Marshall Sahlins -- emeritus professor of anthropolgy and the social sciences at the University of Chicago and the author of the Zone title Culture in Practice -- has written an angry essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the university's plans to establish a Milton Friedman Institute. Friedman, of course, was one of the twentieth century's most influential and controversial economists, an extoller of free market power and a hater of governmental regulation. Fittingly, the university plans to underwrite the institute's cost with donations from the private sphere; perhaps less fittingly, those who contribute more than one million dollars will have the right to participate in the institute's academic deliberations.
Sahlins - who earlier this year signed an open letter to university president Robert Zimmer expressing deep reservations at the idea - thinks that an institute with Friedman's name on it funded by private dollars "will brand the University of Chicago as an academic instrument of a certain ideology." Here is the nub of his argument:
The Milton Friedman Institute will provide the rich and powerful with the best self-promoting ideas their money can buy. For its part, the university will be compromised by this commodification of knowledge in which a certain orthodoxy about free markets and self-serving individualism easily proves to be the highest bidder...If we allow the university to be outsourced to extra-academic, partisan interests, it will become a money-based political economy of truth values.