Neo-Liberalism and a UIUC/Carle Medical School

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It is no longer necessary to argue that corporatization, the neoliberal application of business practices to the university, is occurring at UIUC. The latest example is the proposed public-private UI-Carle medical school spearheaded by Chancellor Phyllis Wise. “This article resonates with me because our goals of a COM [College of Medicine] in Urbana-Champaign will rely predominantly on our convincing many of our generous and passionate donors of the critical importance of our project.”

Andrew NYT article redone

“This article” refers to a New York Times piece linked by Fox-Atkins CEO Peter Fox in a March 14, 2014 email to Wise, which she commented on and forwarded to 14 folks. The article, “Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science,” describes how since the 2010 Tea Party takeover of Congress, the previous “bipartisan consensus” that lead to federal science funding “rising steadily for decades” has “eroded,” leading to an approximately 25 percent fall in spending on basic research in 2013, “one of the sharpest declines ever.”

Not only do Fox, Wise, and their cronies see nothing wrong with this Tea Party-driven defunding of public research and concomitant increased funding by billionaires. They cynically embrace it, seeing it as another golden business opportunity, to profit still more from the American for-profit healthcare system.

Conservatives like to complain about what they see as big government over-regulation and slow-moving bureaucracy. But at least the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation make an attempt to allocate research funding based on rigorous professional standards, open competition, and peer review. Their overall goal is improving the general welfare of everyone.

“Fundamentally at stake,” however, “is the social contract that cultivates science for the common good,” as the Times says. For today, the more research is privatized, the more money targets the personal interests, and pet projects of the super wealthy. This is especially true of medical research, where “a number of the campaigns, driven by personal adversity, target illnesses that predominantly afflict white people — like cystic fibrosis, melanoma and ovarian cancer.”

CCU facility fee

Meanwhile, taxpayers in Urbana are reeling from Carle going off the tax rolls, because it successfully lobbied Springfield through the Illinois Hospital Association – which Carle CEO James Leonard headed at the time — to expand the definition of so-called “charity care” in 2012 legislation. After paying $4.6 million taxes in 2009, Carle paid zero in 2013.

This is the exact opposite of what Leonard and Carle Clinic CEO Bruce Wellman pledged in 2009 when the two entities were merged into a non-profit. “If a merger bringing the currently for-profit Carle Clinic under the not-for-profit organization of Carle Foundation Hospital is approved, Carle plans to make payments in lieu of taxes at the current tax level.”

Back in 2002 Carle agreed to make a lump sum payment to Urbana in lieu of taxes, generally referred to as PILOT, of $450,000 to the school district and $175,000 to the park district, plus $20,000 per year for the next five years. Late in 2014, and long after Urbana had taken Carle to court over nonpayment of taxes, Carle independently made its own guessestimate of what it owed Urbana, and cut checks totaling $100,800. With a pending lawsuit, Urbana tore up the checks. However, they would have constituted only a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $5 million dollars Carle had paid previously.

That’s not all. Medicare is fining Carle for readmitting too many patients within 30 days of their initial visit for medical issues requiring treatment. Carle is weighing whether to do what is necessary for the government to recognize it as an Ebola treatment center, a certification that the UI Chicago medical center – with whom they are competing for the proposed UI medical school — has already received.

CCU yard sign2

In addition, the Chancellor sent staff to testify in July 2014 in support of Carle’s request for additional surgical beds, a request that had nothing to do with the UI-Carle medical school. After the staffer in question was criticized for conflict of interest, she tore up rather than cash the checks Carle wrote to reimburse her.

No wonder Urbana-ites have formed Concerned Citizens of Urbana (CCU) to push back against Carle. They have created a website, organized community meetings, and dotted Urbana with yard signs. “My Family Pays Carle’s Share of Taxes,” says one. “Carle’s ‘Charity’ Medical Care Paid for by Urbana School Children,” reads another.

CCU yard sign

Attention has focused, therefore, on Carle. But the 800-pound gorilla in Urbana’s room that goes mostly undiscussed is UIUC. As a nonprofit, the University also does not pay taxes. Some years some chancellors have made some payments in lieu of taxes, de facto PILOTs. Below are the annual amounts paid to the school district (first column), from which an amount went to the library (second column):

1994-1995 $158,000 $14,950
1995-1996 through 1999-2000 $317,000 $30,000
2000-2001 through 2009-2010 $365,300 $34,500
2010-2011 $240,000 $22,560
2011-2012 through 2014-2015 $100,000 $9,400

Chancellor Wise’s office has informed Urbana that funding will end in 2015.

