Archive for the ‘FSU professors spark debate over donor money’ Category

[More beef added] Kochs’ determination to buy political influence raises fears about their funding of free-market econ chairs at FSU

May 10th, 2011 1 comment

As many a university has been started or funded by wealthy men, the whole situation is absurd – particularly because the real problem with education now is the massive perverse influence of government funding, mandates and subsidies.

Are people afraid of ideas? Are entrenched Keynesian and liberal profs afraid of competition? Is anything wrong with private money financing the availability of courses and ideas not presently being taught at a public university, as long as the student remains free to choose?

The protests seem incoherent to me – though it also seems that the Kochs have brought all of the scrutiny on themselves via their long hostility to addressing climate change concerns and by their recent prominent funding of Republicans.

More power to Bruce Benson, chairman of FSU’s economics department, but perhaps the Kochs will consider just starting their own university – one that doesn’t accept government largess of any kind?

I’ve quoted some parts of the following, to aid the otherwise disinclined reader:

1. See Billionaire’s role in hiring decisions at Florida State University raises questions  (, May 10, 2011)

A conservative billionaire who opposes government meddling in business has bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.

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.

David W. Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences, defended the deal, initiated by an FSU graduate working for Koch. During the first round of hiring in 2009, Koch rejected nearly 60 percent of the faculty’s suggestions but ultimately agreed on two candidates. Although the deal was signed in 2008 with little public controversy, the issue revived last week when two FSU professors — one retired, one active — criticized the contract in the Tallahassee Democrat as an affront to academic freedom.

Rasmussen said hiring the two new assistant professors allows him to offer eight additional courses a year.  …

Most universities, including the University of Florida, have policies that strictly limit donors’ influence over the use of their gifts. Yale University once returned $20 million when the donor demanded veto power over appointments, saying such control was “unheard of.”

Jennifer Washburn, who has reviewed dozens of contracts between universities and donors, called the Koch agreement with FSU “truly shocking.”

Said Washburn, author of University Inc., a book on industry’s ties to academia: “This is an egregious example of a public university being willing to sell itself for next to nothing.” …

The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, to which he has given as much as $80 million a year, has focused on “advancing social progress and well-being” through grants to about 150 universities. But in the past, most colleges, including Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, received just a few thousand dollars.

The big exception has been George Mason University, a public university in Virginia which has received more than $30 million from Koch over the past 20 years. At George Mason, Koch’s foundation has underwritten the Mercatus Center, whose faculty study “how institutions affect the freedom to prosper.”

When President George W. Bush identified 23 regulations he wanted to eliminate, 14 had been initially suggested by Mercatus scholars. In a New Yorker profile of the Koch brothers in August, Rob Stein, a Democratic strategist, called Mercatus “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.” …

Bruce Benson, chairman of FSU’s economics department, said that of his staff of 30, six, including himself, would fall into Koch’s free-market camp.

“The Kochs find, as I do, that a lot of regulation is actually detrimental and they’re convinced markets work relatively well when left alone,” he said.

Benson said his department had extensive discussion, but no vote, on the Koch agreement when it was signed in 2008.

He said the Koch grant has improved his department and guaranteed a diversity of opinion that’s beneficial to students.

“Students will ultimately choose,” he said. “If you believe strongly in something, you believe it can win the debate.”

Benson makes annual reports to Koch about the faculty’s publications, speeches and classes, which have included the economics of corruption. He said FSU has promised to retain the professors in tenure-track positions hired under the Koch grant if the foundation ever feels they aren’t complying with its objectives and withdraws support.

“So far, they’re fine with what’s going on,” Benson said. “But I agree with what they believe, whether they give us money or not.”

• • •

As originally drafted, the agreement called for the Koch foundation and FSU to raise up to $6.6 million for six faculty positions. That plan has been scaled back in the face of the recession, but FSU’s dean dismissed suggestions that he signed the deal with Koch because of financial strain.

“This would have been an opportunity to improve our economics department under any circumstances,” Rasmussen said.

In addition to funding two slots, Koch has also donated nearly $500,000 for graduate fellowships. 


3.  Florida State University sells faculty control for Koch money (The Reid Report, May 9, 2009.


2.  Think Progress: FSU Accepts Funds From Charles Koch In Return For Control Over Its Academic Freedom

Charles Koch, the billionaire libertarian who has fundedfront-groups and lobbying efforts to expand his anti-tax, anti-regulatory agenda under the guise of “free enterprise,” has now widened his reach into another key public policy area: academics. The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation entered into an agreement with Florida State University in 2008 in which the foundation would provide millions of dollars in funds for the school’s economics department.

The funds were marked to add multiple faculty positions in the economics department. But the money came with multiple strings attached, including a demand that Koch have the ability to directly approve who ultimately filled the positions. As the St. Petersburg Times reports, the agreement is now raising questions across the board about academic freedom and integrity at public colleges and universities:

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.

Koch wasted little time in asserting his influence. In 2009, he denied 60 percent of the faculty’s suggestions to fill the positions in the new programs, called the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise (SPEFE) and Excellence in Economics Education (EEE). The hires that were made were agreed upon by Koch and the department’s faculty.

But according to a memorandum about the agreement, obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat, the ability to pick and choose faculty members was hardly the only string attached. In addition, Koch wanted the ability to review work done by the economics faculty and much more:


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.

Other strings spell out the right of the [Charles G. Koch] Foundation to annually review the work of funded professors, publications, publicity, etc., and to pick up their marbles and go home if not satisfied.

Because selling out its academic freedom to Koch apparently wasn’t enough, Florida State also entered into an agreement with BB&T [a bank that works with the Kochs], which provided funding for a course on ethics and economics and required that Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, be a part of the course curriculum. Responding to criticism of that agreement, Rasmussen said, “If somebody says, ‘We’re willing to help support your students and faculty by giving you money, but we’d like you to read this book,’ that doesn’t strike me as a big sin. What is a big sin is saying that certain ideas cannot be discussed.”

In the world where billionaires and corporations take over education, the only “big sin” is apparently fighting back against their control of academic curriculum.


Now, rather than taking over entire academic departments, Koch is funding faculty who promote his agenda at universities where there are a variety of economic views. In addition to FSU, Koch has made similar arrangements at two other state schools, Clemson University in South Carolina and West Virginia University.

4.  DemocraticUnderground. discussion board post: With state universities facing budget cuts, the Charles G. Koch Foundation is ready to “help” (excerpts to original letter in Tallahassee Democrat by two FSU profs, and response by dean of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy)

5.  FSU student newspaper: FSU professors spark debate over donor money

6. Facebook page: Get the Koch Bros. out of FSU