The promise of higher education is based in several democratic principles, including academic freedom, faculty governance, evidence-based, peer-reviewed scholarship, integrity, and transparency. It is the role of universities to disseminate and advance knowledge, to support and sustain ground breaking, cutting edge research, and to teach our students how to be critical, creative, innovative, and independent thinkers, citizens, and leaders. To do this, protecting academic freedom is essential. As the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure states:
Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. 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. It carries with it duties correlative with rights.
It is incumbent upon faculty, administration, and students to support and defend academic freedom in order to meet the goals of higher education and critical inquiry. Florida State University’s Statement on Academic Freedom (largely based on the AAUP 1940 Statement) recognizes this:
It is the policy of Florida State University to maintain and encourage full freedom, within the law, of inquiry, discourse, teaching, research, and publication, and to protect members of the academic staff against influences, from within or without the University, that would restrict them in the exercise of this freedom in areas of scholarly interest.
State legislatures have cut higher education funding over the last decade, which has led to an increase in private funding. To protect academic freedom and sustain faculty governance, that funding must not come with strings attached, including hiring and curriculum decisions or other demands based solely on the ideological motivations of the funding organization. Undue outside influence on academic and hiring decisions violates the principles of higher education that we hold so dear.
Documents recently made public reveal that the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF) has signed agreements with universities that seek inappropriate influence over faculty hires and curriculum. These agreements further the agenda of the CKF at the expense of the mission of the University. The Chair of Florida State University’s Department of Economics wrote of the 2008 FSU-CKF proposed agreement:
These organizations have an explicit agenda. They want to expose students to what they believe are vital concepts about the benefits of the market and the dangers of government failure, and they want to support and mentor students who share their views. Therefore, they are trying to convince us to hire faculty who will provide that exposure and mentoring. If we are not willing to hire such faculty, they are not willing to fund us.
Such agreements violate academic freedom and pose a threat to shared governance. As Rudy Fichtenbaum, President of the American Association of University Professors, stated in 2013:
[T]he agreement with Florida State allowed the foundation to appoint a committee to determine the pool of candidates—and to withdraw its funding if it was unhappy with the final decision. These conditions make a mockery of shared governance and academic freedom, since faculty search committees know that the wrong choice will result in a loss of funding. […] Arrangements involving earmarked donations like these present a clear threat to academic freedom.
For these reasons, Florida State University should take immediate action to insure that all existing and future contracts with private donors, including the Charles Koch Foundation, are transparent and meet the standards for academic freedom, integrity, and faculty governance. Instituting a faculty-led review process of donor agreements and clear, transparent policies regarding what donors can and cannot expect regarding hiring and curriculum decisions would help to prevent violations of the fundamental tenets of higher education.