By Andrea Castillo, JMI Intern & Florida State University Senior Majoring in Economics 
Originally Printed in The Gainesville Sun as “FSU’s Bizarre Koch ‘Scandal’” on May 27, 2011Bizarre: It’s the word that I believe best describes the brouhaha over the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation’s controversial grant to Florida State University (FSU), where I’m an undergraduate majoring in economics. This controversy seems even more bizarre if you lean toward a free-market school of thought, as I do. That’s the perspective from which I have viewed the publicity and unfair criticism that FSU and its Economics Department have endured in recent weeks. What many critics don’t realize is that what one observer might call “undue corporate influence in education” is what I’d call “a coveted academic opportunity.” That’s why I’d like to share some of my personal reflections in an effort to ensure that all viewpoints can be considered.While most of the discussion I’ve seen concerns the Koch Foundation grant, some commentators also have cited donations from other sources, including the BB&T Program of Free Enterprise, as further evidence of FSU’s “guilt.” Having participated in the BB&T-funded course, I feel that FSU was definitely correct in accepting a donation to create this course, “Market Ethics: the Virtues, Vices, and Values of Capitalism.” The course is very popular among undergraduates because of its discussion-oriented lectures and genuinely interesting subject matter.Indeed, class discussions were so thought-provoking that by the end of the semester, guest observers started to show up to listen. We learned about the ideas of thinkers such as Locke, Hume, Rand, Smith, Marx, and Hayek, and we were encouraged to debate their relative strengths and weaknesses. The final assignment prompted students to use what we’d learned and think critically about capitalism’s various strengths and weaknesses.During the spring semester, I was fortunate enough to be selected for a scholarship program funded through a different grant. Each semester, approximately 10 students are chosen. They meet regularly to discuss economic research. Later in the semester, the economists who authored this research visit FSU and discuss their work. As someone who hopes to attend graduate school and eventually produce economic research, I looked forward to each visit and tried to learn from each economist’s approach. I feel that the opportunity that I had to engage with economists in a small and informal setting was invaluable.In addition to these two programs and a full array of courses, FSU’s Economics Department also offers its undergraduates a wide range of other kinds of activities, thereby setting it apart from the economics programs at most other universities. For instance, FSU’s Economics Club has rapidly grown to than 150 students. A new Certificate in Markets and Institutions was recently introduced to meet the growing demand. And when the department sponsors a lecture, students know that they need to arrive early to find a seat.Some have called economics “the dismal science,” but my studies at FSU have been simultaneously enriching and — believe it or not – fun. Indeed, the experience caused me to fall in love with learning again – something I never expected while slogging through various liberal arts requirements.Bottom line: FSU’s Economics Department is unique in several ways. That’s why I was moved to write an article describing my experiences. Every day I feel privileged to be learning from such knowledgeable professors while participating in enrichment programs made possible through various philanthropic grants. Because FSU has such a fantastic economics department, it’s about time that someone stood up and said so. I spoke up knowing that many of my fellow students share my disappointment with the inordinate public reaction to Koch grant.Indeed, we FSU students derive great benefits from programs such as these. Moreover, most of us frankly can’t understand what the fuss is all about. Meanwhile, we worry that our education is being politicized for partisan reasons. Few of us believe that there is any reason for the sudden media coverage of the Koch grant other than the name of the donor. Although I understand that there can be legitimate concerns about the level of donor oversight in relation to any grant, those issues simply aren’t a problem in this situation. FSU’s Economics Department had a strong free-market presence before receiving the Koch donation, and it would have continued with or without that donation.Therefore, it is my fervent hope that fair-minded observers will put aside partisanship and allow FSU’s Economics Department to continue receiving funding that enriches and improves its students’ education.