For full disclosure, Students For Liberty receives support from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
Early last month, there began a miniature media storm regarding the terms of a 2008 agreement between Florida State University and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, whereby the Foundation offered a $1.5 million grant to fund two new programs in the economics department: the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise and Excellence in Economics Education.
Critics of the grant cite multiple “strings” attached to it and ultimately equate the agreement to a “take over [of] education” by “billionaires and corporations.” Their main grievance? That the university and the foundation must agree on new hires to fill the professorships that the grant funds.
Some might call these supposed “strings” terms of agreement. Others might point out that a voluntary accord between two consenting parties is anything but a “take over” of academic freedom. Still others might say that a donor is entitled to choose for what purpose his funds are used, and that either party in any negotiation is free to say “no” if the terms are unacceptable.
But not in this case.
What’s more, the tremendous, positive impact that these programs have had on students is also ignored. Andrea Castillo, an economics major at FSU and SFL member, published an Op Ed in The Gainsville Sun, sharing her experiences:
“We learned about the ideas of thinkers such as Locke, Hume, Rand, Smith, Marx, and Hayek, and we were encouraged to debate their relative strengths and weaknesses. The final assignment prompted students to use what we’d learned and think critically about capitalism’s various strengths and weaknesses.”
“Some have called economics ‘the dismal science,’ but my studies at FSU have been simultaneously enriching and, believe it or not, fun. Indeed, the experience caused me to fall in love with learning again…”
Read her entire commentary here.
Other students have launched a new campus organization at FSU: Students for Diversity in Education. Their mission is to, “support the FSU economics department and their decision to … support a diverse curriculum at FSU.” They argue:
“It is obvious that this attack on FSU and its economics department is ideologically driven. The people attacking us only began to care about the donation after the politicization of the donor.”
Check out their new website here.
Universities are meant to be forums for the free exchange of ideas. How is the introduction of two new, optional programs an affront to that ideal? Doesn’t it stand to reason that if there is deeper exploration of a broad array of ideas, the exchange will be richer? Won’t good ideas win out and the bad ones lose in rational discourse? Or are those opposed to this agreement so insecure as to the validity of their own ideas that the only way to challenge any “dissent” is to silence it with politically-motivated ad hominem attacks?
The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation provides support to students and universities all over the world. As the support of the FSU Students for Diversity in Education shows, these programs are incredibly valuable and contribute to the marketplace of ideas. Politically motivated attacks on these programs serve, not to forward the cause of academic freedom, but to hinder it for all involved.