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Lifetime Trustee David Koch Speaks Exclusively to The Scroll

Click Here for the full transcript from the interview with David Koch.

Since his time as a student at Deerfield Academy, David Koch ’59 has spent much of his time and revenue giving back to the community he once called home. Current president of the Board of Trustees, Phillip Greer, commented, “I have heard him [Mr. Koch] say that his four years at Deerfield impacted his life more than any other part of his education, and therefore in gratitude he has given time and resources to support our school in appreciation.”

David Koch attended public grade school in his hometown, Wichita, Kansas, before his father and mother, MIT and Wellesley College graduates respectively, brought him and his twin brother to look at boarding schools in the Northeast for a better education. Koch explains his love for Deerfield, his first-choice school, “As a result of Deerfield, I received great instruction, made tremendously good friends, and was very much involved in athletics.”

Just as Deerfield made a huge impact on Mr. Koch, Mr. Koch makes a huge impact on Deerfield. “Deerfield helped me immensely to get into MIT,” said Mr. Koch. “And as a result, I feel obligated to serve on the board of trustees and help Deerfield in many ways, because they helped me so much.” Mr. Koch helped fund the Koch Center for Math and Science, as well as the Koch Pool.

Mr. Koch recalled his role on the building committee for the Koch Center: “We collectively interviewed a lot of architects; and I think in almost every case there was a real consensus on what architect to choose to design each of the various buildings we have on campus. And I think they’ve done a great job; I think these buildings are very successful.”

David Koch has served on the Board of Trustees for 25 years—longer than any other member in Deerfield history. According to Mr. Greer, “The Board’s principal job is to set Deerfield’s mission, be sure the school runs true to the mission, and that Deerfield has the necessary resources.”

Margarita Curtis, Head of School, said, “One of the primary responsibilities of the Board is to appoint and oversee the Head of School, who in turn is in charge of the day-to-day execution of the school’s mission. Every member of the Board serves on three to four committees, and is expected to rotate through the different committees throughout their tenure.  These committees include Nominating and Governance, Endowment, Finance, Audit and Risk Management, Development, Buildings and Grounds, Compensation and Personnel, Academic Affairs, Student Life, Admission, Financial Aid and College Advising.”

The 30 members of the board voted David Koch the Academy’s first-ever Lifetime Trustee, an honor he now shares with Mr. Greer. As Lifetime Trustees, the pair have the rights of an active Trustee for the rest of their lives, including voting and attending any board or committee meetings they choose.

Mr. Greer commented on Koch’s involvement with the Board: “In addition to his time commitment, Mr. Koch has been lead donor for the Koch Center, the pool and other important facilities at Deerfield. No trustee has asked better questions, given more thoughtful advice, over such a longer period of involvement.”

David Koch responded, “I try to be a very constructive member of the board, and I think I do that very well.”

Dr. Curtis concurred: “Mr. Koch is not only willing to invest resources in his alma mater, but his time. This is a man who sits on more than 20 boards—many of them non-profits. He takes the time to come here to spend two full days interacting with other trustees, faculty and students, and to offer his support generously.”

David Koch and his brother Charles Koch run Koch Industries, Incorporated—David as the Executive Vice President and Charles as the Chairman and CEO. “We are either the first- or the second-largest privately owned company in the world. It depends on what measure,” remarked David Koch, adding, “We are in many, many different business areas. We do oil refining, chemical manufacturing, commodity trading, fertilizer production, textile-fiber manufacturing, wood products for construction use, retail products such as paper towels, paper plates, and toilet paper.”

Georgia Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, is responsible for 40% of the toilet paper market. “We are a world leader in supply of different kinds of equipment for oil refining and chemical manufacturing,” said Mr. Koch. “Last, but not least, we have a company in the Boston area that has developed a new water-purification system. I expect great things out of the technology that we’ve developed.”

Additionally, Koch Industries employs over 100,000 workers around the world. “I feel extremely proud that we can successfully employ this large a number of people to work for us,” said Mr. Koch. “We are tremendously interested in providing great opportunities for our people and promoting them. We have been really, really successful at hiring outstanding executives, ones who really manage our business extremely well.”

Mr. Koch also offered advice for the younger generation: “I think that the best way for young people to succeed is to get a terrific education at a fine high school and university and have them pursue a career in a field that they like—that they feel comfortable in.” He continued, “The better the education you acquire, the better opportunities there are available to you in the future. Pursue a field that is complementary to your talents. Don’t try to pursue a field where you don’t really have any talents. I would starve to death if I tried to make my living as a painter or singer.”

        In the February issue of The Scroll Josh Krugman ’09 challenged Mr. Koch’s power at Deerfield Academy. This letter prompted an official response, for which Mr. Koch was grateful: “I was extremely appreciative that the president of the board, Phil Greer, and the incoming president, Rodgin Cohen, and Margarita Curtis collectively wrote a letter criticizing the content of Krugman’s article. I am immensely appreciative that they did that on my behalf.”

