November 14, 2008

Quotes need larger contextual basis

I fear the remarks attributed to me in the October 31 issue create a misleading impression.

Although the Maroon’s coverage of the controversy surrounding the proposed Milton Friedman Institute has generally been excellent, I fear the remarks attributed to me in the October 31 issue (“Econ Institute Retains Augmented Friedman Moniker”) create a misleading impression.  The two sentences quoted were part of a longer conversation, in which I made the following points:

1) CORES had not yet met to consider Provost Rosenbaum’s memo and other recent developments, and thus I could offer no opinions on behalf of the group.

2) When asked to express my own views, I characterized the Rosenbaum memo as guarded, but showing some flexibility and progress as regards the issue of name.

3) More significant progress was evident, I thought, in the newly revised MFI website, which explicitly rejects a think tank model, defines the MFI as strictly a research (and not a policy) institute, limits visitors to scholars (not politicians or corporate leaders), and seems to abandon the “Milton Friedman Society” (the place of privilege for large donors).

4) It was these developments, and not merely the proposed change in name, that gave me optimism.  As I recall, I characterized them as signs that the administration was now more “responsible and responsive.”

I am not sure what to make of President Zimmer’s remarks, with which your article closes. When he acknowledges that there are still things to talk about as regards MFI, this is a heartening sign, especially if the discussions yet to come reach beyond the administration to include CORES and other critics.  Whatever the President may have intended with the oracular pronouncement “the name is what the name is,” that phrase might be heard in widely differing tones of voice (confident, defiant, rueful, ironic, e.g.).  I would like to think that some of these implicitly suggest the need for fuller consideration and further change.

Bruce Lincoln

Caroline E. Haskell Professor of the History of Religions

Co-chair of CORES