Faculty convene over Friedman

The first Faculty Senate meeting in more than a decade ignited the Hyde Park campus Wednesday, as students rallied on the quads and big-name professors gathered to debate the University's new Milton Friedman Institute. While backers say the institute will be a place for path-breaking research in economics, business, law, and public policy, some faculty members worry an institute named after Nobel laureate Friedman, AM'33, would tie the University to the free-market economist's politics. The controversy has heightened as some academics blame Friedman's ideas for the current financial crisis.

The media weren't invited to the two-hour meeting, which more than 200 faculty members (out of 1,200 faculty with senate membership) attended, but some spoke with the Chronicle of Higher Education afterward. “It was calm and collected,” said social-sciences dean Mark Hansen. “It was the kind of discussion that one expects from mature adults who are very smart.” History of religions professor Bruce Lincoln, a leader of the anti-institute faculty group CORES (Committee for Open Research on Economy and Society), estimated the room was about evenly split for and against. Most supporters were from economics, statistics, business, or law, while those opposed, the Chronicle reported, "represented a much broader range of disciplines."

The meeting, and the intense feelings its topic provoked, brought together heavyweights from several academic areas. Afterward the debate continued in the hallway: Lincoln traded concerns with economics Nobelists Gary Becker, AM’53, PhD’55, and James Heckman; economist Lars Hansen; anthropologists Marshall Sahlins and John Kelly; historian Moishe Postone, SB'63, AM'67; and public-policy professor Bruce Meyer.

Before the meeting, about 70 students convened on the rain-soaked quads to protest the institute. They marched from the center circle to Ida Noyes, where they passed out flowers to entering faculty members, sucked pacifiers to signify the University saw but didn't really hear them, and held signs saying, "Will we all become 'Chicago boys'?" and "Students for Ideological Stubbornness." The CORES group meets Friday to discuss its next steps.




Chicago heavyweights (see above) gather after the Faculty Senate meeting; Students line the Ida Noyes stairs in protest.

Photos by Dan Dry

October 17, 2008