“This sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory.” Said Ms. Lakey, a graduate assistant at FSU and PR Chair for UFF-FSU Graduates Assistants United, as she explained the reasons behind the Reset The Search campaign. Reset the Search is a coalition of various student groups, both graduate and undergraduate, that is intent on restructuring the process by which FSU’s presidents are selected.
Currently, the group responsible for selecting the next president, the Presidential Search Advisory Committee or PSAC, is made up of 26% students and faculty, and 64% corporate, political, and other interests, according to the Reset The Search group. Reset The Search was formed to push for a restructuring of the PSAC so that it is 1/3 student, 1/3 faculty, and 1/3 others to ensure the next president is selected in a fair manner. Under the current conditions, Lakey likens the possibility of getting a president who is loyal to FSU to proving an African American innocent in a Jim Crow era court. She believes it just isn’t going to happen.
So then, where’s the conspiracy? According to Lakey and others behind Reset The Search, it begins with the legislation going on in Florida through the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is non-partisan, non-profit organization. ALEC is heavily funded by corporations (notably, the Koch Brothers) and often meets with legislators. With the legislation they’ve pushed, working with Rick Scott, funding for secondary education has dropped 41%. This leaves universities intentionally vulnerable and increasingly open to outside funds.
Enter the Koch Brothers, billionaire industrialists who together are worth more than Bill Gates. Koch and their affiliated foundations give funds to 15 colleges and universities in the state of Florida, and 357 across the nation. Recently, they’ve offered millions of dollars to
FSU’s school of economics, in return they have say in who is hired and what is taught, pushing their economic views such as a radical free market with no government regulations and climate change denial. And they’d have the ability to withdraw their funds. “We’re not against corporate donations, in fact we need them,” says Lakey. What has people angry is not the fact of corporate funding, it’s the supposed loss of academic freedom in an attempt by companies to buy out Universities to peddle their views. It’s the president who makes these deals and signs off on these contracts, so a president who is more loyal to a company or a brand of politics rather than the University is a danger to a University’s standing and academic honor.
William Funk and his firm were in charge of seeking out candidates for the presidential slot. An end came to his search when he found State Sen. John Thrasher, who has worked extensively with ALEC and is head of Rick Scott’s re-election campaign. William Funk decided that no other candidates should be considered and that Thrasher should be placed above all other applicants. A victory for Reset The Search came when the PSAC voted ‘no confidence’ in William Funk’s decision. Funk and his firm resigned from the job shortly thereafter, and doubts were raise about Senator Thrasher, though a vote to remove Thrasher from the candidate pool recently failed, so he still could be FSU’s next president.
The fight is far from over. The deadline for making the decision of who will be president has been has been pushed to the end of September, and the ones making the decision are not majority students or faculty. “It’s like they took the milk chocolate off a Snickers and put dark chocolate on it instead. Yes it’s different, but it’s still a Snickers.” Said Lakey. And so, Reset the Search continues to push for fair student and faculty representation, in order to ensure that the next president of FSU is one who will serve FSU and academic freedom rather than be a corporate puppet.
by ROBERT COCANOUGHER / contributing writer