Saturday, May 14, 2011

Clemson Sells Out to the Koch Foundation

The disturbing news that Florida State University sold out its faculty spots to the right-wing Koch Foundation has led to probes into other agreements that the Koch Foundation has made with universities.

The Anderson Independent Mail today writes about the case at Clemson University, a public institution in South Carolina. Clemson's agreement with the Koch Foundation (pdf available here) explicitly imposes right-wing criteria for hiring the faculty. Section II(b)(i) declares that the university will only recruit faculty who “support the Objectives and Purposes” in Section I, which proclaims that the program must support “appreciation of economic freedom.” That's a very serious violation of academic freedom. You can fund a particular subject matter, but not a particular viewpoint. And that's what this agreement seems to demand of the faculty being hired under it. That's a serious mistake.

It appears that Clemson changed its faculty manual (pdf) to allow the Koch Foundation greater influence over faculty. In a new provision added last year to the Clemson Faculty Manual, “a sponsoring party representative may interview the final candidates and offer opinions about the candidates’ qualifications to the search-and-screening committee.” It is highly unusual for non-academic outsiders to be permitted to interview faculty candidates and provide a formal process for their opinions to be considered by a search committee. Amazingly, Clemson's formal rules now allow outsiders to buy their way into the search committee process and ensure that their views are heard. Donors should have absolutely no role in the hiring process.

The agreement also allows the Koch Foundation to withdraw most of its donation if they don't like the faculty member who is hired. The $1 million donation is done in four annual donations of $250,000. This puts intense pressure on the faculty to hire someone Koch likes, or else risk losing a lot of money that could cause a faculty position to be eliminated.

The other interesting thing about this Clemson donation: $1 million isn't very much money to sustain a highly paid business scholar, because business faculty are often incredibly overpaid. That's why the named professorship is really only a rental for 6 years. After that, the name goes away. The university is still obligated to keep the faculty member they hired and keep them under the normal tenure procedures. In fact, under the university rules, they have to keep the faculty member even if the Koch foundation objects and pulls its funding after a year.

So really, the university has taken upon itself a massive financial cost for the long-term, with only a fraction paid for by the foundation, and given the foundation a lot of influence in return. If Clemson University is going to sell out its faculty to the highest bidder, it ought to be asking for a lot more money than this.

Clemson needs to change its faculty manual to remove the influence of wealthy donors on the hiring process. It needs to prohibit ideological criteria in any donor agreement. And it needs to set a priority that named faculty chairs are paid for up front and in full, and not rented out by right-wing foundations who want to influence the hiring process without actually providing full support for the position.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

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