A proper welcome to a new academic year at the University of Chicago

October 1, 2019 • 12:00 pm

A short while ago, everyone at the University of Chicago got this email from both our President and our Provost. I liked it because although it mentions “inclusion”, it does so by using that term as “inclusion in a community of scholars characterized by free speech and open inquiry”.  It notes that that those latter two values “became increasingly at risk across the country”, as they have on many campuses.

The characterization of “inclusion and diversity” seems to me to be used in a way completely different from how “woke” colleges regard them. The part in bold below (my addition) applauds a broad inclusivity: a community of scholars reflecting not just the moieties of American society, but communities throughout the world. That community should reject “isolating and ostracizing rhetoric and action” and embrace “openness in discourse” that accepts “strong disagreement and diverging perspectives.”

In other words, the email describes a proper kind of inclusiveness—one that allows all voices to be heard, even if they disagree strongly. It says nothing about “marginalized groups”, “offense”, and the like, and doesn’t maintain the fiction that free speech and feelings of inclusion are compatible. This is only my guess, but I think the sentence about “isolating and ostracizing rhetoric and actions” refers to building a scholarly community not riven by identity politics or hatred of those who diverge from you in politics or ideology. When you read this statement, you get no idea about the ideological slant of the University even though of course the vast majority of our faculty are liberals. But the administration takes care, and rightly so, to avoid making official statements about political or ideological beliefs. Its main goal is to foster discourse, and thereby promote knowledge.

But this is my interpretation, and others may feel differently. I’m speaking for myself and not the University or its administration.

Because the email was sent to University people, I have gotten permission to post it here so long as I clarify where it came from. And all that is below, with the bolding in the penultimate paragraph mine.

To: Members of the University Community

From: Robