According to an article in Saturday’s New York Times, the faculty of the University of Chicago is in an uproar over plans to establish a research institute named in honor of the late Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and long time faculty member at the University. . Some 100 faculty members have signed a petition objecting to any such enterprise that might place a stamp of approval on Professor Friedman’s economic theories. They also seem to fear that such an institute would signal to the outside world that Chicago’s faculty “lacks intellectual and ideological diversity.” The indignant faculty members seem blissfully unaware that their protest sends precisely this signal, implying as it does that the left leaning faculty at the University are made uncomfortable and fearful by the presence in their midst of competing points of view.
The protests are being led by one Bruce Lincoln, a professor in the Divinity School who seems especially exercised by the prospect of a Friedman Institute on his campus. Roger Kimball, quoting from the professor’s own website, reports that Mr. Lincoln "has a notoriously short attention span and has also written on a wide variety of topics, including Guatemalan curanderismo, Lakota sun dances, Melanesian funerary rituals, Swazi kingship, the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre, Marco Polo, professional wrestling, and the theology of George
W. Bush." Professor Lincoln is plainly the type of “scholar” who is increasingly found in divinity schools, sociology departments, and gender studies institutes – which is to say that he is not a scholar at all but a specialist in left-wing politics and popular culture.
Is it really possible to place this man’s accomplishments, such as they are, next to the imposing contributions that Milton Friedman made over a long lifetime to the discipline of economics? Friedman was a giant in that field, not merely among his contemporaries, but among the great economists of the past like Ricardo, Marshall, and Keynes. His contributions were path-breaking because they challenged the conventional doctrines popular among his contemporaries. His Monetary History of the United States, completed in 1963 and written jointly with Anna Schwartz, is one of the landmark works in the entire history of economics. His research revolutionized the study of money and monetary policy. Much in contrast to academics like Mr. Lincoln, Professor Friedman was a gentleman who was wont to listen politely and patiently to rival points of view, before gently cutting them apart with the razor-like logic that was his trademark. He positively enjoyed debate and would have been most uncomfortable in any setting in which everyone agreed with him. Professor Friedman would not have wanted a center created in his name devoted to a single point of view – and his colleagues do not propose to organize the center on any such tendentious model.
Thus, the question here is not really whether or not the University of Chicago should have a center named for Milton Friedman, but whether or not it deserves to have one – whether the institution wishes to tie its future with the likes of Mr. Lincoln and his co-conspirators or whether it associates itself with the accomplishments and ideals so well represented in the life of Professor Friedman. It was much to its credit that the University of Chicago provided an academic home to Milton Friedman during those decades in which his views were out of favor. It would now disgrace itself if, after those views have won broad assent in the marketplace of ideas, it chose to reject his example under pressure from know-nothings like Professor Lincoln.
There is, of course, no precedent being broken by naming a research center after a figure like Milton Friedman. There is already at the University of Chicago the Harris School of Public Policy, the Pritzker School of Medicine, and the Friedrich Katz Center for Mexican Studies – the latter named after a longtime professor at the University whose specialty was Mexican politics and history. In the Divinity School, there are centers named after former professors Martin Marty and Jerald Brauer. This merely scratches the surface of named programs at the University of Chicago.
Nor is the University so free from ideological programs as Professor Lincoln claims that it is. Here, from the University’s website, is a description of The Center for Gender Studies:
The Center for Gender Studies consolidates work on gender and sexuality, and in feminist, gay and lesbian, and queer studies. Along with fostering teaching, research, and discussion at the University, the Center seeks to reach out into public areas where gender and sexuality come together with other political, social, artistic, and intellectual concerns.
Women have very different stories to tell about the experiments in co-education and faculty diversification; the experience of the classroom, the laboratory, the dorm, and the streets of Hyde Park; the problems of mentorship, intellectual community, and career advancement; the opportunities for political action and community involvement, for friendship, romance, and sexual experimentation. (Emphasis added)
The University of Chicago is plainly awash in programs intended to advance left-wing ideology and political action – not to mention those promoting “romance and sexual experimentation.” The directors of the Center for Gender Studies dare to state this openly in the conviction that it will not appear controversial in the least to their like-minded colleagues in the Divinity School and elsewhere. Milton Friedman’s intellectual legacy clearly cuts against the grain of this kind of academic fare and, indeed, it seems increasingly out of place in the politicized university of today – which is precisely why the University of Chicago should celebrate it.