Fox Professing
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials



From "Radical University" to
Handmaiden of the Corporate State

Ron Sakolsky & Dennis Fox

This version published by
Teachers for a Democratic Culture

Publication History

My take on the Ward Churchill controversy
that brings so many visitors to this page

The two of us first heard about Sangamon State University through unusually placed recruiting ads. In the early 1970s, shortly after it was created, Sakolsky applied for a job in response to an ad in Rolling Stone. Fifteen years later, Fox applied for a job after seeing a notice in Radical Teacher urging students to come to a "radical university." In 1995, though, while celebrating its 25th anniversary, Sangamon State became UIS, the University of Illinois at Springfield. The name change symbolized the official end to an exciting experiment. SSU's final days came about through a union-busting legislative restructuring of higher education, compounded by deceptive political maneuvering and biased local news media.

Although Sangamon State's initial alternative-education commitment marked it as unusual, its recent experiences parallel broader trends. University administrators and state legislatures across the country are responding to taxpayer cost-cutting initiatives, corporate insistence on running a university like a business, and right-wing political rhetoric about what's wrong with academe. Attacks on the tenure system abound, with criticisms of admitted abuses often masking efforts to eliminate professors too troublesome in the radicalism of their research interests or too entrenched in activist politics for current tastes. Universities increasingly rely on part-time faculty and push for Internet-delivered coursework, fragmenting academic departments and threatening to turn professors into easily replaceable (and ultimately unnecessary) information providers (in our case, University of Illinios President James Stukel has joined with UIS Chanceller Naomi Lynn to announce the dawning of the "virtual university," enhancing the promulgation of twenty-first century Babbittry via state-of-the-art computerized learning modules officially stamped out by the U of I cookie cutter). Cash-hungry administrators turn students into captive consumers, as in the bidding wars between Coke and Pepsi for exclusive on-campus soft drink rights (as on the main U of I campus in Urbana-Champaign). Faculty unions are portrayed as quaint obstacles to the development of more collegial campuses, often nothing more than shorthand for hierarchical, corporate-friendly, no-frills campuses providing nothing more than cost-effective job training.

Once Sangamon was gobbled up by the huge U of I headquartered 90 interstate miles away in Urbana, longstanding efforts to remove all traces of our alternative origins and goals escalated. Today, the campus buzzes with plans to make UIS a more mainstream, respectable institution. That's bad enough. Even worse is the effort to tie UIS's central public affairs identity almost exclusively to serving the state government's bureaucracy in Springfield, the state capital, rather than to challenging the assumptions of an unjust society. Tellingly, the campus's new logo places the letters "UIS" directly under the state capitol dome, clarifying on every university document and T-shirt the conversion from university to state agency.

Because UIS faculty lost their collective bargaining rights as a result of unprecedented legislative fiat despite large-scale faculty opposition, by the turn of the century the union had become a dead letter. Class size at the state's smallest public college is going up, increasingly innocuous research has overtaken teaching as a faculty status symbol, more people seem to walk around humming "Pomp and Circumstance" than ever before, and armed police imposed by the administration (over the objections of the Faculty Senate) patrol the campus. Opposition to the changes is depressingly sporadic. Many of the older faculty look forward to escape through early retirement, while many of the untenured faculty are either wary of making waves or supportive of the university's move into mainstream affiliation.

The on-campus arrest of two faculty members in 1995 while distributing leaflets objecting to the destruction of the union epitomized the end of an era. As the arrested faculty members, the two of us took it kind of personally. It's clear from Michael Parenti's personal account of his own 1970 beating and arrest at UIUC (in his recent book Dirty Truths) that hostility to free speech is as old a UI tradition as is the Urbana campus's racist football "mascot," Chief Illiniwek.

up to top

Flawed Origins

In 1970 Sangamon State University, the smallest of Illinois' 12 state universities, was a different kind of place. Many students were not graded, for example, but received individualized evaluations instead. There were no large classes. No deans or department chairs--in fact, no departments. Interdisciplinary courses were the norm. Faculty were hired for their interest in teaching--without teaching assistants--and had no publish-or-perish requirement. SSU was designated "the public affairs university of Illinois" at a time when public affairs, for many of the faculty at least, meant opposing the war in Vietnam and devising alternatives to mainstream institutions. It was an upper-division institution designed for older students transferring in from community colleges and traditional four-year institutions less suited to their needs; the average age of undergraduates was over 30. Faculty and students who were around at the time describe those days with obvious affection.

