In an astonishing view of academic freedom, Florida State dean David Rasmussen defends the 2008 deal to allow the Koch Foundation into the faculty hiring process for economics professors.
Rasmussen assures us that critics “can take comfort in the fact that the university duly performed its due diligence in entering these partnerships.” Actually, there’s no evidence that the university considered academic freedom as a serious issue. If they had, there’s no way any responsible administrator would have approved these appalling deals.
Florida State president Eric Barron declared, "If there is anything that affected academic freedom, I would put an immediate stop to it." It already has. Consider this: “the school agreed to recruit and maintain faculty and individuals who support objectives set forth by an advisory panel appointed by the non-profit foundation.” This is a plain and devastating violation of academic freedom, to allow an outside actor to set ideological criteria for hiring (and, apparently, tenure and promotion, too).
It is appalling to allow a donor to evaluate and potentially veto faculty hires. The proper role of a donor in the faculty hiring process can be summarized in two words: absolutely none. The fact that faculty still maintain ultimate control over hiring doesn’t change that. And the faculty are quite aware that if too many of their hires are unacceptable to the donor, then they will lose the money and be unable to hire the new faculty. This places a clear threat to academic freedom.
Rasmussen concludes his letter by writing, “We should always seek to enhance academic freedom by being aware that bias, both external and internal, can corrupt the free inquiry of ideas.” This comment indicates that Rasmussen sees no distinction between the faculty and the donors. Both the external and internal actors, he thinks, can be biased, and he seems to believe that academic freedom is enhanced when donors can counter the “bias” of the faculty. This astonishing view of academic freedom effectively destroys it.
Rasmussen argues that this deal is desirable because it would “enable the university to hire professors.” Of course, any donation enables a university to hire professors and offer more courses. But at what price? By this logic, any demand by a donor would be acceptable so long as the check was big enough. David Rasmussen and the administration of Florida State have put the university’s academic freedom and intellectual integrity up for sale.