‘Companies Cannot Buy State Employees,’ says KU in open records case involving teacher with Koch ties

Kansas University has reinforced its stance that business lecturer Art Hall’s emails are subject to the Kansas Open Records Act, no matter who’s bankrolling his salary.

At the end of the day, KU writes his checks, the university argued in a document filed this week in Douglas County District Court.

“Companies Cannot Buy State Employees — And Then Keep Their Work Secret,” reads one sub-headline of a response filed on behalf of KU by attorney Michael Leitch. In conclusion, Leitch wrote, “Dr. Hall is a university employee at the KU Center (for Applied Economics), and his emails don’t become ‘private’ or ‘personal’ simply because a private company donates money the university then uses to pay him.”

Hall’s ties to Koch Industries prompted a student club to request his correspondence, among other records, from KU.

Those records remain in limbo for now.

On Wednesday, Judge James McCabria said he needed more questions answered before making a decision on whether the Open Records Act should apply to the records in question. McCabria scheduled oral arguments for early next month and, if the matter isn’t resolved sooner, a trial for November.

“There are facts that are in dispute,” McCabria said.

Hall has said that while he has nothing to hide, his emails should not be released because they are not subject to the Open Records Act. His arguments include that his position at KU is “self funded” and that the students’ records request aims to attack him politically and silence his speech.

Hall is founding executive director of the Center for Applied Economics, a public policy think-tank within KU’s School of Business, and has authored numerous publications on its behalf. Previously Hall was chief economist for the Public Sector Group of Koch Industries Inc.

In fall 2014 Students for a Sustainable Future, led by president Schuyler Kraus, paid KU nearly $1,800 to produce records it requested involving the hiring and correspondence of Hall and two other business school teachers.

Students for a Sustainable Future is part of a network of groups nationwide attempting to investigate the influence that brothers Charles and David Koch, conservative activist billionaires who own Wichita-based Koch Industries, have on academia.

KU turned over some records to the students and was poised to release more when, in December, Hall sued the university and the court blocked KU from doing so.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Kraus’ attorney, David Brown, urged the judge to decide to allow KU to turn over the records. Brown said his client should have had the records long ago, that her money to continue retaining him was limited and that further proceedings were an unnecessary delay.

Hall’s attorney, Curt Tideman, asked for oral arguments, saying there were new issues to flesh out further.

The Center for Applied Economics is a research center funded by contributions from the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation and other private donors, according to KU, the Journal-World previously reported. It was established in 2003 with support from the Koch Professorship in Business and Economics and the Koch Foundation.

KU Endowment declined to provide more information to the Journal-World when asked in December, though a representative of the Charles Koch Institute said its grants are made in line with university policies regarding hiring and curriculum.

KU’s court brief references Koch once: “The University is not embarrassed about, ashamed of, or interested in hiding the relationship between the School of Business, Dr. Hall and Koch, and it believes the public has the right to know about it.”

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