In the interests of truth in advertising, though, SSU might more accurately have been deemed a university with at best radical potential and at worst radical pretensions. In hindsight, its initial design was flawed. From the very beginning it was vulnerable both to the external pressures of the market and to reactionary local elites and political conservatives in the state legislature and the governor's office. The radical interpretation that some of the new faculty and students had given to the "public affairs mandate" they had authorized came as a surprise. Within two years of the school's founding, SSU's administrators began to purge policies and personnel that stood in the way of normalization, beginning more than two decades of struggle between competing visions of what kind of university Sangamon was to be. Inevitable faculty debate over educational policy has almost always allowed administrators to selectively claim they were merely responding to those faculty desires most in keeping with their agenda, such as the conversion to a four year university. With the recent transition from SSU to UIS putting the administration and its faculty supporters firmly in control, the initial radical potential has now been almost totally gutted.

While grading policy is not the only indicator of an educational institution's progressive nature, it is one example of the kind of internal structural flaw that led to the undoing of the original SSU model. While innovative, the grading system was unlike the more radical designs at either its sister public university, The Evergreen State College in Washington (TESC), or the private Hampshire College in Massachusetts, both of which were founded around the same time as SSU. Though Hampshire caters to a more affluent student body, TESC has seen its ungraded model thrive with a state-university student body that is much closer in class background to ours. SSU's founders, however, instead struck a fatal liberal compromise with the forces of the market: its students were given the "choice" of receiving grades along with their written evaluations. Like many liberal reform efforts, no matter how sincere, what appeared to offer a free choice really only involved the illusion of choice. The students were inadvertently set up.

What students quickly discovered was that employers and graduate schools preferred grades to unorthodox written evaluations. And so, as the years went by, the vast majority of students "chose" that option. Of course, this was a "free" choice only in the same sense that "free trade" uses the concept of freedom to mask capitulation to capitalist priorities. What appeared to be SSU's flexible policy offered students no real choice. In contrast, TESC and Hampshire students can defend themselves against the market-driven demands of personnel departments and graduate school admissions officers by informing them that there are no grades at their institutions and handing them instead a sheaf of narrative faculty evaluations. It was this lack of an option at TESC and Hampshire that nurtured the radical educational goals of the original experiment by protecting students from external forces.

While Evergreen and Hampshire have continued to attract large numbers of students interested in radical educational goals, SSU, now UIS, has not. As a result, it has continually moved toward being a capstone for new junior college graduates and the politically unsophisticated products of traditional academic socialization at other four-year schools. Unlike students in the past, many of whom chose SSU for its innovative atmosphere, most students today come in with no understanding of SSU's history and little sympathy for what remains nontraditional. It is not surprising that many of them at times embrace the conservative and mainstream initiatives thrust upon them, which are almost always accompanied by threats of financial exigency.

So these days not only are written student evaluations not done by UIS faculty as a matter of course or upon request, but most faculty and students have never even heard of them. While you can still take a course on a credit/no credit basis if faculty allow that option, many courses are graded with no such option available. Even where the option still exists, internal bureaucratic obstacles must be overcome. Many academic programs frown upon or specifically forbid their students from straying from traditional letter grades, supposedly to protect them from the harshness of the corporate, government, and academic marketplaces whose demands are viewed as quite legitimate and accepted as a given.

As to the nature of these programs, what has been their evolution over time? To use one example, the interdisciplinary Work, Culture and Society program became the Labor Studies Program (emphasizing work rather than the relations among work, culture and society), then it became the Labor Relations Program (narrowing the focus even further to unions and collective bargaining). Presently, it is no longer a degree program but has been relegated to the status of a minor rather than a major. Other radical interdisciplinary programs have been eliminated outright (the Justice and Social Order Program and the Studies in Social Change Program come readily to mind).

