Breaking news: “Koch University” already exists. Are we next?

Cynics here in Badgerland have been cracking jokes for months that UW-Madison could become “Koch University” if and when some of Governor Walker’s policies take effect, including (some allege) the public authority status that is part of his budget bill.

But who knew that the first branch campus of Koch University already opened in Tallahassee, Florida, way back in 2008?  Only now, in May 10th’s St. Petersburg Times, is the arrangement finally getting wider attention:

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.

If the scenario described above alarms you, then you should (1) sit down, and (2) read the entire article.  And then you should ask yourself (and others) what safeguards, if any, exist to prevent similar deals from being concluded here.   Not “assurances”, mind you, safeguards.


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15 Responses to Breaking news: “Koch University” already exists. Are we next?

  1. WF says:

    Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!

  2. Patrick says:

    You obviously don’t know very much about the Koch brothers’ donations to economics departments. Go look up their history of donations to George Mason University.

  3. Admin says:

    Not sure I understand your point, Patrick. Are you saying similar strings existed for donations to GMU? And either way, do you consider this acceptable? The entire point of the article, as I read it, is that Koch has inserted himself into faculty hiring decisions that were previously off-limits to donors.

  4. Jeevee says:

    What are we waiting for, we could announce a request for proposals from potential donors to underwrite professorships to promote scholarships in topics of their choice. Coming soon, a campus panel led by a top star-professor from a top-ranked department at a top ranked University near you, ‘A market approach to democracy’!…

  5. Patrick says:

    While I don’t know what strings, if any, have existed for any of the Koch donations to George Mason’s economics department, they have given tens of millions of dollars to the economics department and other affiliated research efforts such as the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane studies.

    Libertarian donors have played financial roles in the appointments free market faculty members at universities dating back to support from the Volker Fund in bringing FA Hayek to the University of Chicago and Ludwig von Mises to NYU in the 30’s and 40’s. The Koch brothers have been doing this sort of thing for decades in one form or another.

    The only reason this became a news story was because of criticism from 2 FSU professors.

    There are many libertarians who used to allies of the Koch brothers in the 70’s before disagreements over pragmatism vs. ideological purity between the Kochs and Ed Crane (who runs the Cato Institute) and UNLV economist Murray Rothbard who have been making “Koch University” jokes about George Mason for decades now.

    Maybe, I’m just kind of naive, but I was under the impression this kind of thing has been going on basically forever in one form or another no matter where the funding comes from. Maybe attaching explicit strings to funding like this is a bit more open than usual, but I don’t understand how it’s any different.

  6. Patrick says:

    It is also kind of interesting to note that Bruce Benson, head of the FSU economics department, is probably more associated with the anti-Koch libertarians than the pro-Koch libertarians.

    And if you’re curious why I know all of this, it’s because I’m almost finished reading Brian Doherty’s “Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.” Yes, all 700-some pages.

  7. Have you read the part where the Advisory Board gets to approve faculty appointments?

    People have called those concerned with special interest access facilitated by a new Board of Trustees “conspiracy theorists.” Look at what Patrick says here. Are you so sure?

  8. Grant says:

    Patrick wrote: “Maybe attaching explicit strings to funding like this is a bit more open than usual, but I don’t understand how it’s any different.”

    The way I see it, the crucial difference is that faculty are openly ceding control of decisions affecting a public university to private interests. The tacit influence might have been there in the past, but at least it was non-binding, and faculty were free to decide what was good for their department and students without outside interference. To me at least, the FSU deal is an EXPLICIT betrayal of the principles on which a public university is (or should be) founded.

    I’ll go further and argue that this is just one more step in the alarming sell-off of America’s assets to the highest bidder, whether it’s faculty positions at public universities, unlimited corporate spending on electioneering (see Citizens United decision), private control of voting technology, or privatizing a variety of other services that are central to any enlightened modern civilization and should be operated for the public good, not for profit.

    In short: We are on a high-speed train to plutocracy, and plutocracies have little use for academics who don’t invent something that can be sold for a profit.

  9. Patrick says:

    On a second read of the article in question, this passage describes exactly what I was talking about re: George Mason and the Mercatus Center:

    The big exception has been George Mason University, a public university in Virginia which has received more than $30 million from Koch over the past 20 years. At George Mason, Koch’s foundation has underwritten the Mercatus Center, whose faculty study “how institutions affect the freedom to prosper.”

  10. Admin says:

    Todd Finkelmeyer at the CT has just elaborated on this story with numerous quotes from UW-Madison sources:

  11. Admin says:

    New info on the FSU case. Its president, Eric J. Barron, disputes claims about the Koch Foundation controlling hiring:

  12. Admin says:

    New York Times weighs in on the same general issue:

    “More recently, in January, the University of Connecticut made headlines after a donor asked for his $7 million gift back because the school had not included him in its search for a new football coach.”

  13. Pingback: Defending the Kochs’ Donation to FSU Economics

  14. Pingback: What’s the Matter with Koch U? | The EduOptimists

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