Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Koch brouhaha--My take

I went all Boudreaux on the Koch controversy in Florida, published an op ed today in the Tallahassee Democrat, link here but behind paywall. But you, lucky KPC reader, get it fast, fresh, and free!

Koch brouhaha is hardly news in academia

Florida’s universities, and media, are in an uproar about the Koch Foundation’s “strings” on grants to FSU’s Economics Department. But I’m not sure why.

As chair of Duke’s Political Science Department for the past ten years, I have competed for dozens of grants, large and small. And I have dealt with the reporting requirements of funders including the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and George Soros’ “Open Society.”

These organizations, not surprisingly, want to make sure their money is spent legally and fruitfully. But the media has been shocked that "information on publications, presentations, courses taught, students supervised and outreach activities'' was to be provided by recipients of Koch grants.

Look: that’s boiler plate. It’s essentially the same requirements that are imposed on any operating grant I have ever dealt with. There are two kinds of grants: endowment and operating. Endowment contributions go to a university’s investment principal, and all that can be spent is the income from that principal. In 1995, Yale returned $20 million to the Bass family, when the donors wanted control over hiring tenured professors. Princeton finally settled—in 2008—a lengthy lawsuit brought by the Robertson family over a $900 million endowment for support for the Woodrow Wilson School. Universities generally reject strings on endowment gifts.

But operating gifts are different. Most foundations give operating gifts exclusively. Endowment gifts produce investment returns, while operating gifts are spent directly. If I get $100,000 to spend on my Philosophy, Politics, and Economics program at Duke, then I spend the whole $100,000 during the term of the grant.

And then I have to file an annual report. How was the money spent? Was it effective? What is the evidence that it had an impact? How can I justify a future renewal of this money? Operating contributions come with strings, because they are spent directly, and then evaluated immediately.

I grew up in Central Florida, and still feel a strong kinship with the state. Full disclosure, though: I accepted operating contributions from the Koch Foundation last year. We used it to bring in outside speakers, including a New York Times columnist and an expert on economic development in Africa, for my classes in the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program at Duke University.

There were strings. As one condition of the grant, we distributed questionnaires to find out if students thought the speakers added learning value to the class. I did not have to get permission from Charles Koch, mind you. What the Foundation wanted to know was whether the students, the customers if you will, thought that the money was well spent, in terms of their own individual educational goals.

And well spent it was. I had 60 students, and got the highest evaluations I have ever received. The chance to have in a variety of experts, with direct experience to challenge students from across the ideological spectrum, was an enormous help.

I have studied the grant process used by the FSU economics department. There was nothing unusual, or underhanded, about what went on in Tallahassee. The funds were operating donations funds, not endowment. But I am concerned, as a long time Florida resident, about the media maelstrom. Why is it that even a hint of real intellectual diversity--the kind that represents differences in ideas--is seen as being so problematic at our state universities?

Michael C. Munger, PhD
Professor of Political Science, Economics, and Public Policy
Director, Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program
Duke University

For an alternative view, see (for example) the DK....

For Don Luskin's view, see the WSJ article...


Frank Hill said...

Hear. Hear! Professor Munger!

I spoke at Chapel Hill (one of my alma maters, Dook being the other) this spring on 'Civil Discourse' at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities.

I was second choice, behind my former boss, Congressman Alex McMillan (NC-9) who served from 1985-1995.

the reason? 'We could not think of anyone else to call if you had not accepted, Frank!'

Like I was the only other person other than Alex McMillan who was from the 'non-liberal' side of the spectrum....in the entire STATE!

So, now I call institutes of higher learning 'hemiversities' until and unless they can tell me they are balanced in their presentation of all views, like a 'uni'versity is supposed to be doing.

Even the IAH at UNC-CH admits they need more diversity in ideas and perspectives...and, yes, that includes views from conservatives, libertarians and maybe even some Marvin Martian types among us.

What is the big threat to smart young people to be able to hear from every corner of the intellectual spectrum in the vaunted classrooms of academia in America today?

Anonymous said...

I thought the main concern was extent to which the Koch Foundation was demanding a say in the hiring of tenured faculty. While the issues you discuss above have in fact been raised as concerns by some in the past, Koch's insistence that faculty members be cleared by them on ideological grounds does seem to go a step further, doesn't it?

Mr. Overwater said...

The points raised by Anonymous 11:15 AM, May 31, 2011 are what I'm wondering as well.

The hullabaloo is about whether the Kochs have/had influence on hiring decisions. When Munger says, "There was nothing unusual, or underhanded, about what went on in Tallahassee," do you mean that the Kochs didn't have any influence on hiring or that you don't mind that they did influence hiring decisions?

I wasn't able to read the WSJ article because it's gated.

Unknown said...

Its interesting we don't hear whining when the Feds...ie DOT and DOE place requirements before returning OUR money to us.

Keep up the good work...

Mungowitz said...

Um... I actually found the "influence" claims too far-fetched even to be plausible.

Look, there was a hiring committee, composed of 3 people. 2 of them were FSU Econ faculty. They made recommendations, which the Department could then vote up or down.

CGKF had a role in choosing the committee, sure. But the FSU faculty endorsed the process. And it was the FACULTY who had the veto power, the hiring committee is merely advisory.

Faculty hiring committees are usually composed of hand-picked defenders of orthodoxy and the status quo. They have enormous influence. If you want to open up the process by getting rid of those narrow gate-keeper committees, okay.

But your objection seems to be that this particular committee might have chosen someone from outside the orthodox elite! Even if that's true, though, the Department still had to accept the recommendation. They could easily say no.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how on the one hand you say "the hiring committee is merely advisory" and then "They have enormous influence"

I understand the point of your letter is that these grants always come with stipulations, but doesn't this seem way out of the ordinary?

Anonymous said...


I believe you are conflating Munger's statement about usual hiring committees with the advisory committee. The typical hiring committee can be enormously influential and this advisor committee (with veto power) not be.

Anonymous said...

"People need to think critically, cause the right wingers are buying the professors. You won't get economics; you'll get Koch's ideology at a tax payer funded school."

How odd. Sometimes hiring committees make hires on the basis of ideology. What's the difference?

As well, all of these candidates presumably are qualified - i.e. have PhDs, evidence of scholarly and teaching potential, etc. So what's the problem?

Frank Hill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank Hill said...

In response to 'Anonymous' (I don't normally respond to anyone who doesn't have the guts to reveal their identity on such chats unless they can prove to me they are really and truly 'Batman', 'Spiderman' or 'Superman' and there is a good reason why their names can't be used), but I am curious as to why it is only 'right-wingers who are buying professors'

does it stand to reason that in a liberal legislative body that perhaps the liberal legislators are 'buying liberal professors' and withholding funding to the state institutions of higher learning with all of our taxpayers' money unless they hire liberal professors?

I'd be content if only 40% of the state university funding went to conservative economics professors, for example, based on a comparable percentage of registered conservative voters on the state election lists.

That might be a fair way to do it?