The Florida way

Florida State is among the victims of a savage budget attack from the state government; in their case $100m in the last four years. The football team is doing fine and making money, so there’s no real crisis at hand.  But a university is a large and complicated enterprise, with dozens of specialized activities affecting narrow interest groups, and two of these – research and teaching – are feeling some real hurt. If they get in serious trouble, it might reflect badly on the team, maybe even tap its revenues a bit, and that would be a real shame.

The economics department, though, is thinking outside the boxes of academic freedom and free intellectual inquiry, perhaps a light for other departments, and has sold the right to choose faculty to the Charles Koch Foundation, ensuring Koch the freedom of a direct line into the heads of students in at least eight courses.  Over at the National Review, a veto over hiring has a softer, fuzzier feel: “some input”, they call it. Like what a DS offers his Marine recruits. When they ask.  What’s most amazing about the story is the dean, a David W. Rasmussen,  doubling down deadpan on the rightness of the deal, perhaps not surprising as a bank has already paid FSU to teach a course pitching Ayn Rand’s views; you have to read the story to get the whole sordid picture.  What’s second most amazing is how cheap FSU sold out: $1.5m over six years, apparently revocable if the foundation doesn’t like anything any economics prof says.

Again; no need to panic yet, as the Seminoles are set to have another great year on the gridiron.  But if you read anything by an FSU prof, you might want to keep in mind that if the school still has the Koch money, the article passed a Koch political test. Especially a junior prof, as it might be awkward at tenure time if calling them like you saw them cost the school a million and a half dollars.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

26 thoughts on “The Florida way”

  1. That would be the tax-exempt Charles Koch Foundation. The one that does not pay any taxes in Florida or anywhere else and just sponges off of the taxpayers. Which, I think, is what Florida State is doing. In effect, they are selling a public asset built with public money—the university’s good name—and taking the proceeds for themselves. Shouldn’t the money, which is rightfully the property of the university’s owners (i.e., the taxpayers) go to the state’s general fund?

    I would assume, however, that I shouldn’t need to keep anything in mind when reading anything written by an FSU professor since I would hope that no academic journals would even consider publishing what is basically a paid advertisement for the Koch Foundation’s economic philosophy and utterly without any sort of intellectual integrity whatsoever. I am serious about this. There should be truly profound, career ending consequences for all of the academics involved. And here, of course, I’m speaking to you academics—will you shun these people and make them pay a price? Will you blackball their publications and future hiring because of this? As I see it, it’s not only their academic integrity at stake but everyone’s.

  2. It would be interesting to know what other schools were made offers but turned them down. The article mentions that Clemson and West Virginia universities entered into similar arrangements.

    It’s very sad, but I almost wonder if economics departments aren’t extra vulnerable, just because it’s so common now to think that everything in life is for sale.

    On a sort-of related topic, I’ve been wondering lately if the UCs charge enough to license their inventions. Or do we not want them to have to?

  3. $1.5m over six years

    This much, to control a whole department? Let’s say they created a prestigious named professorship, covering the full cost of the professor’s employment (salary for a senior tenured prof, payroll tax, benefits, some travel and equipment money) and the full cost of a graduate assistant (stipend, tuition); that would be in the same ballpark as this deal. They got full control of the department for an amount that might, if stretched, mostly cover the salaries of three junior faculty (the linked article says two junior faculty were hired), in a department that has nearly thirty faculty, roughly half assistant professors and half full professors (which in my field would usually mean tenured professors).

    Still, I’ve been responding mostly to your characterization, and on reflection it might be a bridge too far. What they’ve done is wrong, but it’s nothing Stanford didn’t do years ago with its farcical “Hoover Institution”. They’ve apparently sold the title of “Assistant Professor At Florida State”, and at cost. Koch is providing the salaries to enable the hiring of two or three people, and Koch is choosing (or at least exerting veto power over) who those people are. This is in a couple of ways worse than the Hoover Institution – these ideologically screened people will presumably teach undergraduate classes, quite possibly extremely slanted ones, and six years from now the University might grant them tenure as the Koch bucks evaporate – but the principle of wealthy ideologues buying university affiliations for their pet propagandists is the same.

  4. @ NCG

    I’ve been wondering lately if the UCs charge enough to license their inventions.

