Florida State University Koch grant supports free-enterprise, critics cry foul


ACADEMIC DIVERSITY: Charles G. Koch’s charitable foundation supports free-enterprise classes at Florida State University.

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State University is under fire for accepting funding from the Charles G. Koch Foundation.

Charles Koch and his brother, David, are the oft vilified billionaire industrialists who own Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries Inc. Their libertarian economic views and support for conservative political groups have earned the Koch brothers a negative reputation among the political left.

Critics of the charitable donation allege Koch’s grant agreement undermines academic integrity. But the FSU administration disagrees.

“Our donors are comprised of individuals, corporations, foundations and organizations with a wide range of political, religious, business and personal views and values,” states the university’s foundation website. “We do not have a political litmus test for our donors.”

In 2013, FSU received nearly $70 million in charitable gifts and commitments from 26,000 donors. The Koch pledge was accepted in 2009, and consists of a $1.5 million grant payable over six-years. As of April 30, the university has received $1 million.

The funding supports two-programs in FSU’s Department of Economics, the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise and Excellence in Education. Both programs are a part of the Markets and Institutions Initiative — one of five initiatives that include Urban Economics and Public and Labor Economics.

The grant also provides additional salary support for faculty approved and hired by FSU.

Keith Leslie, an applied economics graduate student, told Watchdog.org not all his professors align themselves with “the Koch ideology.” Leslie earned an undergraduate degree in economics from FSU and said the funding has, in his opinion, introduced academic diversity.

“It’s opened up more academic opportunities,” Leslie said. “It’s not like there’s an army of libertarian professors taking over. It’s just offering more academic options for students.”

There are 32 faculty members in the economics department, only one of which is funded by the Koch grant, according to the university. The other teaching positions are funded by the state of Florida.

The economics department is housed within the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. Other departments within the college include sociology, geography, political science and urban and regional planning.

Other social science course offerings appear to provide students with choices not typically associated with the Koch funded free-enterprise programs. Among them are:

  • Public Sector Economics
  • Government Regulation of Business
  • Collective Behavior and Social Movements
  • Labor, Class and Social Movements
  • Sociology of the Welfare State
  • Sociology of Education
  • The Sixties: Social Change, Social Movements (not currently offered)
  • Collective Action and Social Movements (not currently offered)
  • Collective Decision Making

The American Association of University Professors has characterized Koch’s donation as a restrictive grant that limits academic freedom.

“Then, as now, the governor’s office, the legislature, and the judiciary system in Florida were dominated by strong conservatives who held much in common ideologically with the Koch brothers, longtime libertarians whose fortunes place them among the richest people in America,” wrote Kent Miller, emeritus professor of psychology at FSU, and Ray Bellamy, director for surgery at the Tallahassee regional campus of the FSU College of Medicine, in an AAUP blog. “Moreover, one-fifth of the faculty in FSU’s economics department already identified themselves as free-market, anti-regulation economists; several professors had strong national reputations for work in this area.”

FSU recently disclosed an amended 2008 preliminary grant agreement to assuage Koch-related criticism by reducing the potential influence of a grant advisory group that would have played a more prominent role in the hiring of tenure-track faculty.

FSU contends that the tens of millions of dollars in annual university donations are used to support academic programs, faculty, students and facilities.

“Some students probably don’t agree with it,” said Leslie. “But being able to respectfully disagree is important. I’m sure there’s plenty of donors that align themselves with other political camps.”

The Charles Koch Foundation‘s mission is to “advance social progress and well-being through the study and advancement of economic freedom,” according to the foundation’s website.

Contact William Patrick at wpatrick@watchdog.org