In the meantime, the culture of the campus has changed dramatically. While the union was content to concern itself with nitty-gritty bread-and-butter issues, the cultural life (from grand architectural design and the use of public space to the radio station to the presentation of cultural events to such localized cultural forums as bulletin boards) fell by default to administrators eager to please their corporate/state masters rather than to campus activists seeking to build a sense of shared community. Corporate logos (even flags) have popped up everywhere while institutional accountability vis a vis sweatshop contracts is nil. What was once an intimate community of scholars and activists has become, like so many other campuses, simply a human resource training and allocation platform for business and state government interests. The university still theoretically operates in relation to its public affairs mandate from the state legislature, but questioning the basic values upon which public policy decisions are made happens less frequently. The new emphasis is on delivery and implementation, as in the newly announced training institute for police departments throughout the state and beyond. No longer are there student and faculty applied study quarters (on the Antioch work/study model) under which students and faculty were encouraged to leave the ivory tower for a period of community involvement; students earned credit and faculty satisfied university public affairs requirements while keeping in touch with practical issues related to their field of study. Instead, with a few exceptions, campus-community projects today are dominated by the hand-holding etiquette of the state bureaucracy, faculty grantsmanship, and the unbridled pursuit of corporate largesse.

up to top

Forced Transition

By the time the legislature pushed SSU into the University of Illinois system five years ago, most of these campus changes were well underway. There were not only grades for everyone but we even had a Dean's List. Classes were larger and students were younger. Teaching could still count more than research for promotion and tenure, but new faculty were more often asked about their research and grants than about their courses. The university had proposed its first doctoral program, in public affairs, but public affairs now seemed to mean training workers to serve the state more effectively.

Vestiges of the past survived uncomfortably, changed in both substance and style. University publicity began to refer to our "relatively" small classes, and there were plans for a new building with larger lecture rooms. The proposed doctorate in public affairs somehow turned into a doctorate in public administration. It was still possible (and remains so) to gain approval for new courses, but there was more pressure to offer courses attracting larger enrollments. Students still wrote papers, but in many programs larger class size had already led to reduced writing requirements. Multiple choice tests remained rare. Unfortunately, unlike at TESC, where large classes are saved from such mechanical grading techniques by interactive seminar sections taught by faculty members, at UIS the larger classes that already exist do not divide into smaller groups.

Many program conveners served a two-year term and then passed the coordinating role onto someone else (though there was already talk of eliminating "conveners" in favor of "chairs" or even "heads" of departments). Generally, the convener/chair had no power to make decisions for other program members--he or she was accountable to the program, not to higher level administrators. These remnants of decentralization immensely annoyed the administration, which quickly began to align our structure with that of the UI system, strengthening the deans' decision making power while assuring us with a straight face that Urbana and Chicago UI faculty really had more power than we did because they didn't have a union to muck up the works for the campus senate or for individual faculty members who prefered to make their own deals with their deans.

Although the faculty as a whole is more mainstream these days, there is still a small and beleaguered core of Marxists and anarchists and environmentalists, anti-racists and feminists among the 157 faculty members, some of whom even take their radical perspectives out of the classroom and into the streets. A surprising number of courses still emphasize radical perspectives, and extra-curricular events reflect the activism that remains a priority for a few of the faculty. In 1999, for example, Sakolsky facilitated a WTO teach-in on the "Battle of Seattle," which drew a sizable crowd, and both of us were at the "Break The Bank" demonstrations in D.C. against the IMF/World Bank in April of 2000. Locally, campus support for progressive politics has long been a thorn in the side of the Springfield business community, which hugely welcomed the transition from SSU to UIS.

"Restructuring" Higher Education

Republican Governor Jim Edgar's first effort to restructure Illinois' four higher education boards was stopped by a Democratic-controlled House. In November, 1994, though, after Republicans took control of both the House and the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Bob Kustra took the lead during a general onslaught of fast-track legislation. His Higher Education Bill passed with minimal legislative debate, minimal media coverage, and minimal evaluation of what was at stake. As part of a larger package, SSU "merged" with the University of Illinois , the pinnacle of Illinois higher education in the corporate-university mold ("merging" was the local euphemism for "hostile takeover"). On July 1, 1995, SSU became the third, and most minuscule, U of I campus.

Envisioning a more impressive resume, many students were thrilled, especially the increasingly numerous younger students with less appreciation for SSU's origins. The faculty were divided, though many liked the idea, too, especially newer faculty and others who had always wanted to be part of a more conventionally prestigious university or who thought U of I would generate more funding. The administration liked the idea, fantasizing that UIS would grow in size and status. And Springfield's business and political leaders just loved the idea. They were already planning new construction projects to accompany the expected jump in enrollment, which has yet to materialize.

We were on the other side, for a lot of reasons. Sangamon State University was a failing experiment, but at least it was an experiment, an attempt to do something different. And despite promises that we'd continue to be a teaching university with small classes and a lot of autonomy, contradictory signs from UI made it pretty clear early on that changes for the worse were inevitable. James Stukel, incoming President of the three-campus UI system, openly talked about hiring new faculty more interested in mainstream research than in teaching, something they denied would happen--until right after the legislation passed.

