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Senate Executive Committee (SEC) Report, October 6, 2008

I would like to welcome all new and returning Senators to the first meeting of the Senate. To paraphrase the famous Chinese quote, you have been blessed to be Senators during very interesting times.

There are three matters of wide interest I would like to speak about briefly today. You may want to discuss them further with the Chancellors’ representatives, Vice Chancellor for Research Ravi Iyer and Associate Chancellor Peg Rawles.

First, as many of you have seen, the campus issued a press release today reporting that the campus and donors to the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund have agreed to dissolve the agreement with the UI Foundation and to reconstitute the Academy as an independent, private foundation with no connection to the University. Like any foundation, they can issue grants to support faculty research projects, or sponsor any events they might wish to host under their own auspices.

I think this is the right outcome, reached in the right way. It was clear a year ago that, while there was an agreement that had been signed, there was no meeting of the minds about what that agreement entailed. Only afterwards was it clear that the donors and the campus had very different ideas about what had been agreed to, and the past year has been spent trying, with good faith on all sides, to clarify the agreement in a manner consistent with university governance policies. It was not possible to reach that agreement, and so the parties have agreed to go their separate ways (as the News Gazette headline describes it).

Let me be clear that this was never an issue about conservative ideas or their appropriateness on this campus. Everyone agreed that we want a free and open discussion of differing points of view. The issues of funding and governance raised by the Academy were exactly the same as those that would be raised – and have been raised – about donations in other areas of inquiry. Donors can shape and provide advice about the uses of their funds; they can’t direct or determine the specific uses of their funds.

I want to say also that this episode has shown the strengths of shared governance on this campus at their best. There are many ways that this issue, politically charged as it is, could have gone wrong. Chancellor Herman, working closely with the Senate, formed the so-called Ulen Committee, and Tom Ulen and his committee members did an exemplary job in advocating for the values of this university and then following through in trying to bring them to bear in revising the agreement. Tom Ulen himself deserves tremendous credit for shepherding a delicate negotiating process, much of which by necessity had to take place quietly and behind the scenes. He and the Chancellor have served this university well – and I wish it were possible to make more public all that they have done for us.

Second, and more briefly, everyone has heard about some impending changes to the Global Campus, specifically its aspirations to achieve independent accreditation as a fourth campus. In my opinion, this proposal requires by Statute a process of consultation and review by the campus Senates, and so we are inviting President Joe White to our next, November 3rd meeting, to bring us up to date on the proposal and to hear our advice. President White is also consulting closely with the University Senates Conference, which includes representatives from all three Senates. You’ll be hearing more about that in the lead-up to our next Senate meeting.

Third, I know that there has been a lot of concern about the interpretation of state ethics laws as they might apply to political speech and political advocacy on campus. I am confident that no one at the university or the campus level intends to interpret and apply these rules in a way that infringes on the widest possible scope for free speech and expression on campus. Still, good intentions notwithstanding, it is always important to be vigilant in protecting these rights for our own campus and for the endeavor of higher education generally. I asked Chancellor Herman, since he could not be here today, to send a representative to answer questions about this policy, and Associate Chancellor Peg Rawles is with us today.

With, that let me turn the agenda back over to Vice Chancellor Iyer.

Nicholas Burbules
SEC Chair