Senate discusses concerns with new endowed fund
(See also letter from Chancellor Richard Herman)
By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor 217-244-1072; firstname.lastname@example.org
The Urbana-Champaign Senate’s first meeting of the academic year, held Oct. 1, and its annual meeting of the faculty on Sept. 24 were largely devoted to discussion of faculty members’ concerns about the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund, an endowment established in the UI Foundation. Some faculty members believe the fund will constrict academic freedom and intellectual diversity on campus, and represents an attempt to propagate a specific political and economic ideology through unprecedented control over educational activities.
The foundation signed an agreement on July 20, 2006, establishing the $10 million fund, and its inaugural conference was held Sept. 27 at the Illini Union.
According to the foundation and the fund’s donors, “The purpose of the fund is to promote scholarly research, teaching and public outreach in subject areas pertaining to free market capitalism, individual freedom, individual responsibility, limited government and the role of these concepts in ensuring a productive and successful society.”
The agreement also indicates that while the fund’s advisory board will determine how the money is expended Chancellor Richard Herman and his designees will have final approval over any grant requests.
At the senate meeting, Belden Fields, chair of the Senate Equal Opportunity Committee, proposed a resolution that the fund’s name be changed to the “Fund for the Study of the Relationship Between Government and the Economy”; that the university disavow statements on the fund’s Web site and in an article in the Champaign News-Gazette that said the fund would promote ideologically based curricular transformations; and that the university and the senate prevent the donors from imposing political or ideological “litmus tests” on faculty hiring, curricular development and research funding decisions.
Fields urged senators to act on the resolution immediately – and suggested that the university forgo the endowment if necessary. “I think we have an additional responsibility to other universities who might come under the same pressure, and we will be pointed to.”
James Barrett, history, said: “Rather than protecting or stimulating academic freedom, I think that the fund is actually a threat to academic freedom here. If you look at the intentions of the people who have established the fund, it clearly targets particular research projects, particular faculty appointments and particular course development on ideological grounds and that is something new. And I would argue that is something dangerous to our university.”
Nicholas Burbules, chair of the Senate Executive Committee, said that many faculty members are concerned that the fund may represent an unprecedented attempt to establish an academic unit within the foundation and to circumvent the authority that the chancellor and the senate have over academic matters.
“I think that this is not how the university runs, and it would be a dangerous precedent for this to go forward under the terms presented so far,” Burbules said. Burbules also cautioned that the initiative “needs to be brought under appropriate review and shared governance … and it has gone too far, in my view, in unilaterally defining its identity, purposes and agenda.” However, the university “cannot appear to be applying standards to this initiative that we would not and do not apply to other programs.”
Some faculty members also have objected to the decision to form a provisional, ad hoc committee to examine the terms of the endowment and advise Herman about it without seeking senate approval beforehand. Burbules said they had done so “because we were dealing with some time-sensitive issues” that could not wait until the next full senate meeting.
Thomas Ulen, law, is chairing the advisory committee, which was scheduled to meet for the first time Oct. 1.
Herman assured senators that the fund’s benefactors would not be allowed to undermine shared governance on campus. “We won’t allow external people to exert control over the curriculum. If it came to that, we would say ‘no’ to the funds.”
None of the fund’s resources could be used without the committee’s and his approval, Herman said.
Herman cautioned faculty members against reacting rashly to statements in recent news reports. “The senate certainly has a right to express its values. But if you’re going to make a statement about the values of the university, it should be fully debated over a period of time. I’m worried about acting on it in a way that then moves us down certain paths without fuller debate.”
Patrick Maher, philosophy, suggested that disagreement with the donors’ politics “might be a good reason to take money from them. What better thing to do with it than apply it to things” that counteract their perspectives.
After much debate, the senate voted to postpone action on Fields’ resolution until the senate meets again Nov. 5.
From the Chancellor
In July of 2006, a fund was created within the University of Illinois Foundation titled the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund to support scholarly activities of faculty and students on our campus who are interested in issues of free market capitalism, individual freedom, individual responsibility and limited government. Potential uses of the fund include, but are not limited to sponsorship of lectures and symposia, curricular development, research support and publication and support for faculty chairs and or professorships, scholarships and fellowships. By the fund agreement, any activity or purpose supported by this fund must be approved by my office. To that end I have worked with the senate to create an independent faculty/student committee to provide me with advice on any and all proposals to be funded by this endowment. That committee is now in place and will be chaired by Professor Tom Ulen.
However, recent statements in the press have left the impression that some associated with the fund want, in effect, to create an autonomous entity within the foundation with the power, for example, to hire adjunct faculty members or conduct other activities on their own. I want to state in very strong and clear terms that all uses of the fund’s resources will be operated within our public campus structure and under the oversight of my office and appropriate senate bodies. When it comes to issues of curriculum, I want to emphasize specifically that these matters are the province of the faculty and the senate and will remain so under any agreement entered into on behalf of the campus or university.
Speaking on behalf of the UI Foundation, its director Sidney Micek says, “The fund is just one of literally thousands of endowments held by the foundation which generate support for activities which are approved and sanctioned by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the other campuses. The sole function of the foundation is to create and steward private gifts in support of the university. The foundation meticulously avoids the running of programs or the setting of academic priorities, which is the purview of the university.”
Transparency has been, and will always be, our guide and it is an important principle of this campus as noted in the university statutes that “no new line of work involving questions of general educational policy shall be established on any campus except upon approval of the senate concerned”; and that “As the responsible body in the teaching, research, and scholarly activities of the university, the faculty has the inherent interests and rights in academic policy and governance.” My office and that of the provost are dedicated to that principle of shared governance.
We are one campus that celebrates many voices. We embrace the idea of free thought and expression. We welcome any endowment that helps to enrich and diversify the teaching and scholarship carried out here.
In closing, I note that efforts similar to this undertaking exist and thrive alongside other great universities across the country, including the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. If such an entity were to come under discussion, we have our own systems of shared governance for determining if and how it should be formed. But I wish to be clear that no proposal to establish such an entity has been agreed to or proffered at this time. In that sense, any references to a freestanding “Academy” are inaccurate.
The present fund has the real possibility of making a positive contribution to teaching and scholarship at Illinois and we appreciate the generosity of the donors who have made it possible.
Richard Herman Chancellor