Sarah Seltzer writes:
Usually, when billionaires or millionaires give a large sum of money to a university, even a private one, they can specify where that gift will go — which department or function, facilities, new hires, dorms, or what have you. And it’s no secret that some of those big donations may lead to a little bit of wink-and-nudge affirmative action when it comes time for the little billionaires Jr. to apply to college.
But what these monied donors cannot do, what remains taboo in the academic world, is leverage that kind of gift to influence who gets hired and fired by the faculty and what they teach–until now, thanks to Charles G. Koch.
A recent op-ed in a Florida newspaper brought to light a shady deal by billionaire Koch, one of the Koch brothers, who donated a hefty million-dollar plus pledge to Florida State University, with some very big and ethically compromised strings attached.
According to the St. Petersburg Times‘ Kris Hundley’s thorough report:
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.
Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch during annual evaluations.
Again, to be clear, such conditional donations have been rejected by universities in the past, even when they were not political in nature.