The core of the matter

The University should directly engage CORES, lest it prove accusations of corporatism true

By Maroon Editorial Board

Some who see the ad placed in today’s issue of the Maroon by the Committee for Open Research on Economy & Society (CORES) might take this latest protest as simply a revival of the controversy from Fall 2008, which we assumed concluded—more or less—with the redesignation of the MFI as the “Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics” (MFIRE). This is not, however, the Friedman Flap Redux; the issues raised by CORES this time are far broader, and they are of concern to all of us, wherever we settled in the original debate over the Institute.

CORES’ charge this go-round is that the University administration has chosen to operate in a “corporate” fashion that is in violation of University statutes and—more pressing still—incompatible with the spirit of open academic inquiry. The University’s continued efforts to find funding and facilities for MFIRE inspired this most recent petition, but by this point, even abandoning the MFIRE project entirely would not stay CORES’ concerns. The language of the petition, which has the signatures of 125 faculty members, amounts to a multifaceted and deeply unsettling indictment of the administration and the direction it has chosen for the University.

Evaluating the merit of CORES’ individual claims will take time. In the coming months, that process will certainly occupy the efforts of the Maroon and a number of other groups on campus. But the overall validity of CORES’ petition will be evident, in large measure, in the way the administration chooses to address a challenge of this magnitude.

The truth in a situation like this—which a corporation might be slow to recognize, but which the leadership of a university would surely understand—is that the administration has little to lose by addressing CORES head on, and much to gain. If the administrators respond by circling the wagons, or ducking the matter with News Office-approved platitudes and denials, it will only encourage the perception that the men and women leading this University are disinterested in—and disengaged from—the broader U of C community.

By contrast, transparency in dealing with CORES, besides being distinctly non-corporate, is the surest way to repair whatever damage this controversy may do to the University’s image. The business of any university worth its salt, after all, is the open discussion of ideas, and CORES has laid out some walloping ideas—that the administration has interfered in the curriculum of study-abroad programs, for instance, and developed profitable, degree-granting programs to the detriment of those that are less lucrative. Silence or evasion on these points from University administrators will only allow these concerns to fester, and foster even wider discontent.

There are a number of public avenues through which President Zimmer and others in the administration can respond to these charges. Doing so, and doing so without lapsing into the empty idiom of corporate administrators, is not above and beyond their duties—far from it. Taking the ideas of others seriously is at the very heart of our responsibilities as members of this University. For the administration to respond honestly and in full to CORES’ accusations—regardless of what that reveals—would be greatly reassuring, and a tremendous step toward fulfilling that responsibility.

The Maroon Editorial Board includes the Editor-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.