• September 4, 2015

U. of Chicago's Plans for Milton Friedman Institute Stir Outrage on the Faculty

The University of Chicago's plan to move ahead with developing a controversial institute named for Milton Friedman has prompted more than 170 of the university's faculty members to sign a petition complaining that it is becoming increasingly "corporatized" and that its president, Robert J. Zimmer, is trampling upon their shared-governance rights.

The petition, in the form of a letter that leaders of the protest say they will present to Mr. Zimmer on Tuesday, calls upon the institution's president "to reverse course" and "extricate the university from a misguided and destructive corporate model" that, it says, has led administrators there to forge ahead with various expansion plans without a faculty vote.

"You can begin by halting the development of the Friedman Institute and changing its name," the letter says.

A spokeman for the university, Jeremy Manier, said in an e-mail that the university's administration had not yet received the petition and was not ready to comment on it at any length. In a terse official statement contained in the e-mail, the administration said: "If a letter or petition is submitted, university leaders would want to consider it fully and respond thoughtfully to the whole document, through the appropriate channels."

The director of the Friedman Institute, Lars Peter Hansen, responded to the faculty petition by issuing a statement that said "I continue to believe it is appropriate to recognize Milton Friedman as a scholar of extraordinary impact." He added, "I see little evidence in the petition as it is drafted that would give me confidence that the faculty signers are really interested in assessing the quality of research and discourse that is explored in the Institute."

The establishment of a Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics without a vote of the full faculty is hardly the only action by the administration that the letter cites as objectionable. It also objects to the university's decision to allow the creation of a Confucius Institute—a language institute sponsored by the People's Republic of China—on the campus without the Faculty Senate's approval.

The letter argues that the university has risked having its reputation used to "legitimate the spread" of such institutions, which have been cropping up at colleges in the United States and other nations around the world.

Among other complaints, the letter alleges that the administrative staff has experienced "metastatic growth," that the administration has been interfering with academic matters at study-abroad programs, and that the administration has been withholding information on the budget and other matters from faculty governing bodies. It argues that the university has assumed "a business mentality, in which academic units are understood—even designed—to function as product lines and profit centers," and that power over academic matters is being shifted "to the donors whose favor the administrators court."

The letter's focus, however, is on the Friedman Institute, which the university announced last month it would be locating in a soon-to-be-renovated building that had been housing the Chicago Theological Seminary, which will move. The institute has sparked controversy ever since the university's 2008 announcement of plans to establish it in honor of Mr. Friedman, a Nobel laureate in economics who spent 30 years at the university and advised the Reagan administration and foreign governments on economic policy.

The institute began sponsoring interdisciplinary academic conferences, hosting visiting scholars, and supporting research more than a year ago.

A faculty group formed to oppose the institute, the Committee for Open Research on Economy and Society, played a central role in the latest petition drive. The letter its leaders are submitting to President Zimmer characterizes Mr. Friedman as "among the most partisan, most polarizing figures in the history of this university," and says his name is associated with "his relentless championing of a free-market fundamentalism now largely discredited" and with "the services he rendered to brutally repressive regimes in Chile, China, and elsewhere."

Among the faculty members who signed the petition, the most heavily represented academic divisions are the humanities, the social sciences other than economics, and the biological sciences. Few, if any, of the signatories are from the three academic divisions that proposed the institute: the economics department, the business school, and the law school.


1. karaeo - June 01, 2010 at 04:57 pm

And if anyone would like to propose a fun alternative to the MFI please visit: http://ourmfi.org/

OUR MFI is a mock architectural competition for the best alternative to the use of the seminary. This is a way of opening up the discussion to anyone who wants to pitch a critique of the MFI or a different idea altogether.

2. 22221757 - June 01, 2010 at 05:00 pm

This just proves that the faculty at U of C need more to do.....

3. pchoffer - June 01, 2010 at 05:04 pm

Folks: it has long been understood that faculty at state-funded universities are employees, and that faculty self-governance or shared faculty governance is at best an oxymoron and at worst self-delusion at these institutions. It now appears that the same is true of private universities, even those as academically and pedagogically distinguished as the University of Chicago. Welcome to the club. Best, Peter

4. erislf - June 01, 2010 at 07:18 pm

Why we ought to use this forum--or any other, for that matter--to rehearse the worst of pragamatism is beyond me. The 'this is the way things are' argument can only support a dilution of all that we hope that universities are able to assail in their unique mission and charter--the possibility of thinking, speaking, and acting something different or other. Lest we lose yet more of our most innovative faculty and our most promising students to the many universities around the world that actually support the work of those they house...and find ourselves wallowing in a pool of lawyers,administrators, and MBAs.
In all seriousness, the fact that we aren't having a much larger and louder conversation about the increasingly corporatist and managerial style of education that we are choosing to adopt in this country--or that these conversations are taking place in a merely piecemeal fashion as 'issues' arise--is a testement to the extent to which so many of us have stopped thinking about the means we have available to us to network our efforts or to find creative solutions to these and other problems.

5. tee_bee - June 01, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Oh, quitcher whining. They were going to call it the Ayn Rand Institute, until someone choose Friedman as a "compromise."

6. j_goldsmith - June 01, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I've read the faculty petition discussed in this article---why not? I'm a professor at the University of Chicago---and Peter Schmidt's piece doesn't even begin to do justice to the strident anger that suffuses the petition. Read the Chronicle's article, and you'll find a polite smoothing out of the harsh and haranguing tone in the petition, a tone that chides and castigates the Chicago administration for abandoning its educational and research mission. Now, I'm all in favor of anger when it's called for, but this petition paints a picture that is wildly at odds with the university, and the administration, as I see it on a day to day basis. What I'd really like to see is a petition in which you could sign for or against the message: I know where I'd vote. Why don't we get petitions like that sent around? The kind written by petition-organizers who are actually interested in finding out who agrees with them and who disagrees?

