Dear Chairman Bense and Governor Scott:
The battle over FSU’s next President seems to have slowed, except that the FSU Board of Trustees (BOT) has silently “postponed” its Aug. 26th meeting. This meeting was the last chance for Chair Allan Bense to answer the overwhelming call to restructure the Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC) before the selection process starts in September. Currently, Chair Bense’s PSAC is comprised of 26% faculty/student seats, while 64% represent corporate/political interests. Chair Bense and 14 other non-academic members voted in May, against all students and faculty, to accept Sen. John Thrasher as the sole candidate for consideration without as much as an application. Interestingly, Sen. Thrasher is running the reelection campaign of Gov. Rick Scott, the same Governor who appointed Bense as Chair of BOT.
Chair Bense also chairs the Board of Directors of the James Madison Institute (JMI). JMI is heavily funded by the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF), and was involved in implementing the controversial 2008 contract between CKF and FSU’s Department of Economics. Described originally as a “two-fold conflict of interest” by Faculty Senate, the contract gives CKF inappropriate influence over faculty hiring and curriculum. In 2013, President Eric Barron (and Interim President Garnett Stokes) secretly authorized an amended (arguably worse) version of the original contract. If Koch wins the battle for FSU’s next President it gives them direct power to promote their own agenda and to plunder academic integrity.
One month after the exposure of the 2013 Koch contract, Sen. John Thrasher chaired a Senate Rules Committee meeting where students and faculty spoke out against the “Koch Cover-up Bill”. This bill blocks all public access to meetings between private donors and public university foundations. Predictably, HB115 was sponsored by legislators who champion the Koch funded organizations ALEC and Americans for Prosperity. The bill allows donors, like Koch, to keep contracts with universities out of public view. As these universities are not required to disclose donor funding, they would have to rely on whistleblowers to speak up only AFTER corrupt contracts have been signed. Despite hearing these concerns from student and faculty testimony, Sen. Thrasher voted in support of the bill. Seven short days after the bill passed, Sen. Thrasher was fast-tracked by Chair Bense’s PSAC.
The corporate/political influence on Chair Bense’s PSAC is blatant and unapologetic. Many members have direct connections to the controversial corporate-legislative partnership American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Koch funded institutes. In fact, ALEC/Koch affiliates have more representation on Chair Bense’s PSAC than either faculty or students. Specifically, the “Koch 5” are: Chair Bense, Jimmy Petronis, John McKay, Al Lawson and Devoe Moore.
In May, FSU United Faculty of Florida leveled demands for additional student and faculty votes on the PSAC. The FSU Student Senate, Congress of Graduate Students, UFF-FSU-Graduate Assistants United, and many other student groups have called for 1/3 student representation. After FSU Student Body Pres. Stefano Cavallaro called for increased student representation, Chair Bense told Tallahassee Democrat that he “would consider the plea for additional student spots”. To help Chair Bense we have created a very specific “Student Plan” (Online at http://bit.ly/1uCT4tu). Any further refusal by Chair Bense to restructure the PSAC, given his connections to JMI and the Charles Koch Foundation, serves as a “conflict of interest” by way of the Board of Trustees own “Ethics Policy” (See “Student Plan” for details).
The selection of FSU’s next President must be independent of corporate influence. We demand a complete restructure of the current PSAC. Our proposal removes corporate/political control and allows those with direct academic ties to the University to have the majority vote. We feel confident that a faculty/student majority will answer all calls for renewed academic integrity at FSU and guarantee a President with full academic credentials. We insist that Chair Bense restore the “postponed” August BOT meeting and motion for a complete PSAC restructure in line with the “Student Plan”. Any other action will only be interpreted as an act of political hostility towards our great University and an ongoing attack in the battle over FSU’s academic freedom.
FSU Progress Coalition
Tallahassee Students for a Democratic Society
Tallahassee Dream Defenders
Here is a link to a graphic showing the relative input of various groups into the selection of Florida State University’s next president, as well as a petition to support a more academic, rather than completely corporate, basis for that selection: http://act.forecastthefacts.org/sign/fsu_corporate_influence/.