Current Events

FSU and the Koch Kerfuffle

There’s been a lot of talk about the Charles G. Koch Foundation’s funding of faculty positions at the Economics Department at FSU. Much of it has been critical, with it being variously claimed that the Foundation’s donation compromises academic integrity, violates academic freedom, has corrupted academia, and that the FSU economics department has “sold out” and “succumbed” to corporate money.

But I just don’t see what the problem here is. Indeed, if anything, the private funding of academic positions such as that provided by the Charles G. Koch Foundation is a positive benefit–something to be encouraged, not decried.

Much of the discussion of this issue has been long on rhetoric and short on analysis. So, let’s look at some of the objections and see if they should be accepted. To keep things straight I’ll divide my responses to the objections into those that defend in general the funding of faculty positions with private money where the donors require some say in how the money is used, and those that show how the objections fail to apply to the situation at FSU in particular.

So, what’s supposed to be wrong with the private funding of faculty positions, where the donors request some oversight in how their money is used?

1) The Objection from Academic Freedom/Integrity: Accepting private money violates academic freedom/integrity

The concern here seems to be that because the faculty positions are privately funded this somehow compromises academic freedom. This objection is rather fuzzy: Sometimes it seems to be a concern with the academic freedom of the university that accepts private money with oversight money as a whole, sometimes with that of the Departments that accept such money, and sometimes with the academic freedom of the faculty members who are hired.

General response:

It seems clear that the academic freedom of neither the funded university as a whole or of the Department would be adversely affected by the private funding of new positions. That Department X has some of its faculty funded privately won’t affect in the slightest what Departments A, B, C and D can research or teach. Similarly, that some faculty members’ positions are funded privately won’t make any difference to what their colleagues in Department X can research or teach.

What, then, of the academic freedom of the faculty members whose positions are privately funded? It’s hard to see how this could be compromised, either. I assume that the candidates that apply to positions that are funded by persons or bodies with particular interests would be at least sympathetic to those interests, if not fully in favor of them. As such, their research and teaching would naturally fit with the interests of the donors.

But what if, after some years, a faculty member in one of these positions changed her mind, or started to question the views that she originally endorsed? Assuming that her position was untenured, and also assuming that the donors were inflexible (both significant assumptions) she would have the options of compromising her intellectual principles, leaving academia, or seeking a position elsewhere. Only the first of these would be ethically problematic. And the fault would lie with the faculty member, not the donors, who, after all, funded her position in good faith. If one thinks that a person should not be (potentially) faced with this choice, consider the alternative: No funding of her position, and no academic job at all. Surely having an academic job where doing the right thing might come at some personal cost—assuming that this issue ever arose at all—would be better than not having an academic job at all?

Notice, too, that this “problem” isn’t peculiar to privately funded positions at State institutions. It could also be faced by faculty at religious institutions that require one to be of a certain faith (or, at least, sympathetic to it) to be employed. But there are no calls to close down those colleges—at least, not yet.

Response concerning FSU’s Koch funding:

None of the versions of this objection apply at all to the funding of faculty positions by the Koch Foundation at FSU.

As Randall Holcombe makes clear   ( the Economics Department would only use the money from the Charles G. Koch Foundation to hire mutually acceptable faculty. Moreover, if the Foundation did not want to hire a candidate supported by the Department FSU had money to hire that candidate anyway. Similarly, if the Foundation wanted to withdraw its financial support for a hired candidate that faculty line would be funded by FSU. Given this, the Foundation funding cannot in any way be said to compromise the academic freedom of FSU, its Economics Department, or the faculty members funded by it.


2) The Distortion Objection: Accepting private money will distort or “corrupt” the research or teaching program of the university.

The concern here, I take it, is that if private money is donated to fund faculty positions and the donors exercise some oversight over its use this will distort both the research and the teaching of the department to which it is awarded. I take it that this is also what’s lurking behind the charge that a department that accepts private money which comes with oversight is somehow “selling out” or “succumbing” to corporate interests.

