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FSU faculty group plans review of Koch deal

TALLAHASSEE — Stung by widespread criticism of its unusual contract with a conservative billionaire donor, Florida State University has turned to its faculty for guidance on avoiding such a fiasco in the future.

On Monday, a group of faculty leaders planned their approach for a review of the university's contract with the Charles G. Koch Foundation, which gives the foundation the right to screen candidates for two positions in FSU's economics department in return for $1.5 million over six years.

FSU President Eric Barron, who requested the review, was not in office when the contract was signed, but has defended it. In a May 17 e-mail, he asked members of the faculty senate steering committee to examine issues surrounding the agreement and its implementation "to ensure that the integrity of Florida State University was protected."

The arrangement, signed in 2008, is believed to be the only one of its kind and has been slammed as an attack on academic freedom. University hiring is traditionally the purview of faculty and administrators and off-limits to outside influences.

There are no rules granting leaders of the faculty senate, the body typically responsible for academic programs and curriculum, a review of donations that come with academic demands.

The group hasn't taken an adverse position to the contract, but leaders mulled a policy Monday that calls for small, ad hoc faculty committees to review academic implications of some gifts.

"What we realize now is that there may be some proposals that require an even more formal outside faculty review," said Eric Walker, English professor and past faculty senate president.

Walker, a member of the faculty senate's steering committee when the arrangement was finalized, said he doesn't remember a discussion of the Koch contract.

Barron often likens the arrangement in the economics department to a Beethoven scenario, said Sandra Lewis, current faculty senate president. In a meeting last week, she said he used this example: If someone were endowing a chair in Beethoven studies, and wanted you to be sure there were Beethoven scholars and Beethoven classes, is that the same as wanting a free market economy program as part of the economics degree?

She hopes the yet-to-be-appointed committee will complete its review by mid July.

Dr. Raymond Bellamy, an orthopedic surgeon and adjunct FSU College of Medicine professor, authored a critical op-ed for the Tallahassee Democrat and said he thought the Senate would recommend the Koch relationship be severed. "They'd put an end to all this mess if they establish a policy that these donor arrangements are transparent and that, in the future, outsiders not have any role in hiring faculty," he said.

Katie Sanders can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or ksanders@sptimes.com.

FSU faculty group plans review of Koch deal 05/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 10:54am]
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