In an op-ed run by the St. Petersburg Times, Florida State University President Eric Barron says claims that the school is sacrificing academic freedom for a donation from the Koch Foundation are “far off the mark.”
FSU had received a pledge of $6.5 million over the course of six years from the Koch Foundation, which is bankrolled by Charles Koch, one half of the libertarian and notoriously anti-regulation Koch brothers. An article this week in the Times suggested that the money came with some seemingly unethical strings attached: “[Koch’s] representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting ‘political economy and free enterprise.’”
Critics of the deal say that it is an affront to the academic freedom of a public University. But Barron writes that he “fervently believe[s] Florida State University did not – and would not – sacrifice its academic freedom in order to receive a donation of any kind.” Barron writes that the media “misconstrued the facts” in suggesting that the Koch Foundation is exerting undue influence over the hiring of certain University professors. He provides an account of how the hiring decisions were made, which is worth reading in full.
From Barron’s piece:
To be crystal clear: The Economics Department Executive Committee initially screened the candidates, and the Economics Department Executive Committee had the final vote. The Koch Foundation does not hire faculty. Nor does it exercise control over course curricula. Academic freedom has not been compromised in any way.
Regardless of the funding source for these two positions, the faculty of the Department of Economics are unanimous in their agreement that the two new hires, both with doctorates from prominent research institutions – one with a background in industrial organization and the other in experimental economics – are excellent additions to the faculty.
According to Barron, FSU’s decisions are based solely on academic needs, and not “political motivations of donors or anyone else.”