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- 2011 - July - 18th -

FSU faculty approves Koch deal, with caveats

by Lilly Rockwell
The News Service of Florida

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

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 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,” said Barron.

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,” he 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.

More than 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,” said Filer.

“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,” said Filer.

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 manufacturing industries, such as fertilizer development and chemical refining.

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