General response:

First, it’s just not true that a department has a research program. Faculty do, and once this is recognized this objection collapses into that version of (1) above that addresses the possible problem that might be faced by the faculty member in the privately-endowed position. And that was addressed above. What, then, of the worry that private money will distort teaching? Unless someone endows an entire university department to pursue a particular teaching program this concern seems unfounded. A few classes out of many offered do not constitute a “distortion”, but an alternative view. And even this response assumes that the classes taught by the privately-endowed faculty will differ considerably in content than those taught by their colleagues. But this need not necessarily be the case.


Response concerning FSU’s Koch funding:

Again, this objection simply doesn’t apply to the Charles G. Koch Foundation’s funding of faculty positions at FSU. Since the faculty members funded by the Foundation would be those that the Department could have hired anyway, their research and teaching will be precisely the same whether they are funded by the Foundation or not.


3) The Slippery Slope Objection: Where will accepting private funding lead us?

A final worry is that once universities start accepting privately-funded positions with oversight then all sorts of (in the words of Professor Juan Cole) “junky positions” will be created, such as “…the BP Chair in How there is No Climate Change, and the Saudi Arabian Chair in the Necessity of Beheading Adulterers, and the Avigdor Lieberman Chair in Ethnic Cleansing Solutions, and the Communist Party of China Chair in Google Censorship…”.

General Response:

This objection comes very close to simple name-calling. But let’s address it anyway. There’s no reason why accepting private money to fund a faculty position in Respectable Studies would lead one also to accept private money to fund a faculty position in Bizarre Studies. Plus, I doubt that many Departments would be willing to accept money to fund Bizarreness. After all, what would a Department gain by hiring a known oddity as a colleague, apart from mockery?

But perhaps the Bizarre faculty position would come with additional benefits for the Department, such as increased travel funding for its non-Bizarre members. Then, maybe a Department would accept the money and hire a person for the Bizarre position. But so what? The courses in Bizarreness would be avoided by serious students, the presence of the Bizarre Colleague would not affect the research of others one bit, and the net effect would be (perhaps) an increase in non-Bizarre faculty productivity owing to the increased funding for non-Bizarre scholarly activities.

But what, one might say, if the Bizarre position was objectionable, as with those listed by Professor Cole? Depending on how objectionable it was, Departments would need greater and greater incentives to overcome the loss of reputation that they would suffer by housing it. And this would have the effect that the greater the objectionable nature of the Bizarre position, the more resources the proponents of Bizarreness would have to provide (indirectly) to those who opposed them.

Response concerning FSU’s Koch funding:

This objection clearly doesn’t apply at all to the situation at FSU. There’s never been a suggestion that the research or teaching conducted by the Economics Department at FSU including that done by the faculty members funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation is anything other than first-rate scholarly work.


What can we conclude?

The sound and fury surrounding the Koch Foundation’s funding of positions at FSU signifies what it traditionally does—nothing. There’s simply nothing problematic with it at all.

So, what’s the problem in general with accepting private money with oversight? Again, nothing.

Perhaps the faculty member so funded might feel hampered if she ever wants to change her research focus. But even in this case she’s still made better off overall by the creation of her position—and, in any case, any possible ethical violation would be on her, not on the donors.

And why shouldn’t wealthy individuals or foundations endow faculty positions where they have input into who is hired? After all, the net effect of such positions is that more people are in academic employ, more voices are being heard, and academic debate is furthered rather than hindered. And, yes, I would wholeheartedly approve of Socialist organizations endowing faculty positions for the advancement of Socialism. Let a million flowers bloom, of whatever hue!

Final thought: There’s a certain oddity here in that many of those who want the Charles G. Koch Foundation not to have any say in regulating how their money is used seem to favor subjecting people to sustained and intrusive regulation in other economic areas.


Disclosure: I received last year a small grant from the Charles G. Koch Foundation to hold a weekend student seminar and a short Speaker Series. Apart from requiring a report on how I used the grant, the Foundation left me entirely to my own devices in choosing speakers and arranging the events. And the students love what’s been presented to them so far!

Published on:
Author: James Taylor
  • Troy Camplin

    My only objection to this is that the Kochs have so far, to date, not funded a chair in Austrian Economics and Literature so I can get a job. 🙂

  • Pingback: FSU and the Koch Kerfuffle « Daniel J. Smith()

  • The Saudis fund academic positions and institutes all over the place, and nobody much objects. But let libertarians do so, and the world will end! 

