[UPDATE] FSU Faculty Approves Koch Deal, With Caveats

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Florida State University did nothing wrong when it allowed the input of the right-leaning Koch Foundation in the hiring of two professors, a faculty report released Friday said.

The Koch Foundation agreed to give FSU $1.5 million over 10 years for the university’s economics department in 2008. In exchange, Florida State agreed in an unusual deal to give the foundation some input over faculty hiring, a say in job evaluations, and the creation of a new economics course with Ayn Rand as required reading.

The deal sparked controversy earlier this year when two FSU professors– one retired and one current - wrote to the Tallahassee Democrat and complained about the deal infringing on academic freedom.

Following several newspaper articles about the unusual Koch deal, FSU President Eric Barron asked a faculty group that includes a past Florida State president to review the arrangement for any improprieties. That review was released on Friday.

“We acted with a high level of academic integrity and followed the normal course of events, in that the faculty picked the faculty they wanted to work with,” Barron said. But he said the agreement “leaves open the possibility” that Koch could have more influence over hiring and course development than was intended, he said in an interview.

“The instruction is: let’s be more careful about how we write these agreements,” Barron said.

The Koch Foundation also cheered the report’s findings.

“We are pleased that this review of the facts by the faculty committee confirms what FSU administrators have said – that the agreement with the foundation protected academic integrity and added significant value to FSU,” said Ryan Stowers, the director of higher education programs at the Koch Foundation, in a written statement.

The biggest source of criticism of the deal came from Progress Florida, a liberal advocacy group which helped gather nearly 9,000 petition signatures against the Koch deal. Over 1,000 of those signatures came from people with ties to FSU, such as faculty, students or alumni, said Damien Filer, political director of Progress Florida.

“It’s OK to accept a donation,” Filer said. “It’s not OK to allow their ideology to influence the work of the university and hiring decisions at the university. There was a bright line that was crossed that shouldn’t have been. The fact that they don’t intend to do this again in the future is clear that they heard the message.”

The Koch Foundation is funded by Charles G. Koch, a Libertarian-leaning businessman and founder of Koch Industries, a Wichita, Kan.-based company that operates in a variety of manufacturing industries, such as fertilizer development and chemical refining. More familiar are Koch’s consumer brands, such as Lycra fiber.

Koch’s deal with FSU was intended to establish new economics programs, one called the “Program for the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise.” The total budget for the programs is $6.6 million and would require recruiting other donors to help complete the vision, which included hiring five professors.

Though the report clears FSU of wrongdoing in using an advisory board with Koch Foundation-approved members in making hiring decisions, it says the agreement could allow “undue outside influence over the hiring process.”

In particular, the group criticized the amount of power the advisory board has over hiring. When the two FSU professors were hired in 2009 through Koch money, a three-person advisory board that consisted of two faculty members and a representative of the donor had to unanimously agree on hiring suggestions.

“This (provision) gives veto power to any member of the advisory board,” the report notes.

Although FSU and the Koch Foundation must approve who sits on the advisory board, there is nothing in the university’s agreement with Koch that ensures faculty members will sit on the board, the report notes.

The group suggested that the agreement be changed so that faculty members are appointed to an advisory board and that a majority vote, not a unanimous vote, is used when making hiring decisions.

Barron said FSU’s agreement with Koch that established the advisory board over hiring was “unusual” but said donors naturally want to have some influence on how their money is being spent.

“More and more, donors are interested in knowing that their money goes to the purpose they are intending,” Barron said. “You see more and more places where a donor looks at potential candidates and may even meet them in person. But the important element is that whatever advice you get has to be just that – advice,” Barron said.

Other issues raised by the report included a provision that allowed the Koch Foundation to weigh in on teacher evaluations, which is in conflict with FSU policy. As a result, it was never put into practice, the report notes.

The Koch Foundation also wanted to establish an economics course called “morals and ethics” and require the reading of books by the author Ayn Rand, a conservative economic icon, according to materials obtained by the review committee.

A course was developed as a result called “Market Ethics” and an Ayn Rand book was included as supplemental reading. “The committee is concerned that this new course moved through the approval process without a clear indication that it was donor prescribed with donor-prescribed content,” the report says.

The faculty review group suggests that FSU suspend the course and resubmit it for approval when the relationship to the donor is more clearly explained.

Stowers, with the Koch Foundation, said it is open to making changes to the agreement “as long as it continues to ensure a strong commitment to academic freedom, faculty governance and donor intent.”

A letter from Barron to the faculty committee did not say he would change the agreement, and instead included suggestions for how to structure future agreements that avoid an appearance of too much donor influence.


