Florida State University President Eric Barron said Tuesday that the school did not compromise its academic integrity when officials there agreed to create an economics program with professorships paid for and chosen in part by a billionaire libertarian.
Barron said two economics professors who were hired three years ago and are still on the faculty were chosen without any interference from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, which has one of three seats on an advisory board that reviews job candidates.
"If there is anything that affected academic freedom, I would put an immediate stop to it," Barron said Tuesday. "The Koch Foundation did not reject the faculty's suggestions for hiring."
Barron explained that only one of the two new hires came through the process agreed to with Koch and the second came from another pool that the foundation had nothing to do with.
In a 12-page memorandum of understanding signed by Florida State senior vice president John Carnaghi and three other university officials, the school agreed to recruit and maintain faculty and individuals who support objectives set forth by an advisory panel appointed by the non-profit foundation. Florida State's deal with Koch was finalized in the summer of 2008, more than a year before Barron was chosen its 14th president.
The agreement with the foundation permits an advisory committee appointed by the multibillionaire to decide which candidates can be considered for two teaching positions and allows it to withdraw the $1.5 million funding if they become unhappy with the faculty's hiring decision or if the hires fail to meet predetermined objectives established by Koch.
The advisory panel consists of two Florida State eminent scholars in economics and a third who represents Koch. If the foundation objects to one of the advisory board's selections, Florida State can still hire the individual, but they would not be considered a Koch scholar or would the school receive foundation money to pay for the position.
Koch and his brother David Koch are among America's wealthiest people and well known for their efforts advocating fewer taxes and less government regulation. A Southeastern regional bank, BB&T, sometimes partners with Koch in these efforts. They also are identified for working closely with the tea party movement.
"They are less interested in creating new knowledge than in getting their message out and improving their bottom line," Dr. Ray Bellamy, a physician at Florida State's College of Medicine and Kent Miller, a professor emeritus of psychology at the university, wrote in an opinion page article May 1 in the Tallahassee Democrat. "The faculty Senate should be watching the store."
Faculty concerns erupted after the op-ed piece by Miller and Bellamy, who urged a watchful eye on attempts to influence curriculum or new hires. The dean of the university's social sciences department that houses the economics programs, David Rasmussen, said the criticism was off-point and that the university retains control of all faculty hires.