    For the last forty or so years (I’m dating from a 1973 use of restriction enzymes whose patenting by UCSF and Stanford was an absolute gold mine for those two institutions until it expired), and specially for the last quarter century or so (the NIH in particular encouraged patenting and public-private partnerships starting in the 1980s), all universities have taken this extremely seriously. I don’t know the details of the UC schools, but I rather suspect they’re not laxly letting such revenue streams slip through their fingers.

  5. This is a joke, right?

    Please tell me this is a joke ——

    I don’t think you are joking and I’m getting even more scared than I’ve been.

    There is going to be a lot of this now. The powers that be are talking about getting rid of the charitable deduction from income taxes. On the whole that’s a good thing even though it will hurt legitimate charity. Too often it is used for deducting the funding of pet projects from one’s tax liability. And there are some very dodgy “charities” that are mainly indoctrination conduits. Like Barbara Bush donating $75k to the Houston schools for Katrina victims but specified that it could only be spent on son Neil’s Reading programs.

    And a donation to a University is tax deductible. This is going to be happening a lot….

  6. “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.” “

    Good for Koch. Apparently he’s decided he’s not going to be a patsy, and fund a program nominally promoting free enterprise, only to have it run by a bunch of socialists who do the exact opposite. More donors ought to be as assertive.

  7. Brett, please tell me about all the Econ departments run by bunches of socialists.

    When you get the time from your search for proof that any of us exist, of course.

  8. Brett’s well over half right. Donors often seek to control what is done with their money, and universities often resist, unless the intent is limited to naming rights. The Kochtopus is more vigorous about control than most donors, and FSU seems more pusillanimous. If Brett’s point were that any obloquy should attach to FSU, rather than Koch, I would agree with him completely. A donor gonna do what a donor gonna do, and its up to universities to do the right thing.

  9. I don’t think any obloquy ought to attach to anyone in the matter, unless you think that a program promoting “political economy and free enterprise” is objectionable on it’s own. Why the hell wouldn’t somebody paying for something be entitled to see to it that they get it? Why should somebody selling something object to being required to produce what they’re selling?

    The simple fact is that schools have a bad enough track record when it comes to spending donation on what they were donated for, that it’s rational for donors to demand some say in how the money is spent. And suspect for the schools to object to that say.

  10. I’ll second Eb here and say that Brett understands the key point: Truth isn’t something you discern, it’s something you buy. Academic economics teaches us this, both in the classroom and in the behavior of economists in the world. Florida State (as Warren explains) isn’t doing anything outside of the norms of the profession.

    Economics teaches us that free markets are the best way of allocating resources. Right?

    Look, I admire pacifists, and I wish I lived in a world where pacifism made sense. Likewise, I admire the Reality-Based. In daily life, I aspire to emulate both. But in politics and warfare, the victory goes to the side that fights, not to the side that’s right.

  11. Journalism, as a profession, is a lot like economics, and the linked article in the St. Petersburg Times includes a couple of really gross violations of journalistic protocol.

    First, the newspaper is giving space to old news:

    Although the deal was signed in 2008 with little public controversy, the issue revived last week when two FSU professors — one retired, one active — criticized the contract in the Tallahassee Democrat as an affront to academic freedom.

    Second, there are a number of different efforts in the article to provide background and context, including efforts to explain how academic freedom is supposed to work. Background and context should be limited to editorial pages. Most egregiously:

    Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control.

    This is conclusory, and has no place in a professionally run journalistic outlet. Less importantly, it’s factually incorrect: The agreement does not allow even the illusion of control.

    All in all, this article represents a win for the reality-based community. I hope the reporter isn’t disciplined too severely for it.

  12. Why the hell wouldn’t somebody paying for something be entitled to see to it that they get it?

    And just to belabor the point, this, indeed, is the key question. If you can buy something, you should be entitled to have it. Neocons understand that might makes right. Moneycons know that money makes might and, by extension, right. It’s just logic, folks.

  13. I, too, am mostly shocked at how cheaply the department was bought. After you factor in opportunity cost. FSU is quite possibly losing money on the deal compared to hiring some serious scholars who could bring in grants.

