Pharyngula

That’s a bargain price for throwing a reputation down the drain. FSU has turned over some hiring decisions to a billionaire ideologue.

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.”

Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they’ve funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.

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.

This deal has been in place for a couple of years, and Koch has already meddled in at least one hiring decision, rejecting 60% of the candidates that the faculty favored. If I were a faculty member who found my choice of colleagues dictated by Koch (or Soros, or Gates, or any similar filthy rich dilettante), I’d be a bit peevish, and I don’t think the golden candidate would get much respect from his peers. On the other hand, if I were applying for a job and was rejected because I didn’t fit the ideology of the Koch brothers, I’d feel darned good and also be well satisfied that I wasn’t going to be affiliated with such a cheap brothel university.

On the third hand, if I were a graduate of the econ department of FSU, I’d be extremely embarrassed about my degree at this point.

David Rasmussen, the dean of the college of social sciences, is trying to defend the deal by saying they needed the money, an argument with which I can sympathize, since every university is struggling right now. But selling your principles of academic freedom undercuts your ability to support independent thought, and means you aren’t really a university anymore. You’re a corporate propaganda arm. Other universities, more respectable universities, have a clear understanding of that idea.

Most universities, including the University of Florida, have policies that strictly limit donors’ influence over the use of their gifts. Yale University once returned $20 million when the donor demanded veto power over appointments, saying such control was “unheard of.”

Say, Michael Ruse is at Florida State — will he condemn this policy, or will he make the same weasely excuses for it that he does for creationism?