The Koch money pays, specifically, for a professor of philosophy attached to the program. Tomasi declined to identify that professor. But it seems unlikely that the foundation would stand for an outspoken liberal in the post.
If the Political Theory Project does, indeed, tilt right, it would not be difficult to find a half-dozen departments at Brown that bend left. And the administration, all too aware of that reality, has taken some steps to balance the campus conversation.
In 2005, Brown President Ruth Simmons gave a speech suggesting the university had to come to terms with its reputation for "limiting debate" and "fostering hostility to particular ideas."
After that speech, her office launched the Kaleidoscope Fund, which has funded campus speeches by conservatives like author Dinesh D'Souza, National Review editor Richard Lowry, and Sally Winn of Feminists for Life.
But the debate at Brown and on other elite campuses remains imbalanced. And there is, in truth, only so much a high-minded administration can do. Ultimately, responsibility for shifting the conversation falls to libertarians, conservatives, and others with minority views.
And their stewardship, on at least one liberal Ivy League campus, is hard to quarrel with. Gourevitch, the Marxist postdoc, says he welcomes PTP's focus on what he considers the key questions — economics, prosperity, and the like. Indeed, it is not just conservatives who find fault with higher education's postmodern drift.
And the Janus Forum, the student wing of the project that organizes the debates — including last month's Koch- and Jack Miller-funded health care forum — seems a model of democracy.
The steering committee that chooses topics and speakers is composed of representatives from all manner of student groups, from the College Republicans to the Queer Alliance; professors at the University of Vermont and American University are looking to replicate the model.
Anish Sarma, a senior concentrating in electrical engineering who serves as executive director of Janus, says the group reached an important moment in its evolution in the spring when it staged a well-attended forum on whether Brown should reinstate ROTC after the military repealed its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy discriminating against gays and lesbians.
This was a break from the normal format; most Janus events focus on big political issues external to Brown. And there was some debate, in the planning stages, about whether the group was straying from its mission.
"The question was, 'Is this what we do?' " Sarma says. "And the answer we came up with was, 'This is the perfect format to do it.' "
Janus, he says, had the clout to draw large numbers of students and the credibility to stage a debate on a contentious issue; it could promise a hard look at the issue, devoid of ideological preconception.
It is a promise that not many campus organizations can make with a straight face. Who would have thought Charles Koch would be funding one?
David Scharfenberg, a Brown alumnus, can be reached at email@example.com.