    And the big difference between this and stupidities like the Hoover is disclosure. When you go to a lecture by a fellow of the Hoover instittion (or whatever the official title is) you know what you’re getting. At FSU yo don’t.

  14. I, too, am mostly shocked at how cheaply the department was bought.

    Don’t be.
    It went cheap because they got the buyer that stimulated best their political philosophy vagina.
    If it was Soros money they would have gone purposely dry, and stiffed him for a lot more…

    By the way, this is yet another example of what is known as the “rationality of the marketplace”.

  15. koreyel: so what you’re saying is that this was a gratuity rather than a payment for services? It makes sense in a sort of group-solidarity way.

    Along these lines, I’ve been taken aback in many bribery cases how little of value apparently changes hands. A few thousand dollars, some hot sports tickets, a few free rides in a plane. I’m coming to think that there are some cases where the bribee is actually doing it to make money (even enough to cover the risk of being caught) and another set where the corrupt act is really a favor between members of a club and the money or other gift is just a token of club membership.

  16. “It’s very sad, but I almost wonder if economics departments aren’t extra vulnerable, just because it’s so common now to think that everything in life is for sale. ”

    Or more common in economics, because they clearly *are* for sale (e.g., ‘inside job’).

    And Brett, you haven’t provided proof of the Constitution, either.

  17. He didn’t buy a department, he bought a program. He can’t dictate who works in any other part of the department. Just the part he’s paying for.

    “And just to belabor the point, this, indeed, is the key question. If you can buy something, you should be entitled to have it. Neocons understand that might makes right. Moneycons know that money makes might and, by extension, right. It’s just logic, folks.”

    So, what’s the contrary position? That academics are entitled to sell something to somebody, and then cheat them of it? Koch bought a program promoting a point of view. If the school didn’t want to run a program promoting that point of view, they shouldn’t have taken the money.

    You don’t mind their taking the money, you just figure that they ought to be able to cheat Koch after taking it, by staffing people who will promote a different point of view.

  18. Brett,

    I don’t think any obloquy ought to attach to anyone in the matter, unless you think that a program promoting “political economy and free enterprise”

    You think it’s perfectly OK for FSU to sell the right to make faculty hiring decisions? Really? You think that?

    And BTW, I do think a program “promoting free enterprise” is objectionable. Economics generally has a lot to say about the benefits of markets. But it also deals with situations where markets don’t work well. I think it’s objectionable for faculty to ignore the latter issues, or downplay them, which is what “promoting free enterprise” sounds like.

    No self-respecting university should let donors tell faculty what to teach. Period.

  19. Bernard: “You think it’s perfectly OK for FSU to sell the right to make faculty hiring decisions? Really? You think that? ”

    Given his record, yes.

  20. You don’t mind their taking the money

    Brett, you’ve reverted to crazy/stupid/troll mode here. Can you identify anyone on this thread who thinks that FSU should have accepted the Koch donation?

  21. I think none of you would have minded their taking the money without the conditions. You just wanted it spent on something Koch would have opposed.

  22. Brett, you seem to be unfamiliar with Econ departments. Many of them – most famously the University of Chicago – would, if they had the money to hire a half-dozen new faculty, hire a half-dozen right-wing ideologues. I doubt there are any in the US that would hire more than one Marxist within the same decade, if even that.

    The point is that Koch has funded the creation of an ideological indoctrination class at Florida State. He has cherry-picked the faculty, and plans to exert ongoing control over those faculty members at whatever level of detail he may choose. It would not have been hard for him to find a department th cut of whose jib he admired and to give them a gift, or to fund an individual professor with a named professorship. Instead of doing either of those things, he found an institution willing to shape itself to his demands, and bought access to the receptive minds of their students.

    You seem to have trouble with the idea that people are genuinely shocked that some wealthy fellow can literally buy the right to indoctrinate undergraduates. In fact, the content of that indoctrination doesn’t matter; it’s just a very, very bad idea.

  23. Right, Brett. But I ask again: Is there anyone on this thread who thinks FSU should have accepted Koch’s money? You evade the question because you know you misrepresented the argument, as you often do when threads are winding down. Nobody here thinks that FSU should have forced Koch to donate, because that’s crazy – a bizarre strawman by any standards except yours.

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