOPLE OUT TO DESTROY PROPOSED CENTER’

After learning of the center in December and finding out that many senior faculty did not even know about the project in January, Gogue purportedly urged more openness. On Feb. 12, the center was included on the agenda for that month’s University Senate meeting.

At that time, Bobrowski told faculty members that the College of Business had looked at other universities, both public and private, that had engaged with the Koch Foundation, which he described as an umbrella organization including many charitable organizations.

“So we think that we have, and we will have, enough protections in order to ensure that it’s without strings,” he said. “Therefore, it is not any kind of strategy that guarantees a certain outcome based on funding source.”

The College of Business has been troubled by dissension within the economics department for years, and Gropper told senators there were people out to destroy the proposed center.

“They’re out to get the provost, and they’re out to get the dean,” he said. “I’ve seen the emails. I’ve seen the schemes for the last few years.”

“I don’t know if it would hold up in court, but it sure looks suspicious for Auburn.”

Gropper said the college had the opportunity to move forward, bring in money, build programs and support graduate students.

“At a time where we have a chance to bring in potentially millions of dollars, it’s sort of incredible to me that somebody would say, ‘Well, let’s slow that up. Let’s not do this. Let’s cast aspersions and so on,'” he said.

By that time, however, Lawson had already been hired and the center was a fait accompli. He is now an associate professor in the department of finance.

‘LOOKS SUSPICIOUS’

The state representative, Craig Ford, did not respond to several calls from The Villager. In his letter, however, he asked for an array of documents pertaining to the creation of the center and the hiring of Lawson, as well as copies of all announcements of the position of director and the dates and outlets where they were published.

He also asked for all responses to the advertisement, the dates they were submitted, the list of final candidates and the dates they visited campus. He also asked for e-mail traffic related to the center, the position of director and the hiring of Lawson between the office of the president, the office of the provost, Bobrowski, Gropper, Jahera, Barth and others.

“…it has been brought to my attention, by persons both inside and outside the university, that there may have been a number of administrative ‘irregularities’ in both the creation of the center, the design of the center’s administrative structure, the funding of the center, and in the hiring of its director,” Ford wrote in his May letter to Gogue.

“Given current investigations into the two-year college system in this state, I am deeply troubled and concerned by potential improprieties at Alabama’s largest universities and specifically in the College of Business at Auburn University (my alma mater),” he wrote.

According to the June 10 minutes of the College of Business executive committee, the Koch Foundation memorandum of understanding had been signed, with provost Heilman signing for AU. Sometime in July, the college would receive $300,000 as called for in the memorandum.

At the time, Gropper noted that Florida State had just signed a memorandum of understanding, as well.

“The center is fine as long as they produce independent research,” said one of several professors interviewed by The Villager, none of whom wanted to be named.

“I don’t know if it would hold up in court,” he said, “but it sure looks suspicious for Auburn.”

Woman takes chance as a father seeks a handout

I wrote this a long time ago. It first appeared in the Westchester Opinion section of the New York Times. Although little Tommy is all grown up, I wouldn’t say my point of view has changed very much.


By Jacque White Kochak

As I wove through the crowds in Grand Central Terminal on my way home from work one day, I saw a man carrying a child and pushing her stroller. The little girl was plump, and her white shirt stuck out below a red jacket. A tiny face peeked out below a fringe of curly bangs.

The man was young, with a light shadow of beard and an open, unmarked face. The stroller was fairly new and nondescript. Nothing about the two particularly spoke of poverty. Yet the man walked along, chanting in a singsong voice. The words he chanted, walking along with the crowds ignoring him: “Can you help me feed a homeless child?”

I don’t deny that I was a perfect mark. I have three children of my own, and this little girl was just the age of Tommy. A picture of homeless children in a newspaper is enough to set me sobbing. I have a soft spot for children, of course.

I can also, sometimes, almost, see myself in that picture. Not as the parent, but as the child. By the time my mother was 22 years old and my father was 24, they had had five children, all born in four years. When I was 4, my sister was 3, my brother was 2, and the twins were newborn. My brother had cystic fibrosis. My parents had no insurance. I was very young, but I think things got kind of tough. I remember eating a lot of dried beef gravy on biscuits for dinner, and one year wearing shoes that scarred my instep because they were too tight.

I’m from Kansas, so New York-style poverty is alien to me. But once, when I read about a young couple with their children living out of a dilapidated car as they chased chimerical jobs across the Southwest, I imagined how easy it might have been to slip between the cracks.

So, I followed the man, through the crowds, until I caught up with him. A squat little woman, probably with grown children of her own, stuffed a dollar in the man’s cup. “God bless you,” he said.

I stuffed another dollar in his cup. “God bless you,” he said again. I imagined the people around me sneering. What an easy mark I was! The man was probably using the little girl to provoke pity, then he would take the money and spend it on booze or drugs.

Then someone called out. “Why don’t you put her in foster care?” the voice said. The young man reeled, furious and sincere.

“Yeah, and never see her again!” he yelled at no one in particular. “Only a moron. . . .” and his voice trailed off. The little girl just looked at him, with that uncanny patience and innocence that toddlers show before they really understand what is going on around them.

I am an easy mark, but I am also fairly sophisticated about poverty. I once worked for an organization that raised money for orphanages, schools, feeding programs and a child-sponsorship program in Latin America. It was my job to break vulnerable hearts with heart-rending tales of malnourished children. I know the techniques.

I also have traveled extensively, and I know that beggars can be very businesslike. I have seen gypsy women in Madrid who make a living begging. They find a comfortable spot, perhaps in an overpass shielded from the sun, and spread themselves out. They bring along two or three dirty-faced kids for effect, and one wily woman even displayed an enlarged black-and-white poster of herself with six or seven more children of all sizes.

And I have dealt with pint-sized beggars in Santiago, Chile. Their alcoholic parents dress them in rags and send them out to beg. The parents keep out of sight; they know that the children will be more effective alone. The money the kids collect goes for liquor.

But I also remember another man I saw in Madrid. He huddled against a wall, his face hidden in shame. Next to his begging cup lay a hand-lettered sign. “I am a poor man from Andalusia,” the sign read. “I sold my house and came to the city to look for work. Now I can’t find work, and my children are hungry.” Somehow, I believed him.

What can I say? I’m an easy mark. I gambled that my dollar would go for a nourishing meal for the little girl, just the size of my Tom. And really, a dollar is such a little bit of money.

And then I looked at the people around me, the ones who would chide me for being a sucker. They hurried by, dressed in their heavy coats and their winter boots, maybe not prosperous, but surviving. Not one of them would have missed a dollar. Yet, many of them wouldn’t hesitate to drop 10, 20, even 100 times that measly dollar in Atlantic City or Las Vegas. And that made me mad.

I prefer my gamble, thank you.