Union Busting

At the time of the takeover, SSU faculty had had collective bargaining for almost a decade, building on 15 years of rabble rousing and decentralized decision making. Longtime UI President Stanley Ikenberry wanted the union--the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI), part of the Illinois Federation of Teachers--out of the picture. Telling legislators that the happy UI system couldn't accommodate a faculty union on any of its campuses, he agreed to take SSU into "his" system only if he didn't have to take UPI.

So the Republican-controlled legislature accommodated Stanley Ikenberry instead. At the last minute, legislators added a provision that merged the faculty at all three campuses into a single bargaining unit, effectively killing collective bargaining. For possibly the first time in United States history, a state legislature overturned a state labor board's prior decision specifically to make sure that the usual criteria for bargaining unit recognition such as commonality of purpose and physical proximity would not be followed--and only in a single institution! In the Southern Illinois University system, faculty at Carbondale can vote in a new bargaining unit without having to get a majority vote at the separate Edwardsville campus. But to retain collective bargaining at UIS, UPI now needs a majority vote at UI's two larger universities and their affiliated professional schools, whose professors have little in common with us historically, professionally, politically, or institutionally. Inconsistently, unionized clerical workers and other groups on campus remain in separate campus-by-campus bargaining units.

Unfortunately, the faculty union strategy over the past few years has been restricted primarily to lobbying and pursuing an endless legal process based upon a failed 1995 lawsuit aimed at restoring our bargaining unit. Based on the belief that we had established a workable, even though adversarial, bargaining arrangement in the past, the union leadership believed that nonconfrontational appeals and honest negotiation would work. But this left us twisting in uncertain political winds, buffeted by deceptive promises and claimed good intentions. As past UPI chapter president and Marxist theorist Bob Sipe said bitterly "We got screwed through a process of backstabbing, underhanded, double-dealing politicians in smoke-filled rooms who pushed their agendas to the total exclusion of faculty, staff, and students." Our multiyear contract finally ran out on June 30, 1998. The following September, a handful of UPI members demonstrated quietly when the Board of Trustees came to campus, a few hours before the Trustees voted against the union for the third time. Today the union, powerless to bargain, is essentially defunct.

Media Blackout

As the initial takeover legislation zipped through the statehouse, Springfield's State Journal-Register and WICS-TV ignored fundamental criticisms. When Fox submitted a column in January '95 to the J-R pointing out the inevitability of stricter admission standards for students (thus forcing many local students to go elsewhere or nowhere), higher tuition, and a faculty more interested in state- and corporate-driven research than in teaching, the editor said he would print the column, but then--with no explanation--never did. Media coverage remained enthusiastic, reflecting the newspaper publisher's and the TV station general manager's membership on a committee advising SSU President (later to be UIS Chancellor) Lynn on how to manage the merger. Only after the governor signed the bill did the newspaper hint, once, that stricter standards, higher tuition, and a more "publish or perish" research model were likely. Since then, the points they originally refused to report have become part of the background, occasionally acknowledged as if they were always obvious, necessary, and unremarkable.

Unlike the weekly alternative newspaper, Illinois Times., which eventually reported the story, the J-R never reported that the union-busting provision was inserted in the bill at the last minute, that committee staffers had gotten the 429-page bill only ten minutes before the members voted, and that a committee chair said he was personally opposed to the bill but would vote for it anyway because he had been given his orders. Only when the bill was well on its way to becoming law did the mainstream media finally make a few out-of-context and inaccurate references to the union issue. The J-R mentioned a few more details in passing after the governor signed the legislation. When we were arrested at UIS by university police while leafleting an on-campus appearance by then-State Senator (now Springfield Mayor) Karen Hasara, the major media failed to explain that our leaflets criticized her co-sponsorship of the union-busting bill.

Not surprisingly, the established media minimized our efforts to restore our bargaining unit. The J-R's report of the September 1998 Board of Trustees meeting, for example, omitted the presence of union protesters (as well as the presence of UIUC students who spoke in opposition to increased fees, poverty wages for graduate assistants--who have now organized their own UPI-affiliated union, still officially unrecognized--and the university's retention of Chief Illiniwek). The transformation to the newly respectable, union-free UIS is portrayed in an entirely positive light, good for student career advancement and good for business.

up to top


Although most of the movement toward mainstream respectability predates the UI takeover, the new arrangement has strengthened earlier trends and added new complications. Some developments are merely irritants--the incessantly cheerful memos from Chancellor Lynn and President Stukel quickly come to mind. Of course, even irritants are sometimes highly symbolic, as in the case of the campus's new capitol-dome logo, the well publicized effort to let SSU's past graduates exchange their outdated diplomas for "new and improved" ones with the UI name, and the persistent rumor that the central administration forced repainting of our new campus signs because, although our administration had tried to get it right, the color didn't precisely enough match the UI blue.

