The University of Chicago, the once prestigious home to Milton Friedman and Art Laffer and birthplace of the “Chicago School” of free-market economics, is now flirting with the idea of becoming the future home to a quite different type of thinker–Keynesian Barack Obama.
University of Chicago political science professor Charles Lipson has raised the alarm that the school is considering becoming home to the future Obama presidential library, a move that would not only be highly political but that is also, according to Lipson, strictly forbidden by the school’s own rules. The other school vying for the opportunity is the University of Hawaii.
Lipson, who has been vocal about his opposition to housing the Obama Library there, spoke with the Chicago Sun-Times about his concerns:
I want to raise the alarm because I think a presidential museum will inevitably become our university’s highest-profile institution on a national basis….It will not be a disinterested, scholarly institution. It will be advancing a political agenda, funded by President Obama’s political allies, including foreign donors who cannot give money to his presidential campaigns.
Lipson is continuing his efforts to bring the controversy to the attention of the broader public and alumni community:
Lipson has made his case to the university president, provost and his fellow professors — many of whom are Obama’s close friends, neighbors and donors. So far, Lipson admitted, he is a minority of one, unlikely to stop the inevitable library. “This thing is baked in the cake,” he said.
The University of Chicago is in the midst of a tug-of-war between its alumni and some of its left-leaning faculty. The alumni object to its marked departure from its free-market heritage, while many on its faculty decry its perception as free-market.
In 2008, a controversy over the proposed Milton Friedman Institute led to a faculty backlash against the so-called politicization of the university in naming the institute for its most famous academic. Judge Richard Posner wrote:
Some 170 faculty members have signed a petition circulated by a Committee for Open Research on Economy and Society–which opposes the decision naming the new institute after Friedman–asking that a meeting of the University Senate (which consists of some University administrators and all faculty members who have been on the faculty for more than a year) be convened to discuss the decision. The stated ground of opposition is that naming the Institute after Friedman would constitute the University’s endorsement of his political views and would bias the research conducted by the Institute in favor of the free-market ideology that Friedman promoted so strongly. But the opposition is also and probably primarily powered by distaste for Friedman’s political and policy views and for his willingness to provide economic advice to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
A 2008 letter from 101 University of Chicago faculty members expressed their concern over the politicization of naming the Institute for Friedman:
But we are all disturbed by the ideological and disciplinary preference implied by the University’s massive support for the economic and political doctrines that have extended from Friedman’s work. This is not a question of academic freedom, to be sure: we know that the work of scholars at the Milton Friedman Institute will not have a chilling effect on the development of other kinds of knowledge at the University. This is a question of the meaning of the University’s investments, in all senses.
Where are those 101 faculty now when the University pursues its most political positioning yet?