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Right Turn
Posted at 09:15 AM ET, 05/13/2011

Is Koch manipulating FSU or is the left manipulating media consumers?

The Post reported yesterday:

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.

As the reporter notes, the university president has pushed back against the Petersburg Times and even more hysterical news stories (more below):

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.”

What to make of this?

First, given the state of upper education these days it’s understandable a wealthy donor doesn’t want his money spent unwisely. And it seems where FSU is concerned that’s not unreasonable. A peek at the FSU Web site finds this sort of “scholarship” much in vogue: “From Peter Rabbit to Curious George, FSU study finds 100 years of gender bias in children’s books.” I mean really, why IS it the man in the yellow hat?

Second, do we imagine that those endowing chairs in Arab studies departments don’t have a specific type of scholarship in mind? It might not be the best of all worlds, but do we imagine that donors at every university don’t have preference and directions on their funding?

Third, where’s the scandal? This story from the Orlando Sentinel tells us:

An article in the St. Petersburg Times says the Virginia-based Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation is giving FSU $1.5 million for positions in its economics department. In return, the Times says, an advisory committee appointed by Koch gets to decide which job candidates are considered.

Barron said FSU wouldn’t sacrifice academic freedom for a donation. Here’s an excerpt from his letter:

“These are the facts: The Koch Foundation does not review and approve faculty applicants. The economics department received approximately 500 applications for two positions. Fifty of these applicants were considered worthy of further consideration by the faculty. These 50 were sent to an advisory board for their input. The advisory board, formed in 2008, consisted of two FSU faculty members, both Eminent Scholars in Economics, and a Ph.D. economist appointed by the Koch Foundation. This board recommended 16 of the 50 candidates proposed by the faculty search committee for further consideration. Ultimately, the 2 people hired did not come from this list, but instead were recommended by the faculty from a separate pool of applicants.”

So what’s going on here? It’s fairly obvious this is part of the left-wing assault on the Koch brothers. Under the guise of “judicial ethics” or “academic freedom” or “political corruption” these groups mount attack after attack, hoping to smear the billionaire libertarians. That in turn will help re-elect Barack Obama. Or something. (I honestly can’t figure out the political utility of this obsession.)

Notice how compliant the New York Times is in carrying water for these groups:

Over the years there have been concerns about donors’ subtle influence at universities. Professors might be reluctant to research gas taxes, for example, if the building they work in is named after Chevron.

As schools become more desperate for money, though, donors are finding opportunities to become more directly influential.

The St. Petersburg Times reported on Tuesday that Charles G. Koch, one of the billionaire brothers at Koch Industries, has pledged $1.5 million to Florida State University to be used for hiring in the economics department. In exchange, his representatives get to “screen and sign off on” the hires.

Gosh, the only thing missing is the university’s side of the story — and evidence that Koch actually picked the final candidates. He didn’t. But you wouldn’t know it from the Times report.

The problem with the get-the-Kochs racket is three-fold. First, it’s irrelevant to voters and the outcome of elections. Two, the oppo research is invariably shoddy. And third, the anti-Koch groups and their minions at outfits like Huffington Post and the Times are entirely transparent. I mean, have these people no verve? No imagination?

By  |  09:15 AM ET, 05/13/2011

Categories:  Education, Media

 
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