North Campus 1985

Moreover, UIUC has bought up significant amounts of land between 1985 and 2005. The National Center of Supercomputing Applications, the Seibel computer science building, plus the parking structure east of the Beckman building – all were built on land formerly on the tax rolls.

North Campus 2005

To top it off, Urbana is home to the research park that didn’t happen. That’s right: along with what is referred to as the South Campus research park in Champaign, there was discussion of a North Campus research park in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In May 1999, a 50-plus page Request for Proposals for a “Science & Engineering Technology Commercialization Initiative” for both a North and South center was issued, with what response is unclear.

Libby RFP

While Chancellor Wise is ending PILOTs in Urbana, she also has raised the possibility of “a ring of [tax-paying] businesses associated with biotech” surrounding her proposed medical school. What she did not tell Urbana is that if such a venture materializes the smart money is on it being located in the Champaign Research Park. Rubbing it in, she declined Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing’s invitation last month to meet and discuss Carle in a public forum.

Meanwhile, the Wise-led public-private proposed medical school has hit some road bumps. For as long as the Steven Salaita affair continues – and it continues unabated – it acts indirectly as a powerful drag on getting her medical venture off the ground, and getting “generous and passionate donors” on board.

The UI Board of Trustees has also raised more questions than the friendly audiences in Champaign-Urbana. It has charged UI President Robert Easter with evaluating the competing UI-Carle and UI-Chicago medical school proposals in March. Given his loyalties to the Urbana campus — including loyally seconding the Chancellor concerning the Salaita matter — this assignment will certainly put his professional judgment to the test.

Wise faces a similar test, although she likely sees it simply as business as usual. When she was named to Governor Bruce Rauner’s transition team, the consensus of her supporters was that UIUC was ensured thereby a seat “at the table” of the deciders. Her Republican and neoliberal views fit Rauner’s neo-liberalism-with-a-vengeance to a T. A private sector member of the top 1/10 of one percent of all Americans governing the public sector, Rauner intends “to use the governor’s residence to do the government’s business… and I’m going to entertain them [companies] at the governor’s residence… and make it a nice place to do the people’s business.”

Rauner will generously serve the people for an annual salary of $1 and no benefits. To fight “corrupt” public sector unions, he has already amassed $20 million in his PAC, including $10 million of his personal fortune, for his new, right-wing, anti-union campaign. All this springs from his idea of “ethics,” his wanting the state to act “ethically.” Like the business practices he pursued in becoming wealthy.

The ethically-challenged do not understand by “ethics” what the rest of us do. Wise — the decades-long serial self-plagiarizing researcher, sending her staffer to lobby for Carle — engages in prima facie conflict of interest by sitting simultaneously on the UI Research Park Economic Development Advisory Group with the Busey Corporation board president, and on the Busey Corporation board. As Chancellor, sees no contradiction in overseeing annual ethics training at UIUC from the top down, but not from the bottom up.

Given the virtual certainty of Rauner’s impending higher education spending cuts, how exactly will Wise spin her role? Voting to slash the budget of UIUC, the institution that she was hired to serve?

It all comes together in neoliberalism, “capitalism with the gloves off.” A proposed public-private UI-Carle medical school. Chancellor Wise acting in concert with Carle’s Leonard, the Research Park’s Fox, and Busey Corporation’s board president. But not consulting faculty regarding Salaita. Taking a page from the national Tea Party playbook concerning billionaires, who pursue their private research agendas that dovetail sometimes with those of the general public. Not to mention wealthy donors. Carle and UIUC refusing to compensate Urbana for lost revenue from properties they have rejiggered off the tax rolls. All the while, their economic interests trumping good citizenship.

Is Phyllis Wise a public sector CEO? A private sector Chancellor? Is there any difference? Yes, yes, and no.

January 13, 2015

 This is the second in a series of articles. The first can be found online at www.

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David Prochaska formerly taught colonialism and visual culture in the UI History department

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