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Academic freedom for sale ... cheap

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opinion Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Billionaires are different from you and me for obvious reasons, including the fact that they buy much pricier baubles than we do.

A sleek car costing $100,000? Why that's just an impulse purchase. A few million bucks for a Matisse original? Go ahead -- it'll liven up the hallway. How about throwing a fat wad of cash at a university to get an academic chair named for you? Sure, it's all a part of living in BillionaireLand.

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Then there are megalomaniacal mega-billionaires like the Koch brothers. Using money from their industrial conglomerate, their foundation, and their personal fortunes, these two far-out, laissez-faire extremists are literally buying public policy. Their purchases of everything from politicians to the tea party help them push the privatization of all things public and the elimination of pesky regulations and taxes that crimp their style.

To advance their plutocratic cause, Charles Koch has gone on a shopping spree for an invaluable bauble that most of us didn't even know was for sale: academic freedom. And it's surprisingly cheap.

For only $1.5 million, this Koch brother bought a big chunk of the economics department of Florida State University. His donation gives him control of a new "academic" program at this public institution to indoctrinate students in his self-serving political theories. The billionaire gets to screen all applicants, veto any he deems insufficiently ideological, and sign off on all hires. Also, the department head must submit yearly reports to Koch about the faculty's speeches, publications, and classes, and he evaluates the faculty based on "objectives" that he sets.

Charles has made similar purchases of academic freedom at other schools, including West Virginia University. Imagine the screams of outrage we'd hear if a labor union were doing this.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer and public speaker. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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