Saturday, January 17, 2015

Curmie Flashbacks: Florida State and Mustang

Curmie contenders don’t ever seem to go away. Already in 2015 there have been two stories relating to previous Curmie Award contestants.

On January 10, the Tallahassee Democrat published an op-ed by Lakey, outlining the further adventures of the Charles Koch Foundation in attempting to infiltrate and essentially buy the Economics Department at Florida State University. (The essay was subsequently expanded and published by the FSU Progress Coalition, and then picked up by the Crooks and Liars website.)

Charles Koch, the de facto head of Florida State University.
Curmie first wrote about this ongoing saga back in May of 2011 in a piece called “Koch Whore.” I picked up the story again briefly a week later, comparing my responses to those of Stanley Fish in an essay entitled “Academic Freedom: What It Is and Isn’t.” Dean David Rasmussen was then nominated for the inaugural Curmie Award “for allowing Charles Koch’s foundation to have veto power over faculty hires in exchange for a grant, then claiming there are no repercussions to his program’s academic integrity as a result.” Rasmussen finished second in the balloting that year—to the Kentucky teacher who punished a 9-year-old autistic child by shoving him into a bag intended to store gym balls.

In summing up Rasmussen’s performance, Curmie wrote:
Second-place finisher, and therefore de facto winner of the unofficial Curmie: Higher Education Division award, is David W. Rasmussen, the Dean of the College of Social Sciences at Florida State University, who tried to justify his decision to allow representatives of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation to have veto power over faculty hires in exchange for a substantial grant. His argument that “it seems to me it would have been irresponsible not to do it” proves he is utterly devoid of the ethical sensibility we ought to require of our educational leaders in particular.
And now, the situation is even worse, notably because of the fast-tracked appointment of John Thrasher as President at Florida State. As is too often the case of late (see: Glenn McConnell at the College of Charleston, Mitch Daniels at Purdue [Daniels had either appointed or re-appointed every Trustee who voted for him to get the gig!], John Sharp at Texas A&M, among others), Thrasher had no experience in education whatsoever at the time he got the job. What mattered to the politically-appointed Trustees was that he was a minion of Jeb Bush, and that he would be beholden to the right (get it, right?) reactionary ideologies and wealthy donors (or prospective donors). Academic freedom? What’s that?

According to Ray Bellamy and Kent S. Miller, a Faculty Senate committee reviewed the terms of FSU’s renunciation of academic integrity agreement with the Charles Koch Foundation and made some common-sense recommendations:
no more donor-funding hiring until a number of provisions are modified; the FSU Foundation should review its policies regarding gifts and update documents if necessary to ensure the autonomy and integrity of university’s academic mission; and review the role of the faculty in shared governance and primary responsibility of the faculty for the curriculum.

These guidelines seem to have been ignored. It is clear that the Koch Foundation both wants and receives veto power in hiring decisions. Both they and their ass-kissers at FSU are too clever to make that explicit, of course. But it is difficult to argue with Lakey’s analysis:
The 2013 contract says that the selection of Professorship Positions must go through normal university processes of hire but before the hire takes place the information on the candidate must be put past CKF and CKF is under no obligation “to provide funding” to their selection. This means that CKF still has veto power over who gets hired in the department with their money. It doesn’t take much to realize that this means the department must put forward someone CKF approves in order to get the position funded.  [Emphasis in original.]
Lakey also points out another part of the scam:
The Charles Koch Foundation offers funding for five professor positions but only funds these tenure-track positions for 5 to 6 years. That is exactly the amount of time it takes to gain tenure. At the time of tenure, CKF funding disappears and the 2013 agreement mandates that FSU agree “to assume full responsibility for the continued maintenance and funding of the Professorship Positions.” In other words, Charles Koch Foundation puts their people in and then the taxpayers are required to keep them until their tenure expires. Five years of CKF funding to guarantee a lifetime taxpayer position. What? This sounds a lot like stacking influence at taxpayer expense to me.
Sounds that way to me, too, Lakey. Of course, the power elite at FSU have long since stopped paying any attention to anyone not in their echo chamber—not to faculty, not to students, not to alumni, not to the general public. (There’s more on the broader story here and here. They care about two things and two things only: helping their wealthy friends and winning football games (even if their quarterback is more likely than not a rapist).

And so we move on to the great state of Oklahoma, where Hobby Lobby CEO and all-around asshole Steve Green tried last year to get an absurdly unconstitutional course on Bible approved for public schools. He probably violated state law to do it, but the leadership of the Mustang school district decided to buy into his little scheme to use public funds to proselytize high school students.

Curmie wrote about the… ahem… unholy alliance between and Mustang schools in April of last year. A follow-up on the illegalities involved came in July. The Mustang hierarchy earned (Dis)Honorable Mention status in the 4th Annual Curmie Awards.

And now comes word that an idiot Oklahoma Republican legislator (apologies for the multiple redundancies) has proposed a bill which would protect school districts from liability for… you know… blatantly violating the Constitution and “providing an elective course in the study of religion or the Bible.”

State Senator Kyle Loveless would have us believe that he believes in the separation of Church and state, but:
“I don’t see anything wrong (a provision) that gives local school districts the ability to study the historical aspects of the Bible. That’s my reasoning for the bill. It is not a forced class and this would not be a ‘Sunday School’ type course. We are not endorsing one religion over the other.”
With all due respect, Senator, that’s utter bullshit and you know it. I won’t say that no one would object to a course that really looked at the Bible in historical context or as a work of literature. I wouldn't, but I won't speak for others.  But surely you aren’t stupid enough to believe (or to expect the rest of us to believe) you’re not looking to sell one particular religion.

After all, Senator, you admit… or proclaim… or whatever that this bill was prompted by what happened in the Mustang district last year, and the textbook describes God as “eternal, “faithful and good,” “full of love” and “an ever-present help in times of trouble.” “When humanity ignores or disobeys his rules, it has to suffer the consequences,” it proclaims. Yeah, that certainly doesn’t sound like it’s promoting religion, unless you can, you know, read.

Luckily, state legislators don’t get to re-write or even re-interpret the U.S. Constitution according to their whim. I can’t imagine that we’ll see that course any time soon. The Koch addiction at FSU is the far greater threat.

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