Other developments reflect more substantive steps toward replacing the relatively nontraditional past with a rock-no-boats future. The campus is awash with new committees trying to clarify where the institution is headed. Plans to add freshmen and sophomores to the student mix continue, not so much for the educational benefits that some of us imagine but because lower-division students mean larger classes and a better spot on the state's annual ratings of faculty productivity. Inducements for faculty to take part in computerizing the classroom receive more attention than the need for basic support services.

Each year the administration places more emphasis on parading faculty research and publication, which now counts more for tenure and promotion than in the past. Every faculty member who publishes now gets an award certificate at a fall ceremony "proudly presented by First National Bank and the University of Illinois at Springfield." Each year UI grants financial rewards to selected "University Scholars," distributing what for UIS are huge amounts of money--either a $6000 annual award for three years to two individuals or $12,000 to one--rather than dividing the money among more faculty as proposed by the union.

Things remain unsettled. Administrators seem more reluctant to make decisions than in the past, perhaps reflecting in part an awareness that the bosses in Urbana have not yet made it entirely clear what they intend to do with us--or with them. In some cases, campus administrators willing to resolve issues in keeping with SSU precedent have been overruled by higher-ups in Urbana. When the staff/clerical worker union (also UPI) sought a contract right after the transition that retained earlier-won benefits, UIS administrators willing to accept the union position were supposedly prevented from doing so by their UI superiors, who wanted to make sure our unionized workers did no better than the non-unionized workers on the other campuses. When the staff union picketed a university convocation, unionized faculty members marched with them. Most recently, UIS clerical workers saw their Christmas vacation days dramatically cut in 2000, albeit with crocodile tears shed by the outgoing Chancellor, who somberly invoked as her justification the bureaucratic need to conform to U of I policy.

With issues such as tenure, class size, and grievance procedures no longer subject to collective bargaining, there's increasing pressure to make UIS's practices conform to UI's centralized regulations, pompously formalized as "Statutes." Despite promises that UIS would be an equal partner in the merged system, once the merger was official it became clear that the promise of equal treatment was the delusion that many of us suspected from the start.

Pressures to follow UI norms and in other ways become more traditional have sometimes been resisted, other times not. The Campus Senate agreed in 1996 to changes in governance with little open discussion of what kinds of pressures UI and UIS administrators brought to bear. Yet an administration effort the same year to revamp the campus's organizational structure--leaving the way open to reduced faculty decision making despite "trust-me" assurances to the contrary--was abandoned after intense faculty opposition, as was an earlier effort to impose restrictions on campus leafleting, petitioning, and other speech activities. In 1997 the senate endorsed a union-backed modification of our old grievance procedure that mandated binding arbitration of disputes, despite warnings that the administration would simply veto any departure from UI's top-down traditions (a veto that would be impossible if the administration had to negotiate with a union rather than merely approve or disapprove suggestions from an advisory senate). In 1998's senate election, the union's endorsed at-large candidates swamped the non-endorsed candidates by more than a two-to-one margin, putting the lie to the administration's post-takeover mutterings that the faculty didn't support UPI. Under the new system of governance, however, even if union supporters were to continue to win a majority of all faculty seats, they could still be outvoted, because the newly established Campus Senate does not just represent faculty.

Every institution must change over time or cease to be alive and vital. What we question here is not change itself but particular kinds of change. Some changes, in our opinion, would have been for the good, given a continued commitment to radical educational content and process. But that commitment has been sorely lacking for some time. The original SSU conception, prohibiting the admission of freshmen and sophomores, worked well at first. Seeking education alternatives, dropouts from more traditional universities enrolled. So did more traditional junior college graduates, bringing a solid working-class perspective to the school. However, once the university's more innovative features were largely jettisoned, student (and faculty) conservatism increased. At the same time, we stopped offering an alternative vision to inspire students and faculty coming from a more traditional background.

