Academia is supposed to be the one sanctuary for pure, uncorrupted thought, a place where scholars can explore new ideas and express themselves free of ulterior motives. However, at Florida State University, that free expression has taken a back seat to money, as billionaire Charles Koch (left) essentially purchased the right to hire professors for the institution’s business school, the St. Petersburg Times reported this week.
Charles Koch is the other half of the disgustingly rich Koch brothers—David, you may remember, was the subject of a prank call to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker at the height of the Madison protests. The bad publicity stemming from that incident hardly seems to have slowed down the duo, though, as the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation now gets final say on the hires made at Florida State’s business school for the neat sum of $1.5 million dollars.
According to The Times, the terms of the agreement give shockingly extensive control of a public university to a private foundation.
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.
And those objectives? They’re not exactly noble, designed to serve the public interest. No, the foundation, according to The Times, aims “to advance [the Koch brothers’] belief, through think tanks, political organizations and academia, that government taxes and regulations impinge on prosperity.” This means that rather than FSU providing a forum for a variety of economic views, the Koch Foundation now moderates a very narrow discourse that crushes opposing views. Perhaps worst of all, the views the school does prop up are designed to widen the economic disparity between the Koch brothers’ class and the rest of the country.
This agreement isn’t exactly unique. FSU already whores itself out to BB&T bank, which funds a course on ethics in which Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a manifesto of the same libertarian beliefs the Koch brothers advocate, is required reading. The Koch Foundation also has similar arrangements at three other public schools: Clemson University, West Virginia University, and George Mason University.
So is this corporate influence the future of public education in America? It sure looks like a possible model, because the money involved means almost nothing to the loaded Koch foundation but everything to cash-strapped schools, as David Dayen of Fire Dog Lake points out in his excellent analysis of the issue. $1.5 million goes a long way at a public institution, but when that money comes from private groups, it does so with strings attached, strings that could seriously damage the integrity of those institutions. Dayen writes:
Academia is the natural next step for the conservative movement. Having already crippled the public sector and labor, they take to another bastion of liberal support. But more than that, they gain a foothold for credibility for their own ideas. It’s one thing to see a Koch-funded think tank produce some study showing that poor people would have a better life if used as fertilizer, but another for a university to publish the same study. Florida State University isn’t exactly the institution which will lend the kind of gravitas to this effort, but it’s only the beginning.
If this is only the beginning, it’s a trend that signals exactly how far corporate greed has seeped into our culture. We’ve already allowed private interests to shove their way into the public sector—they even fight and profit off our wars. If they’re allowed into our schools, we’re essentially giving up on any semblance of political debate, acknowledging that there is nothing we can do to fight the corporate line. States need to put their feet down and threaten to cut off funding to schools that make these sorts of agreements in order to preserve the integrity of the public university system.