A report in the St. Petersburg Times says an Arlington foundation founded and funded by conservative businessman Charles Koch gets to “screen and sign off on” certain hires in the economics department at Florida State University under the terms of a $1.5 million gift.
FSU leaders have since dismissed the story — more on that in a moment.
Wealthy donors don’t usually get to decide who is hired with the money they give. But the contract between the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and FSU “specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered” for a newly funded program promoting “political economy and free enterprise,” according to the Times report.
“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,” it says.
The deal apparently dates to 2008 but drew notice only this month with a critical letter in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper from FSU faculty.
David Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences at FSU, told the paper Koch rejected more than half of the candidates forwarded by the faculty in the first round of hiring before ultimately agreeing on two assistant professor hires.
Eric Barron, FSU’s president, sharply criticized the account in e-mails to the university community, according to this account in the Tallahassee newspaper. (Although I hasten to add that the St. Pete Times story shows no signs of having been corrected, clarified or amended, which suggests that the editors are standing behind it.)
“Florida State University absolutely did not — and would not — sacrifice academic freedom in order to receive a donation of any kind,” he wrote, as quoted in the Democrat.
Barron emphasized that faculty ultimately voted to approve the hires in question, and that the two candidates actually were not on the list prepared by the “advisory committee” in which Koch wields some influence.
Barron wrote, “it is clear that FSU faculty were the decision-makers at every level.”