  • KevinH

    I agree with your arguments, James, and I can see them in action at the Mercatus Center (funded in majority by Koch Industries or the Koch Family Foundation) whose list of scholars includes several notable economics bloggers from George Mason U. (see  

    These researchers select their own projects and often disagree with each other.  However, what is most convincing is that if these researchers were not already interested in market-oriented solutions to world problems, they wouldn’t be associated with Koch Industries or the Koch Family Foundation in the first place.

  • K.V.

    James, what would you say if someone claimed that the reason that the FSU situation is problematic is because the Koch brothers are participants in morally odious activities (like accepting corporate welfare or supporting the GOP) and that one should not accept money from such individuals?

  • Taybin

    “That Department X has some of its faculty funded privately won’t affect in the slightest what Departments A, B, C and D can research or teach. Similarly, that some faculty members’ positions are funded privately won’t make any difference to what their colleagues in Department X can research or teach.”

    This seems a bit naive about school politics. I can easily imagine pressure being brought on other faculty or departments in order to keep funding coming in, even if those faculty or departments aren’t directly receiving the monies. Actually, they would be receiving the money indirectly, as the funding would relieve budgetary pressures that could improve their own funding situation.

  •  I see no real problem with private people giving private money toward things where there may be overlap in views but I can also see how, at first, one may be let to think there there is. If so much on the Koch’s, why not Soros? Either way, let everyone spend how they see fit where it works out to be mutually beneficial for the parties involved. The Koch’s have been very open about their philanthropy.

  • You’ve badly missed the point and curiously elided over the main points of the objections that have been raised.  University positions are funded with private money all the time.   But this provision of funds comes with a quid pro quo.  At least according the the St. Petersburg Times account I read, in exchange for the money the Koch’s representatives are permitted to screen and sign off on the new hires for a program promoting political economy and free enterprise.  So FSU has not just gratefully accepted private support for its educational efforts, but has partially contracted out its faculty hiring decisions and curriculum to the interests of Koch Foundation.

    And while you purport to address the challenge based on standards of academic freedom and integrity, you then go on to address academic freedom alone, and completely ignore the integrity issue.   An academic community should strive to hold its independence and curricular decisions above reproach.  But everyone now knows FSU faculty positions can be bought, and that damages the academic reputation of everyone else in the community, simply by association.

    It’s up to the good people of Florida to determine whether they want their public university to be seen as a paid an employee of right-wing corporate interests.  I wouldn’t send my own child to such a university.   But no doubt FSU will attract other students  who are captivated by the Koch ideology and eager to go to a university that actively promotes it.


        So FSU has not just gratefully accepted private support for its educational efforts, but has partially contracted out its faculty hiring decisions and curriculum to the interests of the Koch Foundation.

      This way of putting it seems pretty misleading.  My impression was that the hiring process under this agreement goes in two stages.  First, the faculty comes up with a list of people it would like to hire.  Then Koch’s representatives either agree to fund those candidates or they don’t.  At best, Koch has a veto power over candidates that have already been vetted by the department’s independent hiring process.  But since the department can always decide to pay for a Koch-disapproved candidate with it’s own money, it’s not really even a veto.  Hardly a contracting-out of the hiring decision and curriculum.

      •  But since the department can always decide to pay for a Koch-disapproved
        candidate with it’s own money, it’s not really even a veto.

        Only up to a point. There comes a time when, in order to expand the department, they must have approval from the Koch  Foundation. Depending on how they do their hiring, there’s only so much reshuffling they can do. If they ever get to a point where there isn’t extra money to forgo the Foundation’s funding, then the Foundation DOES get a veto, and a fairly direct one at that.

        But I think the concern is that FSU simply isn’t going to put itself in that position in the first place, for whatever reason or whatever you want to call it. They’ll simply bend their selection criteria so that they don’t have to worry about a Foundation veto, except for a few rare cases of candidates who are too good to pass up.

        You pointed out the big issue pretty clearly:

        So, what’s the problem in general with accepting private money with oversight?

        Call me a cynic, but you’ll never go broke betting on people being able to subvert, evade or simply ignore oversight when any sort of action or interest on the part of the public is required to sustain that oversight. But for those people who believe that the public’s apathy is no reason for them to be robbed blind, alarm bells start going off.

