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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ideological billionaires sway universities’ agendas with big bucks

Two years ago, liberal billionaire George Soros gave $675,000 from his Open Society Foundation to support the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media.

“The MIT Center for Civic Media works hand in hand with diverse communities to collaboratively create, design, deploy, and assess civic media tools and practices,” the Center’s website explains.

The Center has worked to promote the Black Lives Matter movement through so-called digital activism, did a case study mapping out how the Trayvon Martin incident in Florida became a national news event, and has developed online tools for citizens to hold their elected leaders accountable for promises made on the campaign trail.

It has also developed undergraduate and graduate courses in civic media for MIT students teaching them about social movements and the media, among others and hosts a number of conferences, panels and writes publications espousing digital activism.

Mr. Soros’s foundation gave $26.4 million in grants and projects to U.S. universities in 2013 alone, just one of several ideological billionaires who are using part of their wealth to shape the agenda, research and curricula at the college level where the next generation of American adults are being informed.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist, gave $40 million to Stanford University to create the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy in 2009 with the mission of helping educate and train the next generation of leaders in sustainable energy.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a fierce gun control advocate, foundation has given to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, which resides under the aptly-named John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Mr. Bloomberg has given more than $1 billion to Johns Hopkins’ various departments in his lifetime.

Liberals aren’t the only ones. On the right, the Koch brothers, Charles and David, have given more than $68 million to fund libertarian, free-market university programs from 2005 to 2013, with about half of those donations going to George Mason University.

Monies given to the MIT Center for Civic Media are used to teach, track and monitor how social media can influence the broader media dialog.

“There’s actually a bunch of different ways to make change. One way to make change is to pass laws and get them enforced. Another is to try to change people’s opinions directly, and that’s what I see a lot of people trying to do with digital activism they’re trying to change social norms, they’re trying to say ‘Look, in a country with a black president we believe we are post-racial, but we’re not. We have terrible bias and we have to learn how to see it,’” Ethan Zuckerman, the director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, said in an August interview with NPR.


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