Koch Bros. Now Buying Academic Support

Billionaire Charles Koch’s efforts at shaping public policy have come under immense scrutiny recently, despite the fact that he and his brother have used their immense wealth to influence legislation for years.  But given the disastrous results in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Indiana some of the Koch’s old deals are getting a second look. 

Take for example their reach into our public institutions.  In 2008 the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation had an agreement with Florida State University where the foundation agreed to provide millions of dollars of funds for the school’s economics department in exchange for granting Koch the ability to directly approve faculty hired with those funds.

The agreement also provides that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates will be considered and provides that should Koch not be happy with the faculty’s choice or, more alarmingly, if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch, the foundation will withdraw funding entirely.

As if that were not chilling enough for academic freedom, Koch wanted the ability to review work done by the economics faculty, to determine which candidates qualify to receive funding and which professors find themselves on a tenure track.

The agreement with FSU is not the first venture into academics by the billionaire, but it is the most controversial due to the amount of reach it allows Koch into the academic operations of the department. 

It is no secret that most public universities are starved for cash as decreases in federal and state funding have been the norm for at least a decade now.  And while most schools have strict guidelines regarding donors’ influence over how donations are to be used, the FSU deal represents the dawning of a dangerous new age of buying academic support for controversial political positions.

To be clear here, there should be no problem with open, vigorous debate in academics, and that debate should embrace all points of view.  And those points of view should be represented in research and policy development, regardless of partisan implication.  But to give a private donor veto power over faculty hiring decisions and funding choices all but guarantees that debate will quickly turn into a monologue.

Wealthy individuals and foundations funding academic research is also nothing new.  Indeed, some of our greatest breakthrough in the sciences and arts come thanks to cooperative private-public partnerships.  In fact, our public institutions function best when they are the beneficiaries of an invested private sector. 

But to have an institution cede control to its donors as FSU has done here will not encourage an open exchange of information, nor will it promote cutting-edge research for the benefit of the public good.  It will simply further entrench, embolden and empower an elite all to willing to overlook public utility for private enrichment.


photo courtesy of RMTip21 via Flickr


William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thanks for the information.

W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Not surprising, thank you.

Patricia S.
Pat S7 years ago

Donald B,
Are you one of many on Care2 that may be paid by george soros?

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y7 years ago

A very costly way to force American students to read Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged'.

Nothing could be more polemical, dry, irrelevant, and pretentious than this huge tome by a Russian expatriate coming over here during the Communist era preaching to us about how capitalism is better.

We were already doin' it!

To be fair to Mrs. Rand she is a respected academic writer. I also read The Fountainhead which is less preachy, and Anthem which is almost poetic and a premonition of George Orwell's '1984'. But I wouldn't wish Atlas Shrugged on anyone who can't speed-read.

FSU econ. students will now be subjected to soporific anti-Soviet propaganda that has little to do with modern microeconomics or macroeconomics, but everything to do with pushing an extreme plutocratic ideology that seems strangely out of date in America now.

Linda C.
Linda C.7 years ago

It is time to put the 'public' back in 'public universities'--most states now provide only a small fraction of the funding needed for state universities--if that trend is not reversed, these kinds of invidious situations will multiply. Public education is the foundation of democracy and citizens need to step up to the plate and fund their public universities.

Donald B.
Donald Burnison7 years ago

The way some wealthy operate Patricia S. could be a paid tool of the Koch brothers. It wouldn't be the first or even 10,000th time. There is nothig wrong with wealth, but the abuse of wealth that is the problem. Pa/S is entitled to her opinion, but she is just one, and is not entitled to her own facts. What a convoluted world when might and money make up morals and behavior. History is full of examples of the failure of this practice. When will we learn?

Doug D.
Douglas D7 years ago

This should be illegal if it already isn't. If they want to negotiate such things with a private institution, that would be up to that school. But FSU is a public institution, isn't it?

Patricia P.
Patricia P7 years ago

George Soros isn't buying influence into academic departments. This is unprecedented and very dangerous.

Dominic C.
Dominic C7 years ago

Well, if they can contribute to humanity, the environment, justice and peace...hey, its wonderful! However, if the opposite happens, then Florida State will become a blacklist university.

Joshua I.
Joshua I7 years ago

This is why it was said that, "It Will Be Far Easier For A Camel To Walk Through The Eye Of A Needle, Than It Will Be For A Rich Man To Walk Through The Gates Of Heaven,"...