Florida State University’s academic integrity is under fire over money they accepted from a corporation and a Koch family foundation, which places decisions about faculty in the hands of the libertarian brothers who brought you Americans for Prosperity.
Writes FSU alum Peter Schorsch, regarding the arrangement by which FSU’s College of Arts and Sciences has handed to the Koch brothers the right to approve or decline faculty members based on whether or not they hew to the Koch’s extreme right wing, Libertarian line, in exchange for $1.5 million out of the school’s $1.1 billion budget:
The intrusion of the Koch brothers’ special-interest money into universities, particularly during these times of economic duress, is a deeply troubling development.
If other institutions avail themselves of similar arrangements — with both left- and right-leaning groups — might we see the Balkanization of universities, with partisanship overwhelming the educational process? MSNBC versus Fox News education?
What’s just as disturbing as Koch’s heavy-handed move into academia is that David W. Rasmussen, dean of FSU’s College of Social Sciences, and Bruce Benson, chair of FSU’s economics department, don’t have a problem with having a donor control the hiring of professors based on political leanings.
Rasmussen is just happy to have eight more classes covered. It’s all about numbers. Benson, a self-described disciple of the Koch philosophy, says the arrangement guarantees a diversity of opinion on campus.
Uh, excuse me, professor. But shouldn’t making sure there’s a diversity of views in your professorial ranks be your job — and Dr. Rasmussen’s — rather than the responsibility of some big-pocketed donor?
The backlash over the Koch intrusion into academic freedom at FSU is kicking into high gear. Not only is there a Facebook group calling on the University to back out of the agreement, Progress Florida has also gotten involved. From the in-box:
In exchange for accepting $1.5 million from billionaire Charles Koch, one of the notorious right-wing Koch Brothers, Florida State University gave Koch the unprecedented right to reject some professor candidates for the school’s economics department.1 Allowing one of Florida’s great public universities to be used as a front for the Koch’s corporate propaganda machine is unacceptable.
Stop this unprecedented assault on academic freedom.
Dean David Rasmussen, who was instrumental in cutting the deal with Koch, in a recent opinion piece, cited budget cuts to universities over the past five years as necessitating the trade-off. Rasmussen falsely claims that the university retains control over hiring practices, but already during the first round of hiring after the agreement, Koch’s advisory board rejected 60% of the faculty’s candidate suggestions. University budget cuts are no excuse to subvert academic freedom by giving wealthy benefactors influence over the hiring of professors.
The Koch’s move to control a part of FSU’s economics department is bigger than FSU. For years, right wing billionaires like the Kochs have funded scores of front groups and think tanks to advance their radical agenda. Now they want to use the cover of a public university in an attempt to give their failed ideas more credibility with the public. They can’t win the battle of ideas in a fair fight, so they’re suppressing academic freedom to get their way. Florida State’s preposterous arrangement with Charles Koch opens the door to a slippery slope of pay-to-play control over our universities and should not go unchallenged.
John Amato at C&L has a thorough rundown of the alarm bells going off over the Koch’s attempts to buy their way into FSU and several other colleges, including a link to this ThinkProgress list of some of the schools already falling under Koch sway (including my sister’s alma mater, Brown University.)
But what’s being perhaps overlooked in all the scrum is the other entity wrapping its tentacles around FSU: a financial services corporation called BB&T Corp. Here’s the entire press release touting the new Koch-included arrangement, posted on the FSU website back in 2008:
Florida State receives major gifts for studies in free enterprise, ethics
Efforts by two colleges at Florida State University to expand their academic offerings have received a significant boost, thanks to a pair of major gifts from financial services company BB&T Corp. (www.bbt.com).
Joined by FSU President T.K. Wetherell and the deans of the College of Business and the College of Social Sciences, BB&T Tallahassee President Paul Sullivan and Nan Hillis, president of BB&T’s Orlando-based East Florida Region, announced that the company is presenting the university with two gifts totaling $3 million to establish several new programs. One will encourage a thorough discussion of the moral foundations of capitalism; another will examine the proper role of government in a free-market economy; and a third will help to train future teachers of economics.
FSU President T.K. Wetherell thanked Sullivan and Hillis for the generosity and foresight shown by BB&T in making the gifts.
“In these difficult economic times, it is more important than ever that public universities find new ways to partner with the private sector to develop the sorts of academic programs that our society will need in the coming decades,” he said. “We are very appreciative of the confidence that BB&T has placed in Florida State University to create programs to emphasize the moral and ethical dimensions of our free enterprise system.”
With one of the BB&T gifts, the Department of Finance in the College of Business and the Department of Economics in the College of Social Sciences will establish a joint BB&T Program of Free Enterprise. Among other things, this $1.5 million gift will allow for the creation of two professorships — one in each department — to develop and promote a free-enterprise curriculum; will enable the development of a Web site that focuses on the program’s free-enterprise principles and highlights a new Speaker Series with the inclusion of podcasts from previous speeches; and will fund the establishment of a new economics course, “Morals and Ethics in Economic Systems.”
In addition, the finance department will offer a new course, “Free Enterprise and Ethics.” Included in that course will be a lecture series based on BB&T’s core values (www.bbt.com/about/corporategovernance) titled “Perspectives on Free Enterprise.” Eventually this new course will become part of a new Certificate Program in Free Enterprise and Ethics.
The BB&T Program of Free Enterprise also will support four new doctoral fellowships and the undergraduate organization Students in Free Enterprise.
“Unfortunately, we find that many business graduates enter the workplace without a firm grasp of the moral principles underlying the free markets,” Sullivan said. “This program will emphasize our shared interest in giving students a hands-on perspective on capitalism and free markets, a better understanding of our economy, and an enhanced ability to make meaningful contributions to the world.”
“This gift will allow us to introduce our students to thorough discussions of the moral foundations of capitalism,” said Caryn Beck-Dudley, dean of the College of Business. “It is an exciting development for the College of Business and a true demonstration of the importance of public-private partnerships. Contributions from corporations like BB&T help our state universities attract top students and faculty, particularly in the fields of finance and economics.”
BB&T’s second $1.5 million gift will help the College of Social Sciences create a Program for the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise within the economics department, and to develop a Program for Excellence in Economic Education within FSU’s Gus A. Stavros Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Economic Education. These programs are intended to improve free-enterprise education and foster research on the proper role of government in a free-market economy. To that end, the gift will help fund new faculty positions, stimulate innovative educational programs for undergraduate students, and increase support for Ph.D. students.
The Charles G. Koch Foundation has agreed to match this BB&T gift, committing $1.5 million of its own to pay new faculty members for a period of six years.
“Thanks to BB&T and the Charles G. Koch Foundation’s generous support of the economics department and FSU, we are closer to our goal of being the nation’s premier program in the delivery of high-quality economics instruction for undergraduate students,” said David W. Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences. “This gift will also support our efforts to train future teachers of economics. It will benefit students at FSU and young people throughout the nation for decades to come.”
Teaching an individual company’s ethics to university students? Really, FSU???
Meanwhile, check out the spiffy new (tongue in cheek) FSU Koch-fueled course catalog.