        •  There comes a time when, in order to expand the department, they must have approval from the Koch  Foundation. Depending on how they do their hiring, there’s only so much reshuffling they can do. If they ever get to a point where there isn’t extra money to forgo the Foundation’s funding, then the Foundation DOES get a veto, and a fairly direct one at that.

          I’m not sure “veto” is quite the right word to describe this.  Suppose you have a range of options a, b, and c.  These are all options that you have the freedom and the necessary means to execute independently.  Then I come along and say that if you want to do d, I will provide you with the means to do so.  But I won’t provide you with the means to do e, f or g .   Since e, f and g were never viable options for you independent of my assistance, is it really accurate to say that I have a “veto” over your doing them?
          To put the point in a less semantic way, FSU can do whatever it wants with its own resources.  If it wants Koch’s money, then it has to use the money in a way that Koch approves of.  But in imposing these requirements, Koch isn’t taking away any options that the department otherwise would have had.  It is merely offering additional options.

          •  Yep. 100% true. I don’t think that it’s really the Koch Foundation’s money that’s at issue with critics of this deal. I suspect that what they’re really afraid of is that university administrators, grasping for whatever cash they can get, will start making sure that option d always rises to the top of the list, and that any option a, b or c that might anger the Foundation (and perhaps threaten the flow of cash) suddenly becomes off limits.

            There’s nothing inherently corrupt about money. Like you said, if I say I’ll pay you x amount of dollars, but you have to spend them in ways that meet with my approval, that’s fine. But if you become afraid enough of losing the extra cash that you won’t spend your other funds in ways that meet with my approval, people become worried, as they tend to see that as “coercive.” Which I understand, even if the argument that “wealthy people should be barred from using their money to manipulate the less wealthy” seems suspect to me.

          • padraic2112

            I only see one tricky widget: you take option “d”, Koch funds, all is well and good.  Later on you hire e, f, and g on your own budget.  Still all is well and good.  Now you’ve got a budget crunch, and at the same time “d” does something that makes someone at the foundation mad and they yank funding for “d”.

            I don’t have a problem with someone saying, “I will give you money but I want some say in who you hire with it.”  That’s cool.  But if it’s a tenure-track position (it may not be), and I hire someone and then that someone turns out research you don’t like, that represents a potential future problem.  I can’t just let ’em go if you stop funding them.

            This, of course, is the department’s problem to solve, not the Koch foundation’s business.  I would have reservations accepting dog-eared funds if I was the department head, but whether I would accept or not accept them would be based upon management calculus.  I can see plenty of advantages to juggling that risk.

      •  Well,  I haven’t been an academic since back in 2004.  But my colleagues and I would have found the whole idea of submitting a list of candidates to some private sector representative outside the university to be deeply humiliating, even if in the end we could simply decide not to offer the position.  It doesn’t matter whether the meddling comes from the Koches, or George Soros, or Mark Zuckerberg or the Dalai Llama.   Clearly the search process itself would be influenced by ideological considerations, since the faculty and all of the candidates would know that they were likely just wasting everyone’s time if they didn’t produce a list that contained at least one candidate that could garner Koch approval.   

        The process clearly makes the Koch foundation a consultant and veto point in the hiring process, and so I would stand by my claim that FSU partially contracted out its hiring decisions.

        In his attempt to whitewash the whole business, FSU’s president Barron pathetically admits direct Koch Foundation participation in the hiring process:

        Further, the economics department
        controlled the search. It made the first cut on the applications —
        reducing the list to approximately 50 candidates. Yes, faculty did send
        this list of 50 potential candidates to the three-person advisory
        committee, and the advisory committee narrowed the list to 16. Yes, the
        KCF representative weighed in on who on the list of 50 candidates she
        thought were qualified. The three-person advisory board had to be
        unanimous in its choices of finalists, so yes, any one of the board
        members could have denied a candidate. And yes, members of our faculty
        worried out loud about what criteria the KCF representative might apply.
        But the faculty interviewed some of the 16 recommended by the advisory
        board, and they also interviewed others not on this list.

