Capitalist Academy Fund Is Anything But Limited

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For almost two years, some selfdescribed
“good Capitalist” allies of the
University of Illinois have been hard at
work in forging the Academy on Capitalism
and Limited Government. In line
with the conservative agenda of the
Hoover Institute, the Fund seeks to use its resources and
powerful influence to reverse what fellow founder and
board member Tom O’Laughlin refers to as “a decided leftwing
bias in schools.”
Although Chancellor Richard Herman claims “This is a
fund and nothing else”, the Fund has already raised over
two million dollars singing the praises of the free market,
limited government, individual rights, individual responsibility,
enterprise, and entrepreneurship, which they refer
to as the lynchpins of the Fund.
In the name of promoting political freedom and economic
opportunity, the sponsors of this initiative seek “the
development of curricula leading to the establishment of
majors, minors, and other academic credentials” that perpetuate
and propagate the neoliberal ideals that support
this initiative.
In addition, “support for faculty scholars will come in
the form of endowed professorships and chairs”, as well as
scholarships for undergraduate and fellowships for graduate
students engaged in studies, research or teaching pertaining
the purpose of the Fund.
Concerns by UIUC faculty regarding the lack of faculty
participation in the development of the Fund, the stealth
nature of its formation, and the lack of academic accountability,
led to the establishment by the Chancellor of an
advisory committee to function as a guiding body on the
Funds academic exploits.
However, despite the Faculty Senates efforts to create
some faculty oversight of the Fund, there are those who
believe that faculty are still giving away far too much in
terms of academic integrity, if the proposed Academy on
Capitalism is enacted according to its expressed precepts.
There are a number of central concerns about this
forceful regeneration of neoliberal lynchpins, touted as the
cutting edge panacea for “a productive and successful
American society.” I want to briefly point out the five most
obvious include:
Conservatives are usually eager to urge jurists to go to the
intent of the framers or legislators when interpreting the
application of a law. In a News-Gazette editorial on March
4, 2007, Tim O’Laughlin, one of the framers of the proposal
to create an Academy on Capitalism and Limited
Government clearly reveals the political crusade that is in
the minds of the framers of this proposal. In the article,
O’Laughlin sarcastically gloats over how people with his
views completely overturned Harvard’s curriculum,
including getting rid of English 101, or “Postmodern
The Fund’s wide-reaching curricular ambition is openly
expressed in the mission statement of the initiative readily
found on its website. With an explicit objective to set
right the misguided direction of the liberal university, the
Fund proposes to support “leadership, initiative, and creativity”
among students and faculty-particularly in the
curriculum development and teaching of education and
journalism-who are closely aligned with their mission.
As a reinforcing precedent, the Chancellor has referred to
two private universities that have such conservative initiatives.
Private universities can have any orientation that
they want to, including religious. While this specific
“Academy Fund” is locally initiated, it is clear from the
writings of the founders that it is to serve as a pilot program
to exert economic power over public universities
across the United States.
Once on the ground, this “Academy” and others like it
would likely receive a huge influx of funds from a wide
range of right-wing funding sources. This would become
one of the most attractive “buys” in a newly conceived academic
market place, where the new commodity would be
curricula in public universities.
The University of Illinois has not only a responsibility, to
itself, to resist such intrusion, but also to other public universities
that would become more vulnerable, given the precedent
that UIUC’s conjoint relationship with the Fund will set
for public higher education. With the hugely unequal wealth
and power of influence at work in such a relationship, it
could portent a dangerous moment in the history of public
education’s commitment to academic freedom and the emancipatory
principles of an enlightened polity.
The notion that capitalists are now the new excluded
minority of the academy and that a “a forum for another
point of view” is sorely needed underscores the sentiment
of the Fund’s literature. To ameliorate this condition “The
Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund
will encourage intellectual diversity and civil debate by
opening discourse to a greater range of perspectives.” The
founders imply here that those with their views are
silenced and marginalized, while the academy plunges
into the depth of left-winged radicalism.
