Milton Friedman Still Irritates Some Professors

A group of professors at the University of Chicago—101 of them, or about 8 percent of the full-time faculty—is protesting the decision to establish an economics research institute on campus to be named after Milton Friedman. Their letter to the president of the university says the naming would “reinforce among the public a perception that the university’s faculty lacks intellectual and ideological diversity.”

Good grief. This must be one of the rare times when a significant number of professors fretted about the lack of intellectual diversity on a major campus. This kind of concern did not surface when one survey after another showed that campuses are dominated by liberal and Democratic professors. Instead we got rationalizations: conservatives weren’t bright enough to climb the academic ladder, or they were too money-hungry to head for the campus at all. The lack of real diversity isn’t bothersome to the protesters, but the “perception” created by naming a center for a famous, Nobel-winning, free-market economist is disturbing. “For many people who travel around the world, the university has had a pretty bad reputation that is tied to the Chicago school and economic principles that Milton Friedman advocated,” said Yali Amit, a University of Chicago statistics and computer science professor.

The protesters are also convinced that the new center “is a right-wing think tank being put in place,” in the words of Bruce Lincoln, a professor in the history of religions at the U. of C. But the university explicitly says it will welcome a range of viewpoints at the center. And Erin O’Connor, blogging at Critical Mass adds this: “Friedman himself was hardly pigeon-holeable—as a libertarian, he believed in free markets, but he also helped end the draft and advocated the decriminalization of drugs and prostitution. But these things are lost on the faculty protesters, with their blunt-instrument descriptors…”
Ilya Somin, blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy says it doesn’t matter if the center attracts a disproportionate number of libertarian and conservative scholars as long as their scholarship is of high quality and judged by objective standards. And the deep concern that scholars at the Friedman center might lean right doesn’t seem balanced by a parallel concern over the many centers and departments that identify with the left. Think of “gender studies,” “peace studies,” or Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University. Final note: for some reason the names of the protesting professors have not been released. Why not?

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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