Koch without Koch at UVM?


John Summa, Ph.D. , who was denied reappointment after 8 years of teaching at UVM. Stop the Purge Campaign (Winter, 2017). A new faculty position advertised at UVM seeks an economist who will be a booster of unfettered Wall Street.

Going into month four of unemployment with no hope in sight, but applying weekly for economics positions anywhere and everywhere, today I find a “recommended job” from Monster.com. Close to home, in fact. The job title suggests the position is above my rank, but not my training, as I lean in for a closer look at this position for Associate Professor of Financial Economics, my speciality. That’s when I nearly burst out laughing, thinking this must be a parody of Koch brothers invading UVM, like Calvin penetrating any orifice it can find in the recent Hollywood B-movie, Life. But this was not a parody. This was no joke. Indeed, as one veteran economist quipped when I shared the job listing with him: “I’m appalled.”

As is happening across the country in one institution of higher learning after another, big money is backing an ultra free-markets ideological agenda. Now UVM seems to be joining the chorus, which seems rather out of step with its liberal image (but not actual behavior). As the UVM job description made clear,  “THE UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT, Grossman School of Business (www.bsad.uvm.edu) invites applications for a newly created position, the Pizzagalli Chair in Free Enterprise. The endowed chair will have a mandate to educate individuals in, and to promote, basic concepts of free enterprise, business competition, limited government, capitalism and self-reliance” (taken from UVM’s job listings, with my emphasis).

I immediately thought of my public records request that led to UVM Foundation forking over the data on Wall Street donations to UVM (Fidelity and Schwab just for starters; more data on other Wall St firms is available) of the last few years and the marketing material used to raise money for a Gold Professorship in the Dept. of Economics (funded partly, or perhaps mostly, by Wall Street), because this was all clearly writing on the wall, and sooner or later I suspected evidence of the Street’s ideological indoctrination agenda would soon follow, beyond the rather transparent agenda to purge me from teaching in the Dept. of Economics. Well, what could be clearer than a “mandate” to “promote…free enterprise…limited government…capitalism”? With Wall Street loot pouring into UVM through many orifices, this was bound to be the outcome sooner or later.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many good people at UVM (and on Wall Street) and good research being done, but the closer you get to imperial and arrogant economics and its ideological message in favor of unfettered capitalism, the more it appears like a bastardized version of real science (Marx called it ‘vulgar economics’). It can take many forms, like the pop-econ hype of UVM’s Dept. of Economics on its Facebook page. It is hard to stomach this relentless touting of “economists to the rescue” when the public concluded years ago “What Good Are Economists, Anyway ” (Business Week cover).

Perversely, I thought of submitting my resume, since I have a speciality in financial markets, both academically and as a former fund manager, and could easily tout the wonderful world of Adam Smith and the invisible hand of markets, waxing libertarian. Alas, with a Vermont Labor Relations Board grievance hearing coming up (John Summa v. UVM) in early 2018, I’d be just wasting my time.  After all, Wall Street critics, like me, are not promoters of “free enterprise… capitalism”and are not welcome at an institution up to its ears in Wall Street largesse.

My final thought, though, was, has Koch invaded UVM, given this newly endowed Chair? No convincing evidence is yet available that I am aware of, but I concluded it does not matter if the Koch brothers are funding the newly endowed Chair. They might as well be. Heck, if they aren’t, they are getting a freebie!  Koch without Koch at UVM, how perfect. ~JS