        So, 34 candidates who were deemed worthy of initial consideration by the FSU economics department were subsequently ruled out of consideration, not by the economics department, but by the advisory board.  Who were those 34 candidates?  Were they effectively blacklisted?   What the economics department ultimately decided is not nearly so important as the fact that by engaging even up to this point in submitting their judgment to the Koch Foundation and its red pen, they debased themselves and damaged their school’s reputation fro academic integrity. 

        Nor is it germane that FSU’s VP for Planning and Programs opined that the college should be required to have the resources to cover the
        salaries of the faculty if the KCF relationship failed, “thus removing
        the potential that the college would feel forced to live with the
        agreement.”  That’s preposterously naive and disingenuous.   It only applies to faculty who were already hired, and endorses a backup plan for paying their salaries if the Koches pulled out.  Everyone knows that the opening up of hiring lines in an academic department is partially based on budgetary considerations, and so both administration and economics department faculty would feel great pressure in budgeting one of these lines to make sure they selected someone who would bring in the Koch cash.   If I’m an economics department faculty member at FSU, I’m going to be thinking, “We had better get someone who can garner Koch approval, because otherwise the administration will decide we are being stubborn and obstreperous, and we won’t be permitted to hire at all next year – apart from any nominal backup plan.  They will say that they had to pull money unexpectedly out of the backup funding, and so they can’t afford another hire”

        • John

          Isn’t it questionable to assume that the university itself, and it’s hiring process, is ideologically neutral? If that’s the place then shouldn’t the list of people the university comes up with should be based on their standard of quality/academic excellence. If not then either the private money is only reflecting an existing bias or off-setting some existing bias.

          I get the fear and gut reaction to this type of funding but think it’s very much a case of what was covered in the repugnance entry.

          Dan, can you clarify if the advisory board was university staff or from the foundation? The way I read your information KCF was involved with the selection of the 50 candidates and the university narrowed that list from there without any input from KCF. 

          The other thing this discussion beings to my mind is what’s going on in the sciences with regard to private funding for research which is tied to specific faculty. Is that as big a deal for those concerned or only in social sciences?

          • John, the ordinary hiring process at a university is certainly not ideologically neutral, because academics all have ideologies.  But the point is that the hiring is done by the university community, without a veto from outside donors.  This is the sort of self-governing process that university folks insist on and jealously protect, and it is probably codified in their by-laws.

            My understanding was that the entire three-person advisory board was appointed by KCF, with two of the three members selected from the economics department, and the third a representative of the foundation itself.    The contract states that the advisory board approval of hiring decisions had to be unanimous for any KCF funds to be released.   No approval?  No money. That was the bottom line.

            The deal also provided for a $30,o00 undergraduate program to be administered by a committee that reports to the advisory board.  So this is what I meant before about contracting out part of the curriculum as well as the hiring.

          • John

            Thanks for clarifying Dan.

            Personally I still don’t have much of an issue with what you describe. In fact, I provided a small grant to my alma mater to fund an undergrad essay competition. I was was surprised that I was never provided even a copy of the winning essay. I wasn’t even looking to have any selection or judgment role; just interested in seeing what I was supporting.

            That attitude has soured my interested in providing future support.

            That said, I also  don’t have an qualms with a university that says “X are our  terms for accepting grants or donation.” Where X is whatever terms the university wants to specify.

        • Aeon J. Skoble

          They do _not_ have veto power over the hiring.  They are agreeing whether or not to fund a particular hire.  The person will be hired with FSU money if the Koch team isn’t, and with Koch money if it is.  How is that veto power over hiring? 

  • Marty Heyman

    We get that your happy they’re putting money in the pot for academic jobs. The issue is that they’re fairly obviously interested in packing academia with folks who agree with their viewpoint to get more academic papers published expressing those views. They will be able to get those chairs filled with people of the highest caliber who agree with their view but not necessarily of the highest caliber available for employment. That’s a form of selection discrimination on the one hand and fairly blatant politicization of the academic hiring/promotion process on the other. The rest of your arguments tend merely to be a collection of rationalizations driven by confirmation bias IMHO.

  • r67

    Excellent post. 

    While the controversy isn’t really philosophical (rather it is 100% political and part of a larger well-organized effort to discredit the Kochs at every turn, IMO), the philosophical error is that the critics appear to see academic freedom as some sort of collective right of  “the faculty” as a whole.  Instead, you see it correctly as an individual right.  Seen in this light, no one  at FSU has less academic freedom today than the day before Koch showed up.

