A faculty review of a controversial donor contract has concluded the obvious: Florida State University jeopardized its academic autonomy and violated some of its own rules when it signed a 2008 deal with the Charles G. Koch Foundation to obtain a mere $1.5 million for the economics department over six years. FSU president Eric Barron's belated but full acknowledgement of as much Friday is welcome. The university now has an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to academic integrity.
The contract's unusual provisions, brought to light in early May by the St. Petersburg Times' Kris Hundley, gave the foundation's advisory board veto power over who could be hired for the economics department with the foundation's money. It also gave that same board input into whether those faculty members would be retained.
A Faculty Senate committee that reviewed the contract at Barron's request said it was confident that the two hires under the agreement, in practice, were appropriately governed by the faculty and not unduly influenced by the Koch Foundation. But the committee — made up of four former faculty senate presidents and former FSU president Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte — agreed with critics that if the contract's provisions were followed there was the potential for undue influence.
The committee also criticized less publicized provisions in the contract that sought to influence the department's curriculum toward Koch's libertarian philosophy. That often wasn't disclosed clearly to other economics faculty members or students. For example, the contract required the creation of a "morals and ethics in economic systems" class that would teach the work of Ayn Rand. The class moved through the approval process without clear indication that its creation and its syllabus were donor-prescribed.
Incredulously, FSU leaders — including Barron who joined the university after the contract was signed — did not initially acknowledge that the university had all but sold influence in the economics department's operation for a paltry sum. But as more details became public in May, Barron requested the faculty review, and on Friday he ordered various campus leaders to take its recommendations to heart. It's the right direction, even if it took two months to get there.