A Virginia circuit court has ruled against a group of George Mason University students seeking access to donor agreements between the George Mason University Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation, Inside Higher Ed reports.
The Charles Koch Foundation has given tens of millions of dollars over the years to the university — a financial relationship that came under increased scrutiny after a 2016 gift of $10 million from the foundation and an anonymous $20 million commitment created three new scholarships and led to the renaming of its law school for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. At Florida State University, the University of Utah, and elsewhere, large gifts from the Koch Foundation have raised concerns about its influence over hiring and curriculum decisions. The student group, Transparent GMU, had filed a public records request for copies of the relevant agreements, arguing that agreements between the private GMU Foundation and donors should be subject to the same open-records laws as the public university itself.
The university claimed, however, that the documents fell outside the scope of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Last week, Judge John M. Tran ruled that the GMU Foundation does not meet the legal definition of a public body and is not subject to freedom-of-information laws. In April, the university released gift agreements from 2003 to 2011 that "raise questions concerning donor influence in academic matters," according to George Mason president Angel Cabrera. Citing those agreements, Transparent GMU said it would appeal the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court.
"We are very disappointed in Judge Tran's decision," said Gus Thomson, a spokesperson for Transparent GMU. "We believe the public has a right to know the details of our university's operations, including its relationship with private donors."