Charles Koch Foundation issues statement on FSU committee report

The Charles Koch Foundation today issued the following statement:

“We are pleased that this review of the facts by the faculty committee confirms what FSU administrators have said – that the agreement with the foundation protected academic integrity and added significant value to FSU. We agree with the committee that the MOU has solid guiding principles, and we are open to modifying the agreement as long as it continues to ensure a strong commitment to academic freedom, faculty governance and donor intent. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with FSU, and we look forward to helping this good work continue in the future,” said Ryan Stowers, director of higher education programs at the foundation.


UPDATE] 7-15 4:30pm by Jill Chandler--

Florida State's President is speaking out about the University's academic integrity.

More than 9,000 people have signed a petition for FSU to end its agreement with the Koch coke Brothers foundation.

In the agreement, the Koch Brothers are allowed to have a say in who gets hired. President Eric Barron had the Faculty Senate take a look at the agreement. Their findings were published today.

President Eric Barron said, "My reaction has been to take the recommendations of the faculty that have to do with understandings of donors, and make sure that our foundation follows rules that always makes sure that we can't be questioned in this way."

The 18 page report finds that, to date, the hiring of faculty associated with the agreement has been managed properly by FSU administration.

The report states the committee recommends for the University not to enter any future donor agreements which offer department selection criteria.

To see the whole review, and more of President Barron's response click on the documents above.

[UPDATE] 7-15 10:15am -

A Progress Florida petition has gathered nearly 9,000 signatures opposing Florida State University’s agreement with the Koch Foundation. In a letter sent to FSU on Thursday, Progress Florida, a liberal advocacy group, urged the university to drop its agreement with the right-leaning Koch Foundation. An FSU faculty group is reviewing its agreement with the Koch Foundation, whose money helped pay the salaries of several professors. But a St. Petersburg Times article published earlier this year alleges the Koch Foundation gets veto power over hiring decisions, an unusual and controversial practice. In a statement to Progress Florida, FSU President Eric Barron disputed that the Koch Foundation has “sold” control over hiring decisions. “The facts are that we have not done so, and we would not so,” Barron said. The faculty report is due this month. “I am confident that the independent faculty review will demonstrate that Florida State hired top scholars through a hiring process that was fully governed by our faculty,” Barron said.


[UPDATE] 5-25 9am-

A group of Florida State University faculty will review the school’s contract with the conservative Charles G. Koch Foundation, which paid the university $1.5 million over six years for the right to screen candidates for two economics faculty positions. University President Eric Barron requested the review. He was not in office when the contract was signed, but has defended it amid questions. Faculty Senate President Sandra Lewis said she hopes the committee, yet to be appointed, will complete its review by mid-July.

Charles Koch Foundation issues statement on FSU committee report

The Charles Koch Foundation today issued the following statement:

“We are pleased that this review of the facts by the faculty committee confirms what FSU administrators have said – that the agreement with the foundation protected academic integrity and added significant value to FSU. We agree with the committee that the MOU has solid guiding principles, and we are open to modifying the agreement as long as it continues to ensure a strong commitment to academic freedom, faculty governance and donor intent. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with FSU, and we look forward to helping this good work continue in the future,” said Ryan Stowers, director of higher education programs at the foundation.


[UPDATE] 5-19 6PM-

Florida State University students protested outside the president's office today in the wake of a controversial deal with a major donor. That deal with the Koch Charitable Foundation has raised a lot of questions about whether the university is allowing the foundation undue influence over hiring decisions.

More than a dozen Florida State University students marched from Union Green to the steps of Westcott Hall demanding answers and assurances that a deal with the Koch Charitable Foundation wasn't chipping away at the university's integrity.

Brian Ford, an FSU Graduate Student, says, "We want to be sure we keep academia independent from big money. We want the direction determined by academics and not by big money."

FSU Graduate Student Marydelina Wright says, "I don't like the precedent of a corporation being able to have an influence on hiring decisions at Florida State. I believe that decision should be left solely to the faculty members."

The heart of the matter: does a 1.5 million dollar donation from the Koch Charitable Foundation and a seat on a committee that screens candidates give that foundation undue influence over hiring decisions in the Economics Department?

FSU President Eric Barron has just asked the Faculty Senate to set up a committee to "examine the issues surrounding the Koch Foundation agreement and its implementation to ensure that the integrity of Florida State University is protected."

Doctoral student Edgar Alfonseca says, " We believe that students need to know that, you know, there is a hand in play making decisions that are probably going to influence how future students think about certain issues."

Wright says, "This is a fine university. This is a fine institution of higher learning and we want to keep it that way."

