Is the Civitas Institute at UT-Austin the nose of a Koch-owned camel?


During the past year a number of articles were written about the stealth installation at UT Austin of a right-wing institute “dedicated to the study and teaching of individual liberty, limited government, private enterprise and free markets.” [Texas Tribune, Kate McGee, 8-26-2021] Originally dubbed the Liberty Institute, but finally named the Civitas Institute, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick raised the possibility that the goals of the new institute might be more pointedly political. “I will not stand by and let looney Marxist UT professors poison the minds of young students with Critical Race Theory.” Patrick wrote on the social media platform Twitter. “We banned it in publicly funded K-12 and we will ban it in publicly funded higher ed.  That’s why we created the Liberty Institute at UT.” [reported in the Texas Tribune, McGee 2-16-2022]  Two days later the Texas Tribune also reported “Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Friday that he will push to end professor tenure for all new hires at Texas Public universities and colleges in an effort to combat faculty members who he says ‘indoctrinate’ students with teachings about critical race theory.”[McGee 2-18-2022] On June 13, 2022 the Texas Tribune announced that Justin Dyer, a UT graduate, had been selected as the director of the Civitas Institute.  Dyer is a self-described “pro-life evangelical”. [McGee 6-13-2022]

Another set of relevant relationships arise from the fact that Lt. Gov. Patrick is a member of the board of directors of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute.  That board also includes Comptroller Glen Hegar, Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, plus 9 state senators and 10 members of the Texas House. In addition, 13 members of TCCRI’s board are registered lobbyists, including such prominent ones as Mike Toomey and Lara Keel. But most importantly, in my opinion, is one other board member-lobbyist by the name of Bill Oswald.  Mr. Oswald carries the title of Vice Chair of TCCRI.  He is also an employee of and a lobbyist in Texas for the nine subsidiaries of Koch Industries. Based on information in TCCRI’s tax returns, Mr. Oswald is the longest-serving board member of that organization.

In addition to pointing out the involvement of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick with the Liberty Institute, the Texas Tribune also reported on the involvement of two wealthy Texas UT-Austin Alumni and businessmen--Bob Rowling and Bud Brigham. “Rowling confirmed to the Tribune through his assistant that he is involved with the project and said that Brigham, an oil company executive and fervent promoter of the writer Ayn Rand, was the real leader on this.” [Texas Tribune, McGee, 8-26-2021). The Texas Tribune also reported that “Brigham donated $10,000 to Patrick’s campaign” after the Civitas Institute was funded [McGee, 8-26-2021]. In addition, Emma Schkloven reported that Rowling gave $150,000 to Patrick “last summer” [Austin Monthly, Emma Schkloven, May 2022]. Schkloven also claimed that “It’s widely believed the main players will be brought in from Austin-based The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a darling of Patrick’s.”

In view of the reporting described above, I will stick my neck out, and make the following conjecture:  The major part of the Civitas Institute endeavor is a result of funding by, and interrelationships with, the Koch-funded donor network, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI), with Dan Patrick playing a pivotal role. Part of the reporting that appeared in the Texas Tribune,  other related articles, information from federal tax returns and the Texas Ethics Commission, and previous work I did on TCCRI, is summarized in following diagram. Several comments on the diagram follow beneath it.

1.      The $6.8 million from the Koch Foundation to TPPF, the inclusion of a Koch Industries employee, Bill Oswald, on the board of TCCRI, and TPPF and TCCRI board members’ contributions to Lt. Gov. Patrick bind closely together some of the main actors in this set of relationships.

2.      The reported contributions of Rowling and Brigham to Patrick, and Brigham’s donations to TPPF, further tie Patrick and TPPF to the Civitas project.

3.      Donations by TPPF board member Doug Deason  and the Deason Family Foundation to elements of the Koch network and to TPPF further binds together these interests. The organization Stand Together, which superseded the Seminar Network, is sometimes referred to simply as the “Koch Network.” According to an article on Wikipedia, the Chairman and CEO of Stand Together is Brian Hooks. Hooks “previously served as executive director of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.” Along with Hooks, other members of the board of directors of the Mercatus Center are Charles Koch, its founder and major funder, and Richard Fink, a former executive VP of Koch Industries.

4.      The substantial contribution from the Deason Foundation to Turning Point USA ($760,000), and its subgroup Professor Watch List, supports the notion that the Libertarian actors in TPPF, along with Charles Koch and other members of the Koch funding network, are still working to reverse what they deem as the leftist tendencies among American universities. Or, in the words of Lt. Gov. Patrick, “loony Marxist UT professors.”

5.      The major involvement of Charles Koch with the Mercatus Center and its housing within George Mason University, and his direct and indirect involvement with the network of individuals and organizations promoting the Civitas Institute inevitably raises the question as to whether the Mercatus Center is being used as a role model for the Civitas Institute. See this link for an understanding of what this suggestion might imply.


Note: Most of the numerical data shown in the diagram came from Foundations Online and the Texas Ethics Commission.

Much has previously been written about the Koch family support and influence in numerous institutions of higher education in the U.S. , especially in the South (see Charles Koch gave $90 million to influence higher ed in the South, Alex Kotch, Dec. 3, 2015. here)

Shawn Otto, in his book The War on Science: Who’s Waging it, Why it Matters, What we can do about it includes the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity as one of the major organizations engaged in climate-change denial (p. 284).  As noted on the diagram above, Doug Deason has made substantial contributions to Americans for Prosperity. A look at the board members of TPPF and the business clients of lobbyist-board members of TCCRI (see my attached paper) leaves little doubt that climate-change denial is consistent with the stated goals of Civitas Institute, namely “individual liberty, limited government, private enterprise and free markets.” Limited government is often used as a synonym for less environmental regulation. 

As noted above, Doug Deason is not only a major supporter of TPPF, but also has contributed some $760,000 to Turning Point USA (TPUSA).  According to Jane Mayer, in an article in the New Yorker, the founder of TPUSA, Charles Kirk, “has spoken and fund-raised at various closed-door energy-industry gatherings, including those of the 2017 board meeting of the National Mining Association and the 2016 annual meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.” Mayer also points out that TPUSA “runs an online ‘Professor Watch List’ that targets professors it believes are liberal, blamed ‘leftist professors’ in its booklet for having ‘perpetuated’ these ‘myths’ [about the effects of climate change]”.

There are just too many ties between the advocates of the Civitas Institute, various elements of the Koch Network, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and its supporters, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to rest assured that its main purpose is to promote the interests of the general citizenry of the State of Texas. The effort to establish the Civitas Institute seems more aligned with past endeavors of the Kochs and their partners, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in increasing their control over Texas political processes in general and higher education in particular.