I asked my friend Cait if she would write a post about FSU selling out to the Kochs. She is, to put it mildly, pro-“all things FSU.” And she’s pissed. Here’s why:
I’m 5’2, and a deadly combination of Irish and Cherokee, masked under the hospitable guise of a southern accent. I look deceptively perky and pleasant.
But you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. And the overt commercialization of higher education makes me terrifying angry.
I graduated from Florida State University in 2001, and since then have remained active in the Alumni Association, Boosters and overall area club leadership. In 2009, I helped created a Seminole Club here in my beloved New Orleans (no, really, eff you, BP), and have turned my garnet and gold obsession into a full-time passion.
Seriously, my future child will know the chop (yes, the chop) before he or she is able to walk. Fortuitously, propaganda exists sheerly for such important early childhood education.
That’s how much I love my Noles.
This month the value of my degree has taken a significant hit with the announcement that
two politically-minded, skeazy billionaires obsessed with spreading their narrow point of view The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, in 2008, gave $1.5 million to the University’s Economics Department in a manner that effectively curtailed academic freedom—meaning that my beloved alma mater has sold out for a very low price. From the St. Petersburg Times:
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.
Whoa, now. Public universities in this country are in crisis mode—rising rates of applicants, slashed state budgets and lower endowments are creating a maelstrom of financial hell for the average Insert State University. Florida State is no exception, having watched a legislature run by The Other School continuously and petulantly dismiss the State University System (SUS).
I get it. It’s hard out there for a prof. And the golden parachute seemingly offered by the Koch Brothers seems attractive to an academic department struggling to tread fiscal water. But allowing a donor to dictate hiring policy and syllabus content creates some serious ethical questions about academic freedom and the sanctity of higher education.
The decision to accept politically-motivated funding limits the marketplace of ideas that makes higher education so special—that differing viewpoints are not only accepted as critical to discourse, but even cherished.
I fear that this is next:
Predictably, the University has responded, bewildered – not by the topic, but rather by the timing:
[Eric] Barron, FSU’s president, wrote an open letter to FSU faculty, donors and alumni that detailed inaccuracies in the newspaper story. He also spoke with editors at the St. Petersburg Times, Associated Press and Chronicle of Higher Education.
“First and foremost,” Barron wrote, “Florida State University absolutely did not — and would not — sacrifice academic freedom in order to receive a donation of any kind. The Times story stated that the Koch Foundation exerted undue influence over the hiring of new professors in our economic department … This is simply not the case.”
FSU used money donated by the Koch (rhymes with Coke) Foundation to hire two professors in the economics department. Under the shared governance model employed at FSU, faculty in that department voted to approve the new hires. In addition, Barron noted, the faculty selected two professors who were not on a list recommended by a three-person advisory committee made up of one Koch Foundation appointee and two FSU economics faculty.
“Clearly the Times story chose to be sensational, when it is clear that FSU faculty were the decision makers at every level,” Barron wrote.
I want to go on record stating that Barron, who came on board as FSU’s President in 2010 (well after this conditional gift was made), is a wonderful man and administrator, and I think incredibly highly of what he has accomplished with limited means during his tenure thus far.
But let’s slow our roll and review. The deal was inked in 2008, yes? When the first round of hires swung around in 2009, “Koch rejected nearly 60 percent of the faculty’s suggestions but ultimately agreed on two candidates.”
I am admittedly confused as to the timing of the controversy. Why weren’t we outraged three years ago, again?
But regardless of the timing and the lingering resentment that has suddenly created a media nightmare for Florida State, the ethical questions remain. I’m still waiting for someone to answer those questions.
[Cait is a friend and a former co-blogger. (The first time I met her in real life was two years into our friendship, at her wedding.) Oh yeah, and she sort of likes the Florida State Seminoles, too — when she has time. If you want righteous anger, check out her post on the BP oil spill — it’s a barn-burner. To see more of her blog stylings, click here. -ABLxx]
[cross-posted here in Nole Territory]