The students had a chance to speak with President Barron for 20 minutes about their concerns.
[UPDATE] 5-19 Noon -

Students are rallying on Florida State's campus in response to a donation from the Koch Brothers Foundation in exchange for say in who gets hired in the economics department.

Word that the Koch Brothers Foundation was having a say-so in University hiring spread quickly around the academic community.

While students say it's a tough time economically and the university needs the money, they don't feel it's appropriate. That is why students are rallying on the Union Green.

President Eric Barron released a statement last week saying there are measures in place to make sure the Koch brothers word is not final, but just a small input.

A few days ago, he sent an email to staff to encourage the Faculty Senate to form a committee and examine all of the issues surrounding the agreement.



Email from FSU President Eric Barron to staff regarding Koch

Dear members of the faculty, vice presidents and deans:

I wanted you to know that I have requested the input of the Faculty
Senate in ensuring that we always maintain the academic integrity of our great university. I attach below the formal request to the Faculty

Best, Eric

Dear Members of the Faculty Senate Steering Committee:

There is no doubt in my mind that the academic integrity of Florida
State University should be one of the most cherished and protected
assets of our University. As you know, I have examined the contract
with the Koch Foundation, interviewed the College leadership, and
interviewed members of the Economics Department. My objective was to determine whether our faculty were the decision-makers in the selection of faculty and in the setting of curriculum. As you know, my interviews indicated that, even though there was the potential for
interference, our faculty played expected and appropriate roles, and the faculty searches yielded candidates that are true scholars. In each case, I have come to understand that the department is proud to have these individuals as colleagues. As you also know, I have suggested that we should have the expectation that a tenured faculty would not accept undue influence. However, I also know that some faculty members worried about outside influence, that the level of influence was actively discussed by the department, and that some may have felt that the level of influence was problematic. Given the importance of the issue of academic integrity, I would like to formally ask that the Faculty Senate set up a committee to examine the issues surrounding the Koch Foundation agreement and its implementation to ensure that the integrity of Florida State University was protected. I believe it is essential for members of this committee to meet with the members of the faculty in Economics. I would appreciate receiving your findings in as timely manner as possible, as well as any recommendations you might have to ensure that we maintain the highest possible standards in ensuring academic integrity of our programs.

I greatly appreciate your willingness to accept this important
assignment. It is my opinion that an independent assessment is
essential to ensure the utmost clarity of this important issue, and that
we take any steps that are necessary to ensure the academic integrity of our University.

Thank you

Eric J. Barron



[UPDATE] 5-17 -

Statement from FSU President Eric J. Barron on Koch deal

Dear friends and colleagues,

It has been a difficult week for Florida State. First we had the news about more state budget cuts, and then we were pilloried about hires related to a Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation (KCF) gift that occurred three years ago. Regarding the latter, I was certainly upset that a St. Petersburg Times article assumed, and even encouraged, the worst possible view of the KCF gift — that FSU sold off its academic integrity for money. Other media repeated this claim, and with each new turn, the language used in the media became even more unkind and more outrageous in its claims. I am sorry that this fine institution, and each of you, should be subjected to something that is so unfair.

I want you to know my position with some clarity. As you know, I was not at Florida State when the KCF agreement was signed, so I did not hear the original discussions. My views come from independently analyzing the contract, from looking at the outcomes, and from interviewing both college leadership and members of the faculty. This is my view.

The contract presents the appearance of outside influence because a KCF appointment on the three-person advisory board has the potential to deny donor funding for a faculty hire that he or she feels is not suitable. The nefarious interpretation is that job candidates would not be among those offered for final consideration for political reasons, with the alternative interpretation being that they would not be selected because they did not fit into the intent of the gift to support a specific area of disciplinary study or were not of high enough caliber. For many, even the appearance of influence that may be political is sufficient reason to object. Others assume the very worst occurred — we would yield just for the money. None of these interpretations is a good outcome.

Since this analysis is in retrospect, we know what actually happened, and that is much more important to the reputation of this institution than whether the contract opened the door to the possibility of undue influence. It is very clear from emails from Robert Bradley, then serving as FSU’s vice president for Planning and Programs, to the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy that the university called attention to the potential threat of undue influence in this case. It is equally clear that Bradley's email required the college to have the resources to cover the salaries of the faculty if the KCF relationship failed, thus removing the potential that the college would feel forced to live with the agreement.

We also know that the faculty of the Department of Economics had significant debate about accepting the gift specifically because of the potential that external influence might compromise the integrity of the department, especially if that influence was not focused on bringing true scholars to Florida State. But members of our department, in expressing concerns about outside influence, also committed themselves not to accept any candidate that they would not be proud to accept as a member of their faculty. In addition, the two FSU Eminent Scholars in Economics who represented two-thirds of the advisory board worked together with that very same level of commitment to quality and integrity. The faculty went into the process ready to reject the gift if it meant compromising the department.