On the other hand, at The Evergreen State College and Hampshire, freshmen and sophomores were always part of the picture, so less acclimatizing and deprogramming were required by the junior year. At TESC, incoming freshmen are given a thorough orientation in the radical approach to education they are about to encounter. Evergreen's radicalism is worn with pride, not hidden in the closet as at SSU/UIS where students have never received such an orientation. The end result is a student body that is either attracted to TESC for its radicalism or, even if not, is given guidance in what it means to be part of an alternative university in which intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and activism are often combined.

Things are different at UIS. Students entering as juniors or graduate students not only bring with them the conservatism of their prior education, but they are not institutionally encouraged to embrace a radical approach. Sure, individual students can still design their own degrees in the remaining Individual Option Program or take courses on a credit/no credit basis if faculty permit. But they do so in spite of, rather than because of, the institution. Moreover, they must seek to survive in a campus and classroom setting and within a student body that is generally not supportive of such an approach. Though small in size, perhaps the newly approved Capitol Scholars Program, which for the first time admits freshmen, will be an opening wedge to admitting more undergraduates, but the impetus of this program is clearly oriented to creating an elite core of students to service the special needs of state government rather than a more radical interpretation of public affairs.

Serving the State

Framing the end-of century change in UIS's relation to the state were two much ballyhooed events. The first, in May 1997, was a national "LINKS" conference: "The Links Between Public Universities and State Capitals: Preparing for the 21st Century." (Although the University of Illinois was the host, and UIS has plenty of room for run-of-the-mill conferences, LINKS met downtown at the Renaissance Hotel, closer to the state capitol building and the better restaurants.) According to the State Journal-Register, "the conference is the product of a loose association of public policy practitioners and scholars who meet annually to discuss ways that state governments and public universities--especially public universities in capital cities--can better work together." A conference organizer noted that "universities can help government, including training managers, research, evaluation and hosting public meetings (so the public can be) more informed and more engaged." Another conference planner pointed out that "UIS already compares favorably to other capital city public universities in the way it interacts with state government." No mention was made of the alternative Evergreen model in Olympia, Washington's state capital.

We were not too surprised by the conference, nor by the university's efforts to be a player, nor by the fact that so many of UIS's faculty and administrators are seduced by the prospect of becoming policy-making insiders. But although some of us might be interested in getting legislators and bureaucrats to rethink what they're doing--especially as Illinois becomes a national leader in right-wing governmental "reform"--UIS as an institution is not so much challenging state injustices as helping the state do what it's doing more effectively. When politicians and bureaucrats try to out-do one another over how much they can make life worse for the poor and better for corporations, helping the state become more efficient in its operations and more effective in justifying them is clearly counterproductive. That the conference brochure included "corporate higher education partners" on the list of "Who Should Attend" is a bad sign for those of us who think corporate power is already too evident in American universities. When UPI activists showed up at a public conference event to protest union-busting, they were prevented from distributing leaflets by university-directed hotel security guards who simply ripped leaflets from the hands of the few people who had been able to receive them.

One of the conference ironies is that the university asked Bob Kustra to deliver a keynote address. Kustra, the Lieutenant Governor who moved the takeover bill through the legislature, is a former SSU professor and former union member whose championing of Republican policies (including his "swan song" mission, an attack on the tenure system) was particularly galling. You'd think the university wouldn't flaunt its relationship with a man whom many blame for much of what happened. But what better way to indicate the preferred direction for all UIS faculty than to highlight one of our own who went on to help state government restructure the past out of existence? Since then, Kustra has been appointed a college president in Kentucky, but a future UIS chancellorship is not out of the question.

up to top

Serving Corporate America

Further clarifying UIS's new priorities, the second campus-state partnership event came when UIS's increasingly conservative Institute for Public Affairs sponsored a Year 2000 symposium, in conjunction with Mayor Karen Hasara, called "Forecasts and Possibilities 2020." Three corporate pundits came to explain , according to the media, how corporations could "make money on coming trends." The event's corporate sponsor was AT&T, whose Director of Franchising and Government Relations took time away from his duties fending off anti-trust charges to be one of the panelists. AT&T, perhaps not coincidentally, actively promotes not just increasing corporate partnerships with accredited universities like UIS but the creation of new corporate-based universities as well.

