The Power of Libertarian Cash

Universities love rich people. That’s because having a relationship with rich people can really help a university to create new programs, maintain existing ones, and pay for scholarships. Plus, the donors aren’t generally too troublesome. Name a building or something after them and they’ll stay out of your hair.

Unless, however, you are Florida State University. According to an artilce by Kris Hundley in the St. Petersburg Times:

A conservative billionaire who opposes government meddling in business has bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.

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.”

That’s right, not content to run Koch Industries Inc., one of the largest privately held companies in the world, and bankroll the Tea Party movement, the billionaire ($17.5 billion) is has also taken to human resources.

This is highly unusual, especially at a public university. The ability to hire faculty is an essential part of academic freedom. Academics are free to choose and promote their colleagues as they see fit.

According to the article, however, in this case:

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.

In 2009 Koch apparently rejected 60 percent of faculty suggestions for new economics academics. Koch apparently only supports scholars who agree with the billionaire’s right-wing economic views.

Closer to home, the Koch foundation has shoveled $30 million over to George Mason University to help fund its Mercatus Center. Mercatus studies “how institutions affect the freedom to prosper.”

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer