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St. Petersburg Times: obtained e-mails reveal a lot about Koch donations to state university

Though the paper came under fire by FSU’s President last week for allegedly “misconstruing the facts,” the St. Petersburg Times is continuing its investigation into a controversial relationship between billionaire Charles Koch and the public university. In an article published on Saturday, the Times‘ Kris Hundley says that some FSU academic officers expressed concerns over a donation from the Koch Foundation, as evidenced in internal e-mails obtained by the paper. #

The Koch Foundation was to give the University about $6.6 million over the course of six years, in exchange for the ability to “screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting ‘political economy and free enterprise.’” #

FSU President Eric Barron defended the deal after critics decried it as unethical and an affront to academic freedom. In an op-ed published in the* Times*, Barron said that the academic freedom of the University had not been compromised “in any way,” and that FSU’s decisions are based solely on academic needs, and not “political motivations of donors or anyone else.” #

On Saturday, the* Times *detailed a series of internal e-mails among FSU staff, some of which express concern with the Koch deal. One e-mail, sent by the dean of the college of social sciences, David W. Rasmussen, says that ”the provost has OK’d” the Koch agreement. But that wasn’t enough to appease everyone. #

“You said the Provost has signed off on the Koch Foundation agreement,” said [Bob Bradley, vice president for planning and programs] whose job entailed reviewing all gift proposals. “He did not express that same level of agreement with me.” Bradley went on to list a number of questions and concerns about the deal, which gave unprecedented privileges to an outside party. #

Most troubling to FSU’s provost, whose office had to sign off on the contract, were terms that allowed Koch to stop funding the program if faculty hired with its money were not complying with its goals. Traditionally, gifts to universities come with few strings attached and are irrevocable, meaning they can’t be withdrawn. #

In one e-mail, Bradley worried that the deal would give the Koch Foundation a “disproportionate influence” in the economics department. ”Does it compromise the academic freedom of individuals holding professorships under the agreement indirectly through the evaluation process and the prospective cessation of funds?,” Bradley wrote to Rasmussen. The e-mails are available here. #

In an interview with the Times, Bradley said that internal discussions were typical of any contract negotiation in the University system: “The faculty is always in control and that’s the fundamental principle.” #

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