A Secretive and Destructive Affair: The Academy, The Foundation, and The University

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On September 5 and 11, Jim Dey devoted two very favorable
News-Gazette columns to the Academy on Capitalism
and Limited Government Foundation. On September 5,
the News-Gazette also published an editorial contending
that the Academy was a “blessing” for the university. I disagree.
I think that the Executive Committee of the University
Senate was right to demand that ties between it and
the university be severed.
The Academy began in 2007 as part of a national effort
by conservatives to counter what they felt was a liberal
bias in American universities. At the national level prominent
conservatives, like U of I alum Robert Novak,
attempted to inject their ideologies into the curricula in a
number of colleges and universities around the country.
Stephen H. Balbach, chairman of the conservative National
Association of Scholars, also sits on the board of directors
of the Academy, illustrating the national reach of
which this local effort is a part.
Though the Academy focuses on Capitalism and Limited
Government in its title, it did not focus on instruction
in the schools of business or at the more technically and
vocationally-oriented areas of engineering and agriculture.
Its aim, made clear in its 2007 mission statement, was to
inject its ideology into the fields of education, journalism,
and liberal arts. What is most dangerous is that Academy
founders presume to use the power of money to make academic
decisions outside of the established university procedures.
In their 2007 mission statement, they state their
intentions to use their wealth to influence the development
of pro-business/limited-government “curricula leading
to the establishment of majors, minors, and other academic
credentials.” In his News-Gazette Commentary of
March 4, 2007, Tom O’Laughlin, a founder and former
CEO of the Academy, was overt about the nature of this
political crusade. He reported with glee about speeches at
the November 2006 gathering of the conservative National
Association of Scholars. He was especially appreciative
of an attack against postmodernism that conservatives
have seen as a culturally relativist and equalitarian threat
to traditional Western values, including capitalist values.
He approvingly quotes the speaker’s hopeful prediction
that postmodernism (she called it “Postmodern Moonshine”)
was almost certain to be driven from the introductory
English curriculum at Harvard. Curricular changes
within universities are periodically necessary and appropriate
when they are based upon internal academic judgments
and procedures. But they should not be driven by
wealthy donors with a specific political agenda.
The most appalling thing about this arrangement is the
complicity between the Academy, which has added the
word Foundation to its name, and two other entities, the
university administration and the U of I Foundation. The
manner in which the Academy has managed to turn itself
into a foundation enmeshed with the U of I Foundation
engenders clear conflicts of interest that the university needs
to address. Craig S. Barzani, senior advisor for advancement
at the U of I Foundation and former vice president for
administration of the university, is a member of the board of
directors of the Academy Foundation. William T. Sturtevant,
the senior vice president for principal gifts at the U of
I Foundation, is also on the Academy Foundation’s board.
The bio of Mr. Sturtevant posted by the Institute for Charitable
Giving, of which he is a founding director, states: “His
guiding tenet is that dedication to the best interests of our
donors is the only way to achieve the objectives of the charitable
organizations we serve.” Shouldn’t the U of I Foundation
officers place the best interests of the university above
those of the Academy and its donors?
In 2007, concerned about the Academy’s statements of its
intentions, I presented a motion on the Senate floor asking
that Chancellor Herman, who had signed the agreement
with the Academy, disengage the university. Many of the senators
were also disquieted by the Academy’s stated intentions,
but none had actually seen the agreement and they
wanted to review it before voting on the motion. The chancellor
promised to provide the Senators with a copy. At the
following Senate meeting, he claimed that he could not provide
a copy because the agreement was the property of the U
of I Foundation and it would not permit it.
Under pressure, Herman appointed a
faculty committee, nominated by the Senate,
to read it and issue a report. That committee
found that the agreement violated the
principles and procedures and the academic
integrity of the university. The Academy
founders refused to make the changes that
the committee insisted were necessary to
make it consistent with those principles.
The Academy survived by playing on its
structure as a foundation with an affiliation
with the U of I Foundation. To this day, the
contractual agreement signed by Chancellor
Herman remains hidden from the Senate
and the public. Structural components of
the relationship between the Academy, the
Foundation, and the university were used to
mask from public view an agreement that
our “public” university had made. Mr. Dey’s
columns notwithstanding, this politically
driven agenda did indeed pose a serious
threat to the academic integrity of the university,
as did the lack of transparency in the
process. Normally, such secrecy would have
troubled the News-Gazette. Unfortunately, it
is not uncommon at the university. Memoranda
of understandings between the university’s
Police Training Institute and both
Blackwater and Triple Canopy paramilitary
companies contained “publicity clauses”
stipulating that neither party could make
the agreements public without the permission
of the other.
In the pages of the September 19 News-
Gazette, Matthew Brown, the newly hired
president and CEO of the Academy Foundation,
asks us to judge it on the basis of “its
programs to date,” which include symposia
and conferences in which critics of the
Academy’s perspectives have been invited to
participate. It should be pointed out that on
their 2007 website, such symposia and conferences
were last on a long list of politically
charged agenda items. That website, Tom
O’Laughlin’s 2007 letter to the News-
Gazette, and the refusal of the U of I Foundation
and the university to make public the
signed agreement should cause grave concern
about the Academy’s future intentions.
With the overlapping memberships
between the boards of the Academy and the
U of I Foundations, the Academy founders
are so well enmeshed that they can bide
their time and present an innocuous face for
now. Let us hope that the University Senate
supports its Executive Committee and protects
the integrity of the university rather
than the political interests of the Academy’s
wealthy donors.
The University Senate was right in urging
the university and its foundation to cut
their ties with the Academy, thus protecting
the integrity of the university rather
than the political interests of the Academy’s
wealthy donors. Hopefully, the new president
of the university will follow through
on the Senate’s resolution.

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