In 2008, the foundation signed a memorandum of agreement with FSU in which they committed to a proposed budget of $6.5 million over a period of six years, with most of the effort to be located in the economics department. The provisions called for the hiring of five professors and other staff; establishing a program for the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise (SPEFE) and a program for Excellence in Economic Education (EEE); and the development of educational programs for undergraduate students.
A careful reading of the memorandum reveals a number of strings attached to the "gift." [...]
This op-ed led the St. Petersburg Times to look into it, and Ed from Gin and Tacos noticed. (Ed is a professor at another college.)
PRAGMATISM vs. THE GAG REFLEX
The great but largely forgotten journalist Sydney Harris once said, "You may be certain that when a man begins to call himself a 'realist,' he is preparing to do something he is secretly ashamed of." That quote kept coming to mind as I read this:
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.
My favorite Calvin and Hobbes panel features Calvin lamenting not that everyone has a price, but that the price is always so low. [...]
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. “I’m sure some faculty will say this is not exactly consistent with their view of academic freedom,” he said. “But it seems to me it would have been irresponsible not to do it.”
Not exactly consistent? Rasmussen, meanwhile, sang quite a different tune in a letter to the Tallahassee Democrat responding to the professors, striking a strident tone, accusing the profs of “ideological bias,” and asserting something that appears to be demonstrably untrue: [...]
We don't actually know that Dean Rasmussen is related to every conservative's favorite pollster. But we do know something: FSU's department chair is a total tool:
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.
Of course, FSU is still at the fluffer stage compared to another school we could name:
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."
To save the lurking glibertarians the effort of huffing and puffing that THERE IS NOTHING TO SEE HERE, we will link to ex(?)-Reason employee and perennial liberal-basher David Weigel, who says THERE IS NOTHING TO SEE HERE. (But at least he gave the backstory and the link to the op-ed.)
P.S. A Facebook page has just been launched to protest this Kochtopus purchase.
(h/t: graz | x-posted)
[Added] On 2012-07-30, I added a label to this post, which somehow caused the posting date to be set to today. I changed it back by hand to a reasonable guess as to when it actually was posted.