    ^Dan.  I don’t think James glosses over your point.  I think he says it doesn’t matter.  So what if the Department of Economics decided to let a donor influence a hiring decision?  It was their choice to go to the donor in the first place and they had the choice to accept the terms or not.  They accepted the terms.

    People are free to criticize them for doing this, but what I am hearing is that people want the university to rescind the agreement.  The signal to all free-market/conservative faculty is clear:  Take a dime from donors we don’t like and we’ll come get you too! 

  • James,  This is an excellent essay.  I am not sure what I think of this issue myself, though I do find your arguments persuasive.  The one objection I am somewhat inclined to make is one that I don’t think you have directly addressed, however.  It is this.  I think one element of academic freedom as usually understood is something that I think of as “disciplinary autonomy.”  This is the idea that decisions about departmental matters that are based on principles and ideas that are internal to the discipline (eg., what is a proper methodology for the study of X-ology? may it have an ideological coloring and if so what sort might it have? etc.) must be made by the department itself. External agents such as deans, divisional committees, etc.  must oversee departmental decisions (eg., in hiring and promotion) but their decisions must be based on such considerations as professional competence and area coverage (eg., does the philosophy department really need another person in ancient?).  If they think that some trends in X-ology are promising while others are a passing fad and a waste of time, they must not interfere with departmental decisions based on such considerations.  The only people who should be deciding which trends in X-ology ought to be pursued by the department are the people in the department.  …  Accepting an endowment that has ideological strings or external ideological oversight attached seems to compromise this principle.  …  You might think that this is simply the distortion objection.  I don’t think so.  The distortion objection predicts that result of interference will be substantively bad.  The disciplinary autonomy objection is that (to overstate the matter somewhat)  what is or is not substantively bad is in this case none of my business.

  • John Moser

     A final worry is that once universities start accepting privately-funded positions with oversight then all sorts of (in the words of Professor Juan Cole) “junky positions” will be created, such as “…the BP Chair in How there is No Climate Change, and the Saudi Arabian Chair in the Necessity of Beheading Adulterers, and the Avigdor Lieberman Chair in Ethnic Cleansing Solutions, and the Communist Party of China Chair in Google Censorship…”.

    Remember the (justifiable) outrage when Rick Santorum suggested that recognition of gay marriage would lead to efforts to accept pedophilia and bestiality?  How is this argument one bit different from that?

  • Fernando Teson

    As the resident FSU faculty on the blog, I have nothing to add to James’ splendid analysis.  I wonder if these same critics will rise in indignation next time their favorite left-leaning donor funds some worthless Cultural Studies department.

  • I must say that I find the sanctimonious soul-searching and handwringing about this relationship quite amusing. As anyone who has actually attended college must know (confirmed by numerous studies), there is a great diversity of ideological views rerpesented on campus, from knee-jerk left to far left to orthodox Marxist. So, heaven forfend if this so-called marketplace of ideas is corrupted by a little bubble of support for laissez faire capitalism. Those who object to what the Koch Foundation is doing want to enforce a leftist monopoly on academic discourse because they believe they have a monopoly on the truth. Sorry, you can’t have the former and you are dead wrong about the latter.

  • “academic freedom as some sort of collective right of  “the faculty” as a
    whole.  Instead, you see it correctly as an individual right.  ”

    Academic freedom is indeed a “collective right” — this should be obvious by the fact that it is acquired by virtue of one’s association with the institution of the university. Academic freedom is about the reputation of the university, and its role in society. All individuals have the right to express their opinions, but that freedom operates at a fundamentally different level than academic freedom.

    This oversight is the main error of Taylor’s argument — the faculty members of a university are not atomized researchers. The issue is not so much how each individual is affected by any compromise of institutional independence, but how the institution of the university will develop over time if its hiring decisions are biased by outside influences, and how these new “political” hires will influence future hiring decisions (and other administrative activities of the university, which faculty members regularly participate in).

  • geoih

    Your whole article is premised on the idea that non-private funding does not corrupt. This of course has not been shown, and there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. What could be more corrupting than funding totally dependent on the political process?