The petition is heavy with rhetoric and light on substance. Maybe that's how petitions are meant to be written. Moving past petitions, there is an elected faculty council at Chicago consisting of 50 faculty members that meets once a month---this council (which, frankly, is not hard to be elected to) includes a mere 6 of the 87 signers to the petition that I saw on March 26 (I don't know where the figure of 170 signers came from), and this council is the natural place where the concerns voiced in the petition could reasonably be aired in front of the president and the provost and a group of dedicated faculty colleagues who would be willing to listen if a case could be made. I have great respect and regard for all of my colleagues across the divisions---I see that one of the signers was my dean just a few years ago---but based on what I hear from my friends and colleagues, I don't think the views expressed are representative of those of the faculty as a whole. That's one person's view.

7. 3224243 - June 02, 2010 at 09:03 am

If faculty (under the guise of shared governance) believe they should "run" the university (from a business standpoint), why aren't they cultivating donors, meeting with legislators about new gov't regs, figuring out how to replace a roof when there's no money or worrying about how to comply with the next round of reporting requirements? During my years in higher ed, those who bitch the most about "administration" are the least likely to do and least capable of doing the things about which they complain most bitterly.

Oh, and "shared" governance doesn't mean you get your way all the time. It means you have a voice in the process. And until you're willing to give up your tenure so that your job is as much at risk as those responsible for the actual decisions, be satisfied with what you have - lifetime employment with the freedom to criticize those who find the money to pay your salaries.

8. rickinchina09 - June 02, 2010 at 09:19 am

On the other hand, if the university wanted to designate the Hugo Chavez Center for Latin American Economic Initiatives that would be quite all right in their view, I'm sure.

If his ongoing liaison with economic powerbrokers in China is a cause for concern, why then the university would need to disassociate itself from a lot of academics, including more than a few liberals including politicians like Bill Clinton. But then that would hardly be pragmatic, would it?

9. trendisnotdestiny - June 02, 2010 at 09:53 am

First, the free market economists should find a significant response to the Klein's Shock Doctrine

10. ucalum1975 - June 02, 2010 at 10:08 am

We should be discussing the naming of things and faculty at universities in general. Friedman is a widely recognized and praised economist and was on the faculty at Chicago, so a Friedman memorial is perhaps not out of place. So why not name and endow additional professorships there in honor of, for example, Bellow, Sontag, Sagan, Ricoeur, or Obama...just to name a few Chicago faculty and alums? The Obama presidential library might be a nice counterpoint on campus to the Friedman Institute.

11. davi2665 - June 02, 2010 at 10:54 am

I see that the ideological litmus test is alive and well at U of C. If the institute is not named after a Marxist, then it is not in tune with the "shared governance" crowd that shows such a remarkable intolerance of any ideas that do not parrot their sentiments.

12. stinkcat - June 02, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Could you imagine the outcry if a conservative group protested the naming of an institute after a liberal professor?

13. supertatie - June 02, 2010 at 12:43 pm

"Largely discredited"?? Where? In the tiny minds of UC faculty?

14. a_voice - June 02, 2010 at 01:39 pm

It is hard to believe that highly intelligent people who are educating some of our young minds would come up with something like this. Their grievances seem to be all over the place, they don't seem to be using the proper channels to voice their concerns, and their ideological motivation is obvious and out of place. What a shame!

15. 19682010 - June 02, 2010 at 04:09 pm

This post doesn't apply to the specifics of the proposed MFI, but the broader issue of whether faculty are just employees -- or managers with a role to play in management decisions.

In 1980 in the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Yeshiva University vs. the National Labor Relations Board, the Court held that: "The University's full-time faculty members are managerial employees..."

The Court elaborated, writing: "The controlling consideration in this case is that the faculty of Yeshiva University exercise authority which in any other context unquestionably would be managerial. Their authority in academic matters is absolute. They decide what courses will be offered, when they will be scheduled, and to whom they will be taught. They debate and determine teaching methods, grading policies, and matriculation standards. They effectively decide which students will be admitted, retained, and graduated. On occasion their views have determined the size of the student body, the tuition to be charged, and the location of a school. When one considers the function of a university, it is difficult to imagine decisions more managerial than these. To the extent the industrial analogy applies, the faculty determines within each school the product to be produced, the terms upon which it will be offered, and the customers who will be served."

Like managers in corporate entities, faculty specialize. Their managerial specialilties typically don't include finding money to fix a roof, or lobbying legislators, etc. It's incorrect to argue that lack of expertise in some mangerial operations of the university obviate the faculty's role as managers. Moreover, the faculty's role as managers is not conditional on giving up tenure.

Private universities who are unwilling to treat faculty as managers with a mangerial role in the operation of the institution risk legal consequences they may find more undesirable.

The Governing Board of the institution ultimately has final say in policies that are adopted, but it is unwise to treat faculty as non-managerial employees with no role to play in the formation of policy.

16. stinkcat - June 02, 2010 at 04:39 pm

"Private universities who are unwilling to treat faculty as managers with a mangerial role in the operation of the institution risk legal consequences they may find more undesirable."

Can you give an example of what these legal consequences might be?

17. brambeus - June 02, 2010 at 06:15 pm

With apologies to Wordsworth and Shakespeare:

Shakespeare! thou should'st be living at this hour:
Chicago hath need of thee...

After all, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

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