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Koch Buying Higher Ed Faculty and Hiring/Firing, Evaluation and Promotion Rights

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Don’t look now, but higher education is not only on the decline, but also even more of a commodity to be bought and sold by the business elite than previously thought. Those of us who love our alma maters and those who understand the necessity of great academic institutions, take heed. The clock is running out on higher education. And it is not just because higher education-for-profit has siphoned off half of the federal funding for higher education tuition grants, though that is bad enough. Now at Florida State University, Charles Koch did one better. He bought decision-making ability in the economics department at FSU.  The St Petersburg Times reports:


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.”

Yes THAT Charles Koch. You know the Freedom Works, Americans for Prosperity, and wrong-wing “think tank” propagandist, winger funder and freeper, who disdains all things democratic with both a little and small d. It is his movement which dictates the policies and actions of the infamous governors now assaulting the states of WI, MI, OH, FL, and many others.  They’re so extreme that voters have forgotten how extreme our own governor is.  (Hint: He applauded Gov. Scott Walker in WI).  But there is more…

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.

The amazing thing is that Charles Koch could buy a department so cheaply.  For a mere $1.5 million up front Charles Koch’s “gift” essentially gives him the ability to control personnel decisions in the economics department of FSU.  They wanted to make universities like a business (snark).  But in fact,  over time there will be millions flowing to FSU for his control of what students learn about economics. Read what conditions and leverage Koch is extracting from FSU at ThinkProgress.

In some ways, it has long been this way. In Virginia we have had two recent examples of politicians getting appointments to academic units they help fund.  In NC the wife of the former governor came under fire for her lucrative job at an NC university.  

See the tome called University, Inc. But the ante has been upped in recent years by those trying to, and actually achieving, control of content. Periodically we also hear of the powerful trying to influence hiring and retention of faculty. Koch money long ago infiltrated George Mason University’s economics department. As I showed in this article, dozens of schools, including two right here in the New River Valley, allowed a millionaire to dictate course content, which propagandizes students in the supposed “economic theory” of a third-rate novelist, major misanthrope, and sociopath (Ayn Rand). There is more here.

Corporate interests have seeped in everywhere in higher education. They buy endowed chairs. They buy centers.  They buy naming rights of stadiums. Their logos are everywhere at football games.  And they sit inside their indoor boxes looking down on the mere mortals lucky to even have a seat in the hot sun or rain and sleet.  Faculty with endowed chairs have to put their title on all their official stationery: The (fill in corporation name) Professor of Finance, etc.). How bought do they feel? Research identifying which drugs work or not is often funded by those with a stake in the outcome. For half a billion, BP bought an entire center at UC Berkley, the flagship institution of the University of California system. Will energy research coming from UC Berkley be trustworthy in the future? What if it doesn’t fit with the anti-science agenda of big oil?

But buying the rights to the economics department’s hiring and other personnel decisions ensures long into the future that no competing (competing with Ayn Rand) economists need apply.  This is my take on the wrong-wing fascination with Rand. How long will it be before Nobel economists such as Joseph Stieglitz, Paul Krugman and others are forced out? Will economists such as Nouriel Roubini, who don’t drink the Kool Aide, become persona non grata? Think of the economists we on the left depend upon. Indeed, all Americans depend upon them to break through the propaganda and show how failed economics “theory” has undermined our economy. The GOP, and the corporatists who love them let a third-rate novelist write their “economic policy.” How credible is that? But today’s corporate GOP knows the way to undermine democracy is to control what people learn. They are mock-worthy for doing so. But we have to do more than just mock.

This issue underlies the problems we voters face understanding the world around us and processing everything we are bombarded with. In many respects all Americans have been indoctrinated in extreme wrong-wing fiscal ideology for more than thirty years.  Graduates receiving this extra FSU-style dose of propaganda will be even more difficult to reach. Once another generation has been indoctrinated even further as Koch et al plan, we will be lost. (As Robert Greenwald often ends his films, “Do something!”)

Hat-tip: ThinkProgress and Rachel Maddow.