Part of the reason for The Scroll to seek an interview with David Koch was to address Krugman’s claims. In his “Open Letter to the Deerfield Community,” Krugman asked, “Knowing what we know about David Koch, are we, the Deerfield Community, comfortable with granting him such decisive influence, for as long as he wants it, over Deerfield’s admissions policy, hiring and firing, curriculum, long-range planning, and the other matters the Board oversees?”

Mr. Greer, Dr. Curtis, Mr. Rodgin, and Mr. Koch all took issue with the letter. “There is no way that any member of the board interferes, in my opinion, with the selection of students to enroll at Deerfield,” said Koch. “We have a terrific team of people in the admissions department who very, very carefully evaluate applicants and, I think, do a superb job of accepting the best people in the applicant pool. And I think Margarita has done a terrific job of recruiting outstanding instructors; I think the instruction at Deerfield is as good as you’ll find at any boarding school in the country.”

The administration’s response goes on to state, “Institutional governance rules and our ethical standards and responsibilities prevent the sort of influence Mr. Krugman claims. No individual at Deerfield—not even the Board President or Head of School—wields the sort of influence that Mr. Krugman suggests.”

Mr. Greer explained this further: “The Board of Trustees and its members advise the Head as requested, but in no case do they have the authority or inclination to control faculty selection, faculty and staff compensation or academic curriculum. Their influence is given through board committees on an advisory basis. Any board decision requires vote by the board as a whole.  No individual member could or would try to control a board decision.”

Krugman also questioned the Kochs’ concern for environmental issues in his letter. David Koch addressesed this himself: “We are very proud of the fact that at Koch Industries we’ve won several hundred awards for our environmental practices and personnel safety achievements over the last five years. I think these awards really speak for themselves. Our environmental emissions are consistently well below the emissions level that the EPA requires us to achieve. In many cases, we are 50% or 2/3 less than what the federal rules are. That’s why we’ve won so many of these awards.”

“We get these awards because we do a terrific job of controlling our emissions at really low levels and practicing marvelous safety [procedures] to protect our personnel from being injured,” Mr. Koch said.

According to Mr. Koch, his concern for the environment started at a young age. “My mother and father were really outdoors people,” he explained. “They loved hunting and fishing, and I grew up outside. My family’s belief is to protect the outdoors. The last thing we want to do is to spoil the environment. That’s why we work so hard to reduce our emissions from our many, many manufacturing plants to very, very low levels. We wouldn’t get these awards unless we were successful in doing that.”

Koch went on to express his views on climate change, “I think the earth is warming. But the question is: is it warming because of natural trends in the history of the earth or is it maybe because of the hugely growing population of the world? How do you deal with all of this? There are all kinds of opinions as to which is causing the earth to warm more: is it the natural cycle of the heating and cooling of the earth or is it because of the huge increase in population?”

        David Koch has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various political campaigns such as Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. Some people have argued that such donations have allowed him to wield excessive influence over political campaigns, but Koch rejects these claims. “In the constitution of the United States,” he said, “the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees free speech for all citizens. All eligible voters have the right to support or vote for candidates of their choice. And there are limits on how much money you can give any candidate running for federal office. I, like any other voter in the United States, have the right to support and hopefully elect candidates of my choice.”

Koch expanded on his political beliefs, saying, “I’m a Republican businessman, and we’ve built up a terrific company—my brother and I. But I’m a social liberal. I believe in gay marriage and a lot of other things I favor that some people might find controversial. I’m really a libertarian. That’s my political point of view.”

Dr. Curtis affirmed the importance of varied political backgrounds at Deerfield. “Our alumni, parents and trustees represent a wide political spectrum,” Dr. Curtis said. “As long as their contributions further our mission and our strategic goals, we are not relinquishing control to any one individual or group of individuals – they are buying into our collective vision.  He [David Koch] is a libertarian, but we have Democrats and Republicans, which is a healthy mix for any board of trustees.”

Koch supports the legalization of drugs, which he believes will reduce the crime rate in America. “I think it would be terrific if we legalized drugs for adults,” he said. “So many people engage in theft to get the money to pay for their illegal drug use. I think that drugs that are illegal now should be legalized and sold at a very, very low price. That would be a wonderful improvement in the amount of crime that occurs in the United States,” he continues.

Finally Koch reflected on his generous donations to places like Deerfield. “I believe that people who have achieved significant financial success in life should be generous philanthropists,” he said. “I plan to continue with my charitable giving for the rest of my life. I’m very proud of that and I guarantee you that the institutions I support are extraordinarily appreciative of it, particularly Deerfield.”

Mr Koch concluded by praising Deerfield: “We have terrific instructors, and I think that long term, with the tremendous leadership that Deerfield has, it will continue to get stronger and stronger for years to come. I am really pleased with just about everything that Deerfield represents and has to offer.”

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