Suffolk University cuts ties with conservative research group
Suffolk University next year will end what has become an awkward partnership with the Beacon Hill Institute, one of the city's few conservative research centers, the school and the institute's director said Tuesday.
A Suffolk spokesman said it was the institute's decision to leave. The institute's director, David Tuerck, agreed but added that the school had made its work impossible by denying research proposals and imposing fund-raising rules that limited from whom it could take money.
"I couldn't raise money under the guidelines that were being issued," Tuerck said, so he said he asked the school for an "amicable divorce."
He said he plans to move the shop, which has three full-time employees and several who work part time.
The change comes six months after Margaret McKenna, a political liberal, took over the college. Since that time, Tuerck said, research contract proposals have begun to be rejected.
The university denied the split has anything to do with political differences between the administration and the institute, which is an arm of Suffolk's economics department. The school requires centers to be self-sustaining, and the institute had run a deficit for years, a university spokesman said.
Tuerck said he never met McKenna and exchanged only one short e-mail with her.
"Maybe I'd like to suspect that there's a political motive, but I don't have any basis for that suspicion," he said.
The Suffolk spokesman, Greg Gatlin, said the university will fund the institute through the end of its current contracts, which extend until the end of 2016.
The downtown university's relationship with the institute has been rocky since 2013, after the center solicited donations for a study aimed at weakening a regional initiative to reduce carbon pollution. The school said the goals of that research were not in line with the university mission.
The institute, founded in 1991, took in about $1 million last year for research. It receives funding from private groups, including the conservative Koch Foundation, as well as government agencies, according to the university's website.
In Massachusetts, the institute regularly provides economic forecasts to the Legislature and performs studies for such groups as the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which recently commissioned a report that found the annual sales tax holiday is good for businesses.
The institute also recently came out in favor of a new natural gas pipeline to Massachusetts.
On Tuesday, Tuerck rejected the university's assertion that financial deficits were the reason for the split.
Some years, the school has contributed as much as $100,000 annually to the institute, he said, but the center was now prepared to be self-sufficient in the future.
"I think the entire administration made up their mind that they were troubled by what we were doing in some way, where we were getting money, how we were using the money, what we were saying, and they wanted things to change," Tuerck said. "We do what we do, and I couldn't reinvent ourselves as something else to meet those standards."
He said he does not oppose the idea of guidelines in general. The split will be good for both parties, he said.
Several groups who have worked with the institute defended its work.
"I think they're great economists," said Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University economist.
Greg Beeman, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Massachusetts, said: "A group like the Beacon Hill Institute that will analyze and sometimes challenge public policy provides a value in the sense that it's a necessary check and balance."
Others said the quality of the work from the institute has suffered lately while other conservative groups, such as Pioneer Institute, take the lead.
"When you're having financial troubles, as Suffolk has, you can't just continue to [fund] that sort of thing, and I don't think the bang for the buck is there," said Maurice Cunningham, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
For the past two years, the institute has been the target of a group called UnKoch My Campus, a national organization that campaigns for transparency in university funding.
"It was frustrating and disheartening to see research from BHI directly furthering the aims of those providing the institute's funding, including the Koch brothers," said Kalin Jordan, a Suffolk graduate and co-founder of UnKoch My Campus.
The institute received $33,000 over the past three years from the Koch Foundation, which is said to fund research denying that climate change is occurring. The money went for an institute speaker series, general operating expenses for the group, and a study about renewable energy standards in Arizona, according to a report published by the university.
Tuerck, 74, defended his organization's funding and the way it solicited donations, saying it gets just 1 percent or less of its funding from Koch and could easily do without it.