Recent reports by the St. Petersburg Times and the Tallahassee Democrat reveal that the billionaire Koch brothers have very close ties to Florida’s public university system. A foundation funded by Charles Koch, CEO of the regulation-fighting Koch Industries, is responsible for filling staff positions at Florida State University, which many say is an affront to academic freedom.
The Times‘ Kris Hundley writes:
A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting “political economy and free enterprise.”
Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they’ve funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.
Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch during annual evaluations.
Charles and his brother, David, are not only two of the richest men in the country, but they are arguably some of the most powerful. The Koch brothers are well known for their libertarian leanings, as well as their many stealth political attacks against the Obama Administration.
Koch Industries owns several big-name companies, including Georgia-Pacific and Dixie paper cups, and has made numerous attempts at halting regulatory efforts by the federal government. According to a report released by Greenpeace, the brothers gave upwards of $54 million since 1997 to organizations that deny or downplay climate change.
The two also played a big role in Florida’s mid-term elections. As reported earlier by The Florida Independent, now-Sen. Marco Rubio received the heftiest amount of Koch Industries campaign funds of any candidate outside of Kansas, where Koch Industries is headquartered.
This latest move, to seemingly exercise control over portions of a publicly funded university’s faculty-hiring process, is not surprising, but it may prove damaging to the university’s reputation.
According to The Tallahassee Democrat, the agreement between Florida State’s Department of Economics and the Charles G. Koch Foundation stipulates that the foundation will give the school $6.5 million over the course of six years (beginning in 2008) to go toward the creation of a program for the “Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise” and a program for “Excellence in Economic Education.”
A memorandum obtained by the Democrat reveals several stipulations:
In order to preserve and safeguard the philanthropic and educational intent of the CGK Foundation … an advisory board will be created consisting of three members … chosen by CGK Foundation.
The three senior professors must come in with tenure, and FSU must continue to fund them for at least four years past the project period.
The Advisory Board of SPSFC and EEE is allowed to review all publicly provided material submitted by applicants for the Professorship positions.
The Advisory Board will determine which candidates qualify to receive funding.
No funding for a professorship position or any other affiliated program or position will be released without the review and approval of the Advisory Board.
An undergraduate program will be devised and funded for $30,000 per year for three years. The committee responsible for the program will report to the Advisory Board.
According to the Democrat, David Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences, noted that the university “has not hired anyone it would not have hired otherwise; and that the grant has facilitated the recruitment of two excellent assistant professors, as well as higher quality doctoral students and postdoctoral opportunities.”