  • mark

     The fact that you didn’t even mention that the Koch foundation has veto power over who gets hired (whether or not that fact changes your conclusions in the end) seems indicative of either ignorance or dishonesty.  How could you fail to mention literally the *only* novel thing about this story?

    • J_hall

      That the funds provided by Koch were only applicable to “hire mutually acceptable faculty.” I think covers the ability of Koch to “veto”. As pointed about in the same paragraph, the foundation could not veto additions to the department’s faculty, the university remained quite free to hire them with non-foundation funds.

      • Obviously the university was free to hire whomever they want with other university funds.  But the point is that the contract gave the Koches a veto over any hiring done with their own money.   And that kind of strings-attached donor arrangement is definitely outside the the norms in academia and a threat to academic integrity and independence.

        • John

          But Dan, both the university and Koch have veto. I’m not sure, but suspect that all such grants and funding have some type of exit clause that the donor can exercise to terminate the funding relationship. That is just as much a veto as what Koch has — it’s just a binary situation which in not clearly a superior approach.

          In any case, Taylor’s argument seems on target regarding the influence this structure could have on University, Department and on the specific candidate selected. They are really unlikely to have that much influence on that the particular person will be doing.

          I think this whole veto issue is minor and the weakest complaint about FSU taking the funds and the terms.  The only complaint that is weaker is the claim “that’s not how we traditionally do this”.  The world changes (and I think it’s safe to say our educational system start to finish needs change ) and there’s always someone claiming the change from the status quo will end the world.

          I think you’re concern about curriculum would be a stronger issue — though again, not one I think we need worry much about. The ideologies undergrads have 5, 10 and 20 years after they graduate are much more influenced by work, peers and their family values as they grew up. After all, what’s the change in the end results if Koch partners with a university to integrate an ideological line of inquiry and doing so with a looser partnership with multiple universities via sumer seminars?

          •  John, I’m sorry, but I think you really don’t have an appreciation of how unusual this type of arrangement is in the academic world.  Universities do seek and accept private gifts all the time.  And there is no doubt that the donor makes the gift because they approve of the work of the university or university program to which the gift is given.   Certainly ideological factors play a role in that.   People use their money to support the things they believe are especially worth supporting.    If the donation is given on a renewable basis, and the donor ceases to approve of the work of the entity to which the gift was given, then it is likely the gift will not be renewed.  And human nature being what it is, it is no doubt the case that all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle pressures can be exerted to keep the cash flowing from private benefactors.

            But universities and their faculties have erected all sorts of ethical guidelines, by-laws and codes of academic integrity to preserve the integrity and the reputation for integrity of the school and its scholars, to prevent their programs from being co-opted by outside parties, particularly outside parties who would seek to use the lever of wealth to influence academic research and compromise the independence of the scholar’s judgment.  The usual procedure is that once the check is written, the university takes the gift and says thank you, and that’s the end of it.   The idea that an academic department itself would be entered into a contractual arrangement whereby they are to submit their list of candidates to an outside panel to be pruned, and conditionality on donations is formally exercised in the midst of these hiring decisions, is pretty much unheard of.  At least it was unheard of when I was a professor.

  • Mark,  He repeatedly mentioned the “oversight” the Kochs are to to exercise.   I suppose he was assuming we know what form this oversight takes.

    • mark

      “Oversight” in this context usually refers to the measures a donor might take to make sure their money isn’t squandered on junkets or frivolous purchases.  I think using it to refer to what the Kochs are doing here is disingenuous.

  • Virginia Postrel

     I want to know where all these objectors were when Joan Kroc was throwing around money to fund whole new departments/schools of Peace Studies. She may not have gotten to sign off on individual hires, but she did get to create a discipline to hire them. Maybe the Kochs should try funding a new School of Freedom Studies at FSU.

    • I don’t know whether or to what extent the Kochs are involved, but: 

      • In fact, the Kochs do give money to the Freedom Center.  However, I am not aware of any reports  of their gifts coming with contractual arrangements permitting them a role in the center’s hiring decisions.


  • Last time I checked, faculty members get to vote on issues affecting the entire department. Including on the hiring of additional faculty members who are not funded by the corrupting private money in question.

    I don’t think it takes a rocket science to go from there to understanding the problem.

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