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Koch Foundation Hires and Fires Economists at Public University

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by Rebekah Wilce on May 12, 2011     PR Watch    

According to news reports, the Charles G. Koch Foundation has bought “the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.” Kris Hundley of the St. Petersburg Times reports that the elder Koch brother’s foundation “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.'”

Unlike most university donors, who retain little control over chairs they’ve funded lest universities be seen to lose academic freedom, the Times reports that the Charles G. Koch Foundation’s “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.”

Apparently, the deal was signed in 2008 with little public controversy. However, on May 1 two FSU professors — Ray Bellamy and Kent S. Miller — revived the issue in a letter to the Tallahassee Democrat. In their letter, Bellamy and Miller point out that “George Mason University received over $23 million from Koch brothers foundations to hire seven libertarian professors, subjecting the college to the charge that the university had been ‘bought'”.

David W. Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences, responded to the letter on May 10 by saying, “I’m sure some faculty will say this is not exactly consistent with their view of academic freedom…. But it seems to me it would have been irresponsible not to do it.”

But FSU is not the only school where the Charles G. Koch Foundation has made such arrangements. The Times article adds that, “In addition to FSU, Koch has made similar arrangements at two other state schools, Clemson University in South Carolina and West Virginia University.”

One wonders how many Koch economists there are in the world.

Gerald Epstein and Jessica Carrick-Hagenbarth of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst have led the charge this past year to encourage the economics profession to adopt a code of ethics and disclose conflicts of interests. In a recent paper, they found that many economists involved in last year’s debate over how how to overhaul Wall Street regulations did not disclose their roles as corporate directors, advisers or consultants when testifying before Congress or in the media. The issue was also brilliantly highlighted in the movie Inside Job, about the origins of the financial crisis. Inside Job won an Oscar this year.

The Rachel Maddow Show also picked up this story and aired it on May 10, 2011.

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2 Responses

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  1. […] by Rebekah Wilce on May 12, 2011     PR Watch     According to news reports, the Charles G. Koch Foundation has bought "the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university." Kris Hundley of the St. Petersburg Times reports that the elder Koch brother's foundation "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 … Read More […]

  2. This is A PUBLIC University! No Way WAY!!

    Vic Anderson

    May 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm


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