What I shared with my University colleagues earlier in October, 2010, and in an edited version on 11/3/10:
The author recalls the constitutional debate over the political independence of the University of California to seek a path for the moral independence of the University of Illinois.
Of interest to colleagues might be a few quotes from the convention leading up to the California Constitution of 1879, by a non-partisan, Columbia U.-educated San Francisco attorney, University of California regent, and civil rights advocate named Joseph Winans, who argued that the University of California be set up as a “public trust,” governed by an independent board of regents, separate from the corrupt California legislature.
To those who opposed such a public trust arrangement, Winans held that they “would not only throw the university into the hands of the Legislature, but make it the plaything of politics. . . as long as it is made subject to legislative caprice; so long as it can be made subject to the beck of the politicians; so long as it can be made to subserve sectarian or political designs, it will never flourish.” According to Winans, California’s university “must be beyond all power of assault and subversion.” Separately, Winans stated that he wanted UC to be structured outside of “all pernicious political influences.”
In the end, after a contradictory, topsy turvy battle, Winans’s position prevailed, and the University of California was structured as a public trust. The California Constitution read that the University would be “subject only to such legislative control as may be necessary to insure compliance with the terms of its endowment and the proper investment of and security of its funds.” According to the California attorney general, the University was a virtual fourth branch of government as a “constitutional corporation. . . equal and coordinate with the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive.”
Douglass, John Aubrey, 2000. The California idea and American higher education 1850 to the 1960 master plan. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, pp. 67-69.
By the way, the 1880 state appropriation to UC was $10,000, or 8% of the total operating expenses, which arguably approaches the effective contribution, factoring in funds in arrears, of the State of Illinois general revenue funding of the U of I in a given month.
In part because of the lack of such a public trust arrangement in Illinois, over the past century and one half, our own University has been pressured to be a political jobs bank, to be a purchasing machine, to be a cash line of credit for the state, to accept buildings it did not plan for or need or couldn’t afford to maintain, to accept numerous unfunded mandates, to be publicly shamed in the integrity of its admissions and earlier its scholarship process while the legislative rascals who compromised the University walked away scot free, to be regulated at a higher standard than the Illinois Legislature would ever impose on itself and at an increasing rate inversely proportionate to the decline in state funding–and more–while University administrators have had to grin from time to time, and act as if they liked it.
That the U of I, including UIC, has accomplished all that it has is a testament to the savvy determination of its leadership and to the integrity of its faculty. However, the state of corruption in Illinois requires an ever more vigilant public attitude toward state government.
Therefore, the independence from political corruption of the U of I, including UIC, should be at the top of every government reform agenda in the state, no matter what one’s political persuasion. Independence from political corruption should not be limited to admissions, but include hiring, purchasing, scholarships, real estate, research, investment, in short, every kind of human value that can be turned by enterprising scoundrels into a political pay day.
While the U of I cannot be constitutionally independent of the political mess in the state–and may never be–it can be morally independent, by pursuing its missions of teaching, research, service, and economic development with absolute focus and integrity.
If we of the University transform ourselves along these lines, we can also hope to transform the state.
Never underestimate the transformative power of a university.
© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved