October 21, 2008

CORES petition could force second Senate meeting on Friedman Institute

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Faculty members on the Committee for Open Research on Economy and Society (CORES), which opposes the University’s establishment of the Milton Friedman Institute, decided at the group’s Friday meeting to move forward with the collection of signatures on a formal petition asking President Robert Zimmer to convene a second meeting of the full Faculty Senate. They will request that the Institute be the sole discussion item on the agenda.

Although a formal petition is yet to be circulated, CORES has already collected more than the required number of signatures on a preliminary petition to force the president’s hand. Under University bylaws, the president is required to call a meeting of the full Senate at the request of at least 10 percent of the Senate membership. The Senate currently comprises roughly 1,200 University professors, and CORES has collected more than 170 signatures, said CORES co-chair and Divinity School professor Bruce Lincoln.

Although organized opposition to the Institute was what spurred Zimmer to call voluntarily the first such gathering in ten years last Wednesday, time devoted to discussion of the Institute was constrained to roughly half of the two-hour meeting. Several professors in attendance expressed disappointment and anger over what some have characterized as a concerted effort on the part of Zimmer and Provost Thomas Rosenbaum to limit discussion on what was to them the clear item of concern that most members had hoped to debate.

Zimmer and Rosenbaum delivered lengthy statements during which, in addition to the Institute, they discussed the state of the University and various initiatives. At the end of the meeting, discussion on the Institute was cut short for other business despite the fact that several professors who wanted to address the body had yet to do so.

According to CORES co-chair and statistics and computer science professor Yali Amit, although the Senate meeting offered the first formal opportunity for professors to express their opinions to Zimmer and Rosenbaum, many members “came out with a sense that in terms of making progress on the issue, we haven’t really made any effective progress except for maybe some people hearing each other.”

The latest move is an attempt by opponents to devote all of the Senate’s attention to the controversy that has dominated campus circles in the five months since the University announced the establishment of the Institute. CORES members have argued that naming the Institute after one of the twentieth century’s most ardent supporters of free markets would amount to an endorsement of Friedman’s controversial policies.

CORES will present Zimmer with the petition once it has formally collected the required signatures and will ask that a meeting be called at which “we could press for a resolution and a vote,” Lincoln said. No such provision was made for last Wednesday’s meeting. In 1984, the last time a Senate meeting was called to discuss a specific issue, a vote was taken on whether the University should divest from apartheid South Africa. The vote was followed by a mail-in vote of the entire Senate, although then-President Hannah Gray insisted that the vote would not be binding. The resolution to divest was ultimately defeated.

Administrators have maintained that the establishment of the Institute will not be reconsidered. Instead, the various points of contention that have characterized the debate between supporters and opponents have coalesced around whether the University should rename the Institute. One member of the Institute’s faculty committee, James Heckman, has publicly stated that he would to consider a renaming.

According to Lincoln, there have been informal discussions between CORES members about how to proceed with the challenge to the Institute’s name, although no consensus has emerged. “I don’t think there’s a clear strategy on that. It’s something we’ll be looking at,” Lincoln said.

Today, Lincoln will present several documents at the Council of the Senate’s monthly meeting, although he would not elaborate on their content. Although CORES does not have a specific date in mind for the next meeting of the Faculty Senate that will almost surely result from the group’s petition, his preference, he said, “would be sooner rather than later.”