Neither did I. And there lies a tale.
Reeling from the Kavanaugh controversy, and after a packed day teaching and talking to students, I drove up the hill to Archie’s, a bright, friendly sports bar near the university where the burgers are good, the staff friendly and accommodating, and the view of the university and surrounding low mountains appealing.
I sat down and noticed what seemed to be a job interview going on at the long table to my right. The interviewers, two women and one man, were dressed casually in athletic shirts and were speaking to a couple of men I thought might be graduate students. A third joined them after a while. It was all very casual and informal. After ordering a South-of-the-Border burger, garden burger version, I had a coffee and then drank some water from a super-sized blue glass (blue for UNR). I couldn’t help but hear the interviewers mentioning Wichita and Kansas City. I grew up in Kansas City, so it peaked my interest. When I looked over, I noticed the logo on the interviewers’ athletic shirts. It said “Koch.”
Flexibility was a main topic in the interview. You can go to Kansas City for work but then stay there to see family, one of the female interviewers said. And you can take your vacations at different times in the year, not a fixed one, said the other. Why, she asked, do most employers only let you go at a certain time? It works better with flexibility. The graduate students looked interested. Then they argued about which city was the most informal, Kansas City, Wichita or Reno. The male interviewer chimed in and said that Koch works with innovative businesses. He mentioned an interesting Israeli tech startup that could not get going without Koch’s help. We take them in, he said. Then, if they seem they can run on their own, they do. But, if they can’t, we take them over. In fact, he said smiling proudly, the person who interviewed me now works for me instead of the other way around. On hearing that, one of the graduate students looked decidedly uncomfortable. Don’t worry, the relaxed looking male interviewer said, we only do it when it is necessary. The graduate student didn’t look less uncomfortable after the qualification as far as I could tell.
Koch, in other words, is one of today’s flexible businesses–flexibility made possible in part by computer technology that allows for sensitivity to demand and to change in general. It makes the workplace more flexible, too–but employees have to be more flexible as well. You can move from boss to employee in a day. In many workplaces, you can also transition quickly from employed to out-of-work.
After the interview, I spoke to one of the female interviewers who spoke enthusiastically about Koch Industries. She loves working there. It turns out what I overheard was not a job interview but an interview for interns. All casual and laid back, the interviewees were learning about their place in the new precarized workforce. On a global scale, more and more workers live precariously, never knowing for sure about continued employment. Insecurity is no longer at the margins but at the center. Now most of us are insecure.
Are you working with the university? I asked after some small talk about Kansas City and surrounding areas. She said yes, that Koch Business Solutions is in Reno and interviewing at UNR for interns. Are you donating to the university? I asked. She mentioned their two contacts at the university. We’re not donating yet, she said, but we plan to work up to it, a little at a time. We’ll start probably just by donating a lab. Then, if things work out, we’ll add more. She went on, We get a lot of bad press. But all we’re doing is adding value. We’re here to add value. I love working for Koch, she effused.
I then brought up that Koch is at George Mason University–but she said she didn’t know about that. Of course, they are in fact there. It is widely known but perhaps she is not aware of it. At George Mason, Koch has determined who the university hires and what is studied. As a result, there’s been a lot of public controversy: “documents reveal in surprising detail that for years, as George Mason grew from a little-known commuter school to a major public university and a center of libertarian scholarship, millions of dollars in donations from conservative-leaning donors like the Charles Koch Foundation had come with strings attached” (“What Charles Koch and Other Donors to George Mason University Got for their Money,” NY Times). Not knowing about this, my interlocutor said, Well, we have our Koch Campus Champions and our Koch Core Campuses. I asked about that. She said, Well, maybe George Mason simply has a Koch Champion. UNR, though, is more than that. UNR is a Koch Core Campus. I listened carefully and then we parted amicably.
To say the least, it will be interesting to see the development of the relationship between Koch Business Solutions and UNR. All I know is what I learned while eating my garden burger at Archie’s. One of the most conservative corporations in the country, known for controlling universities to which it connects, for supporting and even creating right-wing state and federal legislation, and for donating heavily to right-wing candidates, one wonders what the plan is for Koch Business Solutions (KBS) in Reno, Nevada.
Stay tuned, dear reader, as we find out.