University Gifts with Strings Attached

Political groups and corporations have long used donations to fund targeted academic positions and research centers that will presumably support their agendas.  These practices frequently present ethical dilemmas and potential conflicts of interest within departments and universities.

Endowments and other donations seem to be proliferating recently, even as public financing of higher education dissipates, threatening to undermine academic integrity at some universities.  Especially threatening are gifts with strings attached to them.

NPR now reports on several egregious cases of political gifts to universities that have involved direct influence in faculty hiring decisions and curricular construction.  These cases represent serious threats to the principles of academic freedom and public education.

Florida State University, for example, apparently accepted a major gift from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, a conservative organization that has supported the controversial plan to strip public workers’ collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin.  According to NPR, “recently released details show the university gave the Charles Koch Foundation a role in hiring decisions, in exchange for a big grant.”

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