The other two "professional soothsayers," as they were called in the media, included a Criminal Justice professor at Governor's State University whose claim to fame is his work with the FBI as the profiler on the team that hunted down the Unabomber. The founder of the Society of Police Futurists, he taught the first doctoral-level course in Future Studies at the FBI Academy. In his presentation, he enthusiastically regaled the small audience with his fantasies of computer miniaturization, featuring cops wearing zippy new Schwarznegger-style headgear, complete with goggles with computer display capabilities and a small video camera that transmits images to the police department's central data bank. The third panelist was the chair of the Futures Research Graduate Program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Texas. More importantly, he was the former director of NASA's Space Research Center, where his specialty was helping business profit from space exploration, including the burgeoning field of satellite surveillance. The next day's newspaper headline about the symposium stated in unproblematic terms: "Internet Will Determine Society's Future."

In keeping with the new business-state-university alliance, UIS Chancellor Naomi Lynn has just cemented into place before her coming retirement two unprecedented faculty chair appointments with ominous implications. Both are on the faculty of the College of Business and Management (one of whose faculty members recently brought racist icon Matt Hale of the World Church of the Creator to speak on the subject of "diversity" in a required course titled "Social Responsibility and Ethics: Corporate and Public"). Both are $500,000 appointments. The first is funded by National City Bank to create a National City Distinguished Professorship in Banking and Finance; the second is funded by the Ameren CIPS Corporation to create an Ameren Professorship of Business and Government.

According to Gary Rainwater, Ameren CIPS President/CEO, "This gift reflects our interest in promoting the development of the state's business and government leaders." The grant will link the university's historic public affairs mandate in no uncertain terms to future corporate priorities. In a newspaper interview, Chancellor Lynn noted that "It will enable the school to play a key role in educating Illinois leaders about the role state regulation plays in promoting a favorable business climate." Unfortunately, the reality of this new Ameren CIPS affiliation is more than just further dismaying evidence of the corporatization of higher education. It is downright sleazy. Ameren CIPS was found by a jury to be responsible for an unusual outbreak of neuroblastoma (a type of nerve cell cancer) among Christian County children in the nearby Taylorville, Illinois area, one of whom died just before the case was filed. In cleaning up an industrial site contaminated with coal tar, Ameren CIPS had failed to meet Illinois Environmental Protection Agency requirements. So far the companyæfound to be "professionally negligent"æhas decided not to pay the $3.2 million jury award (affirmed by the Fifth District Appellate Court in March, 2000) but to pursue the case to the Illinois Supreme Court. By embracing Ameren CIPS and its public relations agenda, and gladly taking its blood money, UIS has in effect associated itself with one of the worst cases of corporate abuse against children in Illinois history. Less dramatic, but still upsetting, was the news in May, 2000 that Ameren CIPS's Cofeen Power Station in Montgomery Country was cited by the US EPA as having been the second biggest air polluter in Illinois in 1998. Yet in its public relations ads in local media Ameren CIPS continues to feature the slogan, beneath a picture of a radiantly smiling child at play in the woods, "It's Not Just The Environment We're Protecting."

What a great opportunity for having the two new professorships work in tandem! Students of the banking professor need not trouble themselves about redlining, since they can consult the Ameren CIPS professor on the latest loopholes in the law, or they themselves can enter the field of government regulation as "friendly adversaries" of the corporate sector. And if union busters are needed, Naomi Lynn herself can always be brought back as a highly paid consultant. After all, she knows how it's done.

Faculty Unrest, Again?

In fact, Lynn, who was to have retired as Chancellor in May 2000 to spend the next academic year as a highly paid university fundraiser, was asked at the eleventh hour by UI President Stukel to continue as Chancellor amidst a campus crisis that came to a head just as she was to have left office. After a year long effort, in May, 2000 the UIS Chancellor Search Advisory Committee submitted to the U of I Board of Trustees a list of four candidates from over 80 under consideration. This Committee had been appointed by the Campus Senate with the understanding that one of its recommended candidates would be named Lynn's replacement.

Enter George Ryan, the Republican Governor. Ryan was at that time immersed in a major scandal involving systematic corruption and bribery in the issuing of truck driver licenses during his previous tenure as Secretary of State, and was fresh from having a pie thrown in his face by Dawn Roberts, a student at Southern Illinois University angry at his repeated interference in the SIU governance process. In the case of UIS, the Governor announced that the list of Chancellor recommendations was unacceptable. He further stated that the selection rules must be changed from favoring candidates with backgrounds in educational administration to allowing for what he euphemistically termed "nontraditional" candidates.

