Combating Dystopia.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When the Man Behind the Curtain Just Stops Hiding...

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 is out and out lunacy. As something of an academic in recovery, I have to say it raises every metaphorical hackle in my body to read about the obscenely wealthy using their obscene wealth to basically buy university curriculum. That isn't to say a true marxist couldn't argue that the power elite always stands to benefit and dictates what is relevant in most cases regarding many of the institutions in a capitalistic society. It in many cases establishes the cannon, or core curriculum as well as the standards in which academic pursuits are accomplished, but rarely have I seen such a case where a slush fund is insisting upon using its influence to side step a democratic hiring committee.

I won't be so naive to suggest that these sorts of power elites don't generally wield such power...but to basically install your own curriculum and then your own personal pick for the educators providing it comes across as a crass, bold step in an increasingly artificial process. Its a sad day for higher education.

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