Academy UI fund blessing, not curse

Academy UI fund blessing, not curse

For an organization that has barely gotten off the ground, the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government has stirred up considerable anxiety among some members of the University of Illinois faculty.

Two years ago, the faculty senate led a successful drive to end the affiliation between the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government and the University of Illinois. Last week, members of the faculty senate's executive committee passed a resolution asking UI President Michael Hogan to dissolve a fund the academy has established at the UI Foundation.

The fund, created by supporters of the academy, is intended to provide financial resources to support research by UI faculty members and programs for UI students. But some faculty members assert that the fund creates a "structural issue about how the UI is governed," and they suggest academy supporters want to dictate both the content of classes and the results of research projects.

That's an ugly charge supported by suspicion but no real evidence.

The formation of the academy was announced in 2006 by a group of UI supporters who saw the creation of a think-tank on economic issues as a big plus for the UI. The academy's name clearly indicates a viewpoint – belief in the economic system on which this country is based. But it's a long way between holding a viewpoint and trying to force that viewpoint on others by foul means.

Although the academy has great hopes for the future, it's been distracted by organizational controversies and has mainly limited itself to hosting annual conferences on the UI campus.

On Sept. 30, the academy will hold the fourth one. The keynote speaker will be University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein. Two members of the UI law faculty, Richard Kaplan and David Hyman, will participate in a panel discussion.

That seems like a pretty routine academic stuff, and it's hard to see why some view it as such a nefarious event. It's open to all. Dissent is not only permitted, but encouraged. What's the problem?

That's why James Vermette, the longtime head of the UI's alumni association and one of the academy's founders, calls the criticisms "ridiculous" and says suggestions that the academy operates in secret and does not consult with UI leaders are simply untrue.

He notes the academy "can't operate without faculty support" and has consulted with university officials every step of the way.

There are two entities at issue, the academy itself and the fund it has established at the UI Foundation.

Although initially affiliated with the UI, the academy is now a free-standing organization supported by donors and led by a president and chief executive officer. The fund operates under the umbrella of the UI Foundation for the purpose of supporting academic studies and programs on campus. Any faculty member is free to seek funding for research efforts.

From the outside, it appears one group of UI faculty members opposed to the academy is indirectly attacking other UI faculty members who support it by waging a guerilla war on nebulous grounds.

Of course, members of the faculty senate are free to express their objections, but new President Hogan ought not find them persuasive. Money overseen by the UI Foundation finances a wide variety of campus activities, and it's hard to see how academy's fund is any different.

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