Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Hoover Institution in the Land of Corn and Soy: New Initiative to Watch at Urbana-Champaign

Here is a story to watch: A group of alumni and others are establishing a new entity at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I say "entity," because I have not quite figured out what it is, though it seems clear that the founders know what they want: something like the Hoover Institution at Stanford is their explicit model. But first they have to get it off the ground, with an upcoming one day kickoff conference near the end of September.

The interesting part of the discussion concerns governance and academic accountability, as campus leaders such as Nick Burbules, chair of the University Senate, point out. This entity, called the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund, "is ostensibly an endowment to support the research and teaching of free market capitalism, limited government, entrepreneurship, enterprise and individual rights and responsibilities," according to the article in the local paper today.

Another interesting part of this development is the establishment of such an entity at a major state university, as in like the place where I toil. Founders are eager for that, to branch beyond the Princetons and Stanfords to the huge Midwestern land-grant MooU.

Here are more tidbits from the article:

"While the academy's ideology might have raised a few eyebrows on campus, what's caused a stir recently are discussions about how the academy fund is structured (is it an academy or a fund?) about quality control and academic freedom and accountability, as well as the fear of a possible "mission creep," meaning the academy fund would go from sponsoring research or sponsoring classes to dictating research and offering classes, according to some faculty members."

"Before they established the academy fund, founders like Vermette and O'Laughlin turned to alumni, academics and members of various business and industry associations. They sought the advice of people from the Hoover Institution, a public policy center at Stanford University; (Hoover Senior Fellow Victor Davis Hanson is on the UI academy fund's advisory council); the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (its president Anne Neal is also on the advisory council); and the National Association of Scholars (its president, Stephen Balch, is on the academy fund's board of directors). Both Balch and Neal will participate in the inaugural conference Sept. 27.

(Cary) Nelson said he was disappointed to hear about Balch and Neal's affiliation with the academy fund.

Neal's American Council on Trustees and Alumni "is an extremely conservative organization that fundamentally does not understand academic freedom. They constantly attack professors exercising what (the American Association of University Professors) regards as their academic rights," Nelson said.

"The idea of she and Stephen (Balch) being enshrined in a building on campus suggests those kind of activities will spread to our campus. That will not be a positive contribution to collegiality."

Nelson said the local AAUP chapter is scheduled to discuss the academy fund this week."

And though the founders claim they want to put forth merely another view for discussion, they have big plans: "The fund is at $2 million, and the goal is to increase that to $10 million in three years and $100 million in 2015, Vermette said. "

*Update 9/20: Article in Inside Higher Ed by one of its editors. IHE articles often have great comment threads, and this is no exception. Keep scrolling down!