Koch Kollege?

John Romano, writing in the Tampa Bay Times over the weekend, reviews the connection between Charles Koch and Florida State University, a problematic connection (and not the only one of its type) that has been under scrutiny for at least three years now:

The relationship at FSU drew howls of protest in 2011 when a couple of professors uncovered a memorandum that indicated Koch could wield considerable influence over the hiring of professors and some of the curriculum in economics classes.

FSU officials initially denied he had that type of power on campus, but a Faculty Senate review determined the agreement with Koch had several troublesome features. The school vowed to fix the agreement and the story soon disappeared from the headlines.

Not surprisingly, the agreement was never “fixed.” Koch still has a voice in faculty hiring though, as Romano points out, it is an “indirect” veto:

The economics department will continue to follow the university’s normal hiring procedures and will be free to hire anyone it sees fit. Once the offer has been made, however, Koch will be allowed to pull the funding if he is not happy with FSU’s choice. If that happens, the school will then be on the hook for that professor’s salary.

As universities seek new, “creative” means of financing their operations, situations like this are bound to become more and more common. Academe published an article on the situation at FSU two years ago, but the issue has not gone away. Faculty voices are weak enough today in our universities while money from outside shouts and gets its way. As the Academe article concludes:

In hard times such as these, when there is too much work and too little time, the faculty must resist the temptation to close the door to the office or lab and say, “It’s probably okay. Besides, I don’t have the time to read the fine print.”

We’re in the business, in our specialties, of studying the fine print quite closely. We need to be doing that everywhere.

One thought on “Koch Kollege?

  1. There has always been a certain degree of self-interest in corporate-campus partnerships: we have wanted the funding and the corporations have wanted something tangible for it.

    But what is different about the Koch-funded positions and institutes is that their purpose is overtly political and the targeted result has been conceived and coordinated much as the legislative initiatives coming out of ALEC have been.

    Under the guise of countering a “liberal bias” in academia, these kinds of efforts constitute a much bigger assault on open academic inquiry and ultimately a much bigger threat to academic freedom than anything that we have seen in the past.

    Indeed, in a very real sense, these oligarchs are attempting to buy up and to control–to monopolize–“thought.” It is Orwell come to actuality but in the corporate boardroom rather than in the central headquarters of an authoritarian regime.

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