Koch Foundation involved in some USU employees’ hiring processes

The hiring of faculty is a process generally reserved for members of public universities. Critics of the Charles G. Koch Foundation, however, say the foundation has used the grants it gives universities as a way to buy a say in which professors are hired. The controversial Charles G. Koch Foundation has given at least $625,000 to Utah State University’s Huntsman School of Business to date since 2007. The money has been used to hire several faculty members as well as to establish the Koch Scholars program for undergraduates. Accusations that universities such as USU are violating academic integrity and freedom of process have been made because these universities accept the Koch Foundation’s terms when they accept the associated funds. The accusations, as voiced in the St. Petersburg Times and Alternet.org, have come to public attention after Florida State University accepted more than $1 million from the Koch Foundation on the condition the foundation would have a part in approving publications and hiring professors. USU’s Huntsman School of Business hired three assistant professors with the funds: Diana Thomas, Scott Findley and Tyler Brough. Randy Simmons, professor of economics, said he also receives a salary supplement from the foundation. Simmons said they each receive a salary supplement over a period of 5 years. The foundation pays a one-fifth to a quarter of these salaries, depending on the faculty member, and the university pays the rest, Simmons said. Part of the grant stipulates those who receive salary supplements will have to go find another source for those funds once those funds end. Simmons said he sought out the salary supplement money from the foundation in the form of a grant when the business school split off the economics department several years ago. “We wanted to be able to have high quality hires consistent with general focus of this department, which is free trades and free markets, and to increase our academic abilities,” Simmons said. After the economics department advertised and interviewed for these job positions, they went back to the foundation with their selections to see if they met the foundation’s requirements to be supplemented, Simmons said. While the foundation does not pick the initial applicants, they had the final say in who’s hired if the university wants the funding, Simmons said. In other words, the foundation can choose to withdraw its funding if it’s not pleased with the chosen applicants or if the hires don’t meet the given objectives. Simmons said the foundation is interested in faculty who value free market, and that there’s no ideological test. The Koch Foundation gave the school of business a document outlining the foundation’s expectations which states,”The purpose of the support for the professors is to advance the understanding and practice of those free voluntary processes and principles that promote social progress, human well-being, individual freedom, opportunity and prosperity based on the rule of law, constitutional government, private property and the laws, regulations, organizations, institutions and social norms upon which they rely. These goals will be pursued by supplementing the academic talent currently at USU to create a strong program that will focus on building upon and expanding research and teaching efforts related to individual freedom, social progress and human well-being. The parties seek to strengthen the foundation that exists at USU and extend efforts related to the research, publication, education, dissemination and continued academic and public appreciation of individual freedom, social progress and human well being.” John DeVilbiss, Executive Director of Public Relations and Marketing at USU, said, “We are not aware of any other foundations giving to the university with specific hiring-funding stipulations.” Besides being made the exception out of the foundations that donate to the university, the Koch Foundation also seems to be violating university policy and procedure. “We do have a university policy specifying that faculty members are hired solely from a search committee composed of faculty and pertinent administrators with final approval by the provost, president and trustees,” DeVilbiss continued. “Ultimately, it is the university, composed of faculty and pertinent administrators, that make the final decision and have the final say in the hiring of all faculty.” This is true according to the USU Hiring Process FAQ. A search committee forwards the names of acceptable candidates to the department head, dean or vice president who makes the hiring decision. Also explained in this USU document is who can be a member of a hiring committee, and thus it is assumed who cannot, such as non-university entities. The document states “students, non-USU employees, the exiting employee, etc. can certainly be included if those individuals are capable of ascertaining minimum and preferred qualifications. Each committee member’s vote will have equal value. Diversity in gender and ethnicity among the committee members is preferred.” Another potential violation of the Koch Foundation’s hand in faculty hiring at USU is that those who are not official members of the hiring committee, as defined above, should not have access to the information of applicants. The USU document states: “We want any qualified individual to feel comfortable about applying for a position at Utah State University. We believe that respecting the privacy of those individuals is paramount. Hiring committees are given a charge of confidentiality. Individuals who are not official members of hiring committees should not have access to any pre-interview information.” Academic freedom is threatened at another level, according to recent criticisms. Since faculties are hired on specific ideological criteria as determined by the Koch Foundation, critics say the foundation has in essence determined what will be taught in the classroom. According to the Utah System of Higher Education policy on academic freedom, R481 3.3, “The institutions are operated for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual faculty member or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition. Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning.” Simmons said the foundation does not tell the hired professors what to teach. “We select the teachers who will become Koch professors based on their ability to meet the needs of our students and further the goals of the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business,” Simmons defends. “Whenever there is private money donated to help support the students, there are expectations that come with that funding. Donors give all the time to universities for a particular purpose, and to assume there is a strict separation between them and the school is naive.” Jon Huntsman, for example, expects that the school of business will be shaping ethical leaders that can compete with the graduates of any business school, Simmons said. Troy Oldham, who has been teaching marketing classes for the school of business at USU since 2009, said he doesn’t see the foundation’s hand in hiring faculty as a bad thing. “There’s not a lot of difference than a professor who is doing outside consulting. I don’t see the difference when faculty do things like outside publishing and research. Money flows to the university from all kinds of agendas,” Oldham said. Simmons similarly said, “When the goals of our friends mesh well with our own stated direction, we welcome their support. The Koch guidelines give us great flexibility to hire professors who bring diverse views and skills to the table.”

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