Florida State University's president is on his way out, and students are naturally concerned about what the departure might mean for their school. Except this time, the leadership transition also involves questions about the influence of oh, you know, conservative billionaire and Possibly the Most Reviled Political Donor in America Charles Koch.
Koch, who in conjunction with his brother David has (in)famously pumped more than $100 million into reprehensible right-wing causes, particularly those aimed explicitly at bringing down President Obama or supporting union-killing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (Koch has also, to be fair, given generously to some actual good causes such as museums), first set his sights on FSU in 2008 when he donated $1.5 million to the school's economics department. There was a stipulation that the Koch Foundation would assume a large degree of control over the curriculum and appointment of professors. In other words, straight up money for intellectual influence -- and FSU, despite being funded by the State of Florida, was desperate enough to take the bait.
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In 2011, details of the agreement came out -- to appropriate outrage -- and the university revised the deal to tamp down the billionaire's control. But now that president Eric Barron is leaving for a new position at Penn State, a group of students says Koch's potential influence sits like "an elephant in the room" at Florida State. They are concerned anew about their university's academic integrity.
Writing in the Tallahassee Democrat, four FSU students -- Jerry Funt, Gladys Nobriga, Lissa Reed, and Ralph Wilson -- put the question to new FSU administration: Now that Barron is leaving, and with many provisions of the original 2008 agreement still in place, "How will Florida State ensure that multimillion-dollar grants from Kansas billionaire Charles Koch won't warp our education?"
"In our haste to fulfill fundraising goals," the students write, "we must not allow our administrators to sell our university's academic freedom. As students striving to live by the Florida State seal of Vires, Artes, and Mores -- strength, skill, and character -- we'd rather not surrender our character just to serve Charles Koch. Our impartiality is more valuable than his money."