In so doing, he sought to open up the process to patronage and cronyism. In particular, he mentioned the name of lawyer Tom Lamont, a political insider and lobbyist who is the husband of Ryan's Director of Policy Development. He neglected to mention that the Chancellor Search Committee had rejected Lamont's candidacy months earlier despite his political clout. In late May, Lamont described the situation in the Journal-Register:

The concept of nontraditional campus leaders is hardly new. For example, Michigan State recently picked a bank president (with academic experience) to lead its institution. Why is this? It is, in part, due to government leaders who demand our educational institutions be run more and more like a business. The Illinois legislature is no exception....

Perhaps it should be pointed out that UIS has never undergone a search at this level under University of Illinois oversight, which may help explain the misunderstanding and discomfort of some. Furthermore, the Trustees take their responsibilities very seriously and have never delegated the control of any search of this nature to campus faculty and staff. Nor will it happen here.

Since the Board of Trustees, of which Lamont is himself a member and Ryan an ex-officio member, had recently been made subject to gubernatorial appointment rather than elected as in the past, Ryan's "request" carried plenty of power. The Search Committee has expressed its outrage at the Governor's violation of process, and has naturally been concerned about the obvious conflict of interest in relation to Lamont's Board membership. Yet President Stukel and Chancellor Lynn immediately caved in. Lynn chose to remain silent, as she had five years earlier during the U of I takeover.

Just as the civil service staff a month earlier had seen their Christmas vacation days arbitrarily cut back by U of I fiat, now the faculty saw their circumscribed autonomy within the U of I system vanish without a whimper of disapproval from the Chancellor. The next day campus email was aflame with faculty unrest, and an informational picket to be held at the graduation ceremony was announced. To quell rising discontent over the politicized appointment process and concern about whether the university would be in limbo, Stukel pressured Lynn to remain interim Chancellor until a new one is chosen.

The Search Committee's four chosen candidates had been scheduled for interviews the week of Ryan's blatant interference. Told not to come, they were informed that the U of I Board of Trustees would consider reconfiguring the selection process at its next meeting. At that meeting, which conveniently took place during summer vacation when many faculty had already dispersed, the Trustees announced that a new Search Committee would be formed. The search was scheduled to start over from scratch in the Fall of 2000, and it will most decidedly allow for "nontraditional" candidates. In unilaterally reconstituting the Search Committee and reconfiguring its mission statement, the Trustees had publicly demonstrated who was to be the boss in case of future "misunderstandings."

Yet, the faculty had not been as easily mollified as Stukel/Lynn had hoped, and the graduation day protest had taken place on schedule. Some faculty protesters, who included within their ranks a wide array of political opinions, even sported buttons that brazenly read " " and one sign said "Dawn Roberts For Chancellor." Predictably, the conservative student body president, John Thompson, denounced the protest in the State Journal-Register by saying, "This is not the 1960s." In response was a letter to the editor from graduate student Sheila Nopper: "Contrary to Thompson's patronizing statement, at the turn of the new century 50,000 demonstratorsæorganized primarily by studentsæshut down the WTO meetings in Seattle.... It is Thompson who remains trapped in the past."

So we end our story on a note of cautious optimism. The UIS faculty seems to have finally awakened from its late twentieth century slumber. Some faculty have been radicalized in this process. Others are outraged at, or at least more aware of, their proletarianization as members of the professoriate whose assumed autonomy within the U of I system has been exposed as illusory. It remains to be seen whether this resurgence of faculty activism is short-lived or if it is a harbinger of a future of continued faculty struggle not simply to restore its privileged position, but against the rapidly advancing corporatization of higher education at UIS and beyond.

up to top

Publication History

A short preliminary version of this article written by Dennis Fox was published in 1995 as "Radical University"' Celebrates 25th Anniversary and Dies in RadPsyNews #8, Newsletter of RadPsyNet: The Radical Psychology Network.

An expanded version--"From 'Radical University' to Agent of the State" by Dennis Fox and Ron Sakolsky--was published in 1998 in Radical Teacher # 53. Radical Teacher is published by the Boston Women's Teacher's Group, Box 383316, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA.

This latest version was updated in April/May 2000 for Teachers for a Democratic Culture, primarily by Ron Sakolsky, who was still on campus after I left in 1998. It was also printed in the zine Je ne sais quois #7, pp. 1-2, 8-15 (Available at P. O. Box 2407, Springfield IL 62705).

up to top

up to top

personal/political observations
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials
some political, most not


Page updated August 5, 2009