But the facts belie such a claim. For example, the Department
of Economics, which had a great diversity of views on
the place of markets relative to the state’s role, when I was
an undergraduate at the U of I, has today become increasingly
homogeneous in its views of markets, monetarism,
and the government’s role in the economy. If representation
for their view is what they seek, then the proponents of the
Academy should be well pleased by this shift.
Meanwhile, the Department of Finance, and the College
of Business as a whole, is certainly teaching the kinds
of ideas that the donors contend are absent from the discourse
on this campus. The College of Engineering, too, is
heavily invested in entrepreneurial relations with the private
sector, and professors in the college spin off their own
private enterprises. The College of Agriculture enjoys
close ties with the private agricultural sector, including the
Farm Bureau Federation.
In the College of Law, the Law and Economics school of
thinking that privileges corporate interests is very well represented.
New hires over the last two years have especially tilted
the college in that direction. Even the Institute of Labor
and Industrial Relations, the foundation of which was greatly
aided by the state and local AFL-CIO’s, is turning out
mainly graduate students who wind up working in personnel
departments on the side of management. The Research
Park offers corporations a place and many cooperative relations
with academics on our campus; and the privatization
of the development of Orchard Downs is well on its way.
So given this enormous amount of capitalist-inspired
activity, how can, by any stretch of the imagination, it be
claimed that there is an exclusion of capitalist viewpoints
and interests at this university? In truth, it cannot. The
Academy on Capitalism, which is now being referred to by
the administration as a Fund rather than an Academy, is
not an attempt to fill a lack. Quite the contrary, it is a brash
attempt at ensuring a conservative ideological hegemony
over the campus.
The framers of the Fund derive their theoretical inspiration
from Friedrich von Hayek who, in volume 2 of his
tome, Law, Legislation, and Liberty (itself entitled The
Mirage of Social Justice), denies the validity of the very
concept of social justice. For Hayek, the social good is
achieved only by individuals making rational self-interested
economic choices, not by governments trying to
remedy market effects or trying to control corporate
power. Monopolies are good, considered signs of economic
Meanwhile, governments that seek to pursue social justice
or advance economic or social rights are perceived as
disrupting economic efficiency. Consequently, those who
see a moral or efficiency problem in severe economic
inequalities; those who argue that governments should
use fiscal policies (e.g., progressive taxation) to reduce
economic inequality and poverty; those who support government
measures to bring about universal healthcare; or
those take seriously the economic and social rights stipulated
in the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, all
fall beyond the ideological pale and are, thus, ineligible for
any of the resources offered by this Fund.
So, rather than accepting such a blatant attempt to propagate
a specific political and economic viewpoint, would it
not be more academically respectable to insist that the
Fund be devoted simply to the relationship between economy
and government. In this way, it could be opened up
to the diversity that the founders claim is missing.
Indeed, that diversity is already here at the university;
where it is missing is in the founders’ own proposal.
Approaching this as I am suggesting here would open up
opportunities to people with varying views of that relationship
and a number of other important related issues.
Some issues that such an approach would raise include:
how we should we think about economic rights; the status
and rights of the corporation as a legal person; the effect of
free markets nationally and internationally; the meanings
of the “right to work” and the “right of workers to organize;”
and how to morally assess inequalities. The university
could set up public forums and symposia on these
issues where students, faculty, and community people
could be exposed to serious debates and probing analyses
across disciplinary lines.
At the Annual Faculty Meeting on September 24, two
contradictory ideas were put forth by the Chancellor: “No
one will be hired on political grounds. Those who have
supplied the resources are entitled to determine where the
resources will go.” If the Academy/Fund operates according
its stated mission, people will have to be hired on
political grounds. They might be very good scholars, and I
am confident that the Chancellor and his Advisory Committee
would insist on that, but they will have to meet a
political litmus test as well.
Therein lies the rub. That is a huge, and to my knowledge,
unprecedented leap in how we operate. If we insisted
on using the Fund as I have suggested, to truly further
diverse exchanges on these major issues, the founders
might decide to withdraw their offer of money because it
would not have the same ideological propagating force.
That would indeed be their right. But accepting a political
litmus test in recruitment of faculty, curricular decisions,
and foundation grants is, in my view, infinitely more damaging
to us and other public universities in this country
than giving up the proffered money.

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