In some ways, I am most amazed that both the writers and some readers of the media reports and blogs, and even a few members of our own academic community, haven't given our faculty in Economics more credit. It should have been difficult to imagine that a community of tenured faculty would have caved to special interests.

Further, the economics department controlled the search. It made the first cut on the applications — reducing the list to approximately 50 candidates. Yes, faculty did send this list of 50 potential candidates to the three-person advisory committee, and the advisory committee narrowed the list to 16. Yes, the KCF representative weighed in on who on the list of 50 candidates she thought were qualified. The three-person advisory board had to be unanimous in its choices of finalists, so yes, any one of the board members could have denied a candidate. And yes, members of our faculty worried out loud about what criteria the KCF representative might apply. But the faculty interviewed some of the 16 recommended by the advisory board, and they also interviewed others not on this list.

In the end, the faculty offered the job to one individual of the 16, but that person took a job at Cornell University instead. The faculty also proposed hiring one person who was not one of the 16 from the list of 50 candidates, and no objection was offered by the advisory board. At the same time, the faculty had a separate candidate search going on involving a position funded by the university’s Pathways of Excellence hiring initiative. The faculty proposed to offer a position to an individual from this group of candidates using KCF funds, and this too received no objection from the advisory board. So in both cases, the choice of the faculty was honored.

Unlike the St. Petersburg Times' contention, the KCF representative never “rejected” a decision by our faculty. I am equally convinced that if KCF had attempted to actually interfere, the Economics faculty would have objected and would have asked that the money be returned rather than compromise their principles. The end result was a common commitment to fast-rising stars, and certainly the department gained two fine scholars.

Clearly, Florida State University did not sell its academic soul, as some seem to eagerly want to contend. Clearly, much of what has been written has been distortion of reality. We did not deserve the attack on our integrity. Certainly, our Economics faculty deserve much more credit for actively debating their concerns and then for committing themselves never to compromise their high scholarly standards, and university leadership through Dr. Bradley deserves credit for supporting the independence of our institution.

At the same time, we should always be careful not to put ourselves in the position where either our motives or our integrity can be questioned. I promise that we will be diligent in working to prevent outcomes like this in the future.

Eric Barron

President, Florida State University


UPDATE 5-11 10:30PM by Jill Chandler--

Florida State students react to claims that a million dollar donor has control over hiring decisions.

Billionaire Charles COKE Koch has donated $1.5 million dollars to FSU in return for influencing some of the the universities decisions on hiring.

Under an agreement with the Charles G. Koch Foundation, an advisory committee appointed by the multi-billionaire decides which candidates can be considered for teaching positions with the economics department.

One FSU student feels strongly about it. He said, "I think that the decision to accept this funding, and basically give the Koch brothers foundation such an input into our hiring decisions is a major move against academic freedom."

"I think the integrity of the school should remain what it is to where there's a democratic system picking the faculty that is coming in," said FSU student, Gustavo Munoz.

And President Eric Barron says that is how it will stay. In a statement, he said, "To be crystal clear: The Economics Department Executive Committee screens the candidates, interviews them and has the final vote. The Koch Foundation does not hire faculty, nor does it exercise control over course curricula."

An FSU Student added, " I think that sets a bad precedent, and it could very well ... it's kind of that slippery slope argument."

Yet other students say it will help create jobs, and that's what the university needs.

Sheldon Brown said, "At this time, especially with the university doing all of the budget cuts, I don't think that's such a bad idea."

Barron added, "Florida State is diligent and resolute in maintaining its academic integrity. Donor gifts, regardless of their size, have always been accepted with the clear understanding that the gift will not compromise that integrity or infringe on the academic freedom of our highly regarded faculty."

Some students are planning to hold a rally next Thursday to share their displeasure with the agreement.

To see FSU President Eric Barron's full statement click on the tab above.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - 5-10 -

Florida State officials say they have no problem following the recommendations of a conservative businessman who gave the school a $1.5 million in return for influencing the university's decision on hires for teaching a program that promotes free enterprise and the political economy.

Under an agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable
Foundation, an advisory committee appointed by the multibillionaire
decides which candidates can be considered. And, his foundation can withdraw its funding if unhappy with the faculty's hiring decision,
or if the hires fail to meet predetermined objectives established
by Koch.

David Rasmussen, the social sciences dean at Florida State, said that he saw the deal with the noted
libertarian as an opportunity to improve the economics department
by hiring two new assistant professors.

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