Academic Freedom? Not if You're a Conservative…or a Koch

Florida State University (FSU) President Barron recently sent a letter to the Faculty Senate Committee asking the body to review the Koch Foundation agreement with the university and its implementation. The final report, which was released last week, went beyond the scope of Barron’s request and examined other donors’ agreements and decisions made by the economics department at FSU. The results of that analysis have been repeatedly confused with the details of the memorandum of understanding with the Koch Foundation as proven by an article published by Inside Higher Ed. This post serves to clarify some of the mistakes being reported by various outlets.

Inside Higher Ed claims that FSU created a new economics course as part of the agreement with the Koch Foundation called “Market Ethics: The Vices, Virtues, and Values of Capitalism” and that this course featured the work of Ayn Rand.

In fact, this course was not part of the agreement between FSU and the Koch Foundation, and the work of Ayn Rand is never referenced in the memorandum of understanding between the two parties.

Moreover, the agreement gives the program director the opportunity to design a course, but leaves it entirely up to the professor to choose which program will best help their students learn. In the event that the professor does decide to design a course, the agreement states the course must “follow current department procedures for approving and new course offering.”

This freedom of course design was even acknowledged by professors at other institutions including University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, Richard Avramenko and Beloit College professor Joshua Hall, who told The Capital Times they had “complete freedom” to design their programs and that the Koch Foundation “had no input on the substance of the programming.”

Inside Higher Ed also reported that “faculty panels doing the reviews were never told that the course was part of a pledge to a donor” and that the faculty review committee was “concerned that this new course moved through the approval process without a clear indication that it was donor-prescribed with donor-prescribed content.”

As stated above, this course was not part of the agreement. Additionally, any courses the Koch Foundation supported had to be approved through “current department procedures for approving and new course offering.” Failure to correctly approve a course falls on the responsibility of FSU faculty, not the Koch Foundation.

Lastly, Inside Higher Ed reported that the agreement provides for the hiring of a non-tenure track instructor to help with “gateway” introductory courses and that “the staffing and supervision of these gateway courses for all majors are being ceded to a subset of the department that may not be representative of the diverse intellectual interests in the department.”

Put simply, course staffing decisions at FSU are made entirely by departments and are not a part of the agreement. The agreement allows for the hire of a non-tenure track professor “to teach economics courses, primarily at the undergraduate level.” The department’s selection of the program director and the non-tenure track professor to teach another introductory undergraduate economics course was decided entirely by FSU faculty and at no point did the Koch Foundation become involved in this process.

Its appears that the original accusations against the Koch Foundation stating they had harmed academic integrity and obtained hire/fire authority over faculty were proven false, so new allegations were created in their place also lacking any factually basis.

This story has very little to do about the agreement the Koch Foundation reached with FSU and everything to do with the fact that some will never accept their involvement in higher education.

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