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May 21, 2010

Renovation plans for MFI spook faculty

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The University has commissioned Ann Beha Architects, a Boston firm, to renovate the building that houses the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) and the Seminary Co-op, it announced last night. The building, at 5757 South University Avenue, is slated to house the Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics (MFIRE).

The move distressed some faculty members, who caught wind of the commission Tuesday on a real estate website before the announcement was released, according to religion Professor Bruce Lincoln. They sent out a press release earlier Thursday that described the then-unannounced commission as a sign of “renewed aggressive fund-raising activity for the controversial institute.” Concerns centered on the perception that the University had not made the commission public. The press release was signed by 111 members of the faculty, including Lincoln, and can be found here.

The University had been working on a press release regarding the commission, which it released in response to a Maroon request for information on Thursday, University spokesman Jeremy Manier said in an e-mail.

The faculty group had not contacted the administration before releasing its statement, Lincoln said. He explained, “I’m not entirely sure what standard practices are in that matter, but the president had made prior remarks to the effect that no work would go forward on the conversion of the CTS building” without informing the University community. He said this precipitated the press release.

MFIRE caused a similar faculty reaction when it was initially announced as the Milton Friedman Institute in 2008, leading to the first assembly of the entire faculty in 10 years. That pressure led to the Institute’s change in name, which Lincoln characterized as a helpful gesture.

Manier said in a phone interview that planning on MFIRE had proceeded normally and that “the basis of these changes was announced in 2008.”

The announcement did not indicate plans are concrete, even on whether the building will adequately meet the needs of the MFIRE. It is unlikely renovation will begin while the new CTS building on 61st Street and Dorchester Avenue is still under construction, which is expected to be finished in 2012, according to a News Office webpage.

Lincoln said concerned faculty will meet in the next few days and that a similarly worded petition to President Zimmer and Provost Thomas Rosenbaum is circulating. It took “a little more than a day of requesting signatures,” Lincoln said, “and I think that 111 people signed that quickly is a sign of how deep the concern is.”

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