Thursday, September 20, 2007

We're Loyal to You Illinois: Maybe

By Richard Vedder

The title of this blog (minus the last word) is a line from the "Illinois Loyalty", a fight song of the University of Illinois. The U. of I. is in the news, and I am in a fighting mood about it.

Some donors at the U. of I. want to create a public university version of the Hoover Institution, the great think tank at Stanford (headed by a former student of ours at Ohio University). It would be dedicated to promoting Western civilization and free market economics. I think it is a wonderful idea, a fine gesture, and one wholly appropriate to the university. It is blessed by Joe White, Illinois's fine and dedicated president, as well as by leaders at the Urbana-Champaign campus. I have two degrees, including a Ph.D., from Illinois, and am proud of my Alma Mater, which has been battered in recent years by the Political Correctness Cartel at, of all places, the NCAA, which forbade the U of I to use its beloved mascot (I view this as a massive violation of both sanity and the anti-trust laws, and think Congress or the Department of Education should go after the NCAA in general and Myles Brand in particular, but that is another blog).

Enter the U of I faculty, particularly one Cary Nelson, an English professor who has made a name for himself as national AAUP prez who wants to radicalize somewhat that staid but venerable group of professors that has evolved into a labor union. We are told the new center would politicize the university and rob the faculty of their academic freedom.

Here is my interpretation. A bunch of leftish professors who have a near monopoly on thought on campus do not want competition, and want the right to control thought on campus. They want to thwart freedom of expression. Only they can determine what students study, read, and, almsot, what they believe, etc. They are the enemies of free speech, the First Amendment, and all the rest. The Illinois economics department is, I suspect, fairly typical, made up of technocrats and largely apolitical other faculty, with a couple of semi-conservatives around almost by accident, with most facultly probably voting for the Democratic candidate for president --but not too loud about it. The other social sciences and the humanities are probably more unabashedly "liberal." This move would redress a balance. Somehow, in the view of some faculty, the alumni are not allowed to promote their ideas, just the existing faculty. That is complete utter bull, and I hope Joe White has the requisite body parts needed to fight this outrageous attack on the freedom of expression. Under no circumstances should he accept the money if the Nelson types are allowed to control the curriculum.

There is a huge irony behind all of this. A half a century ago, the U of I had a first rate economics department with several scholars who went on to great reputations --Franco Modigliani (who won the Nobel Prize), Don Patinkin, Robert Eisner, etc. In a huge fight, the older, more conservative faculty ran out these Keynesian (left of center) firebrands. In retrospect, Illinois suffered reputationally for this (even though history now shows the Keynesians may have been less correct about economics than their conservative critics). Now someone wants to restore the university's reputation by bringing in some fine right of center scholars, and the Estalbishment, this time left of center, may stop them.

For whatever it is worth, as a proud Illini who has written numerous books in the tradition advocated by the donors to this center, I am willing to serve on the new center's advisory board, particularly since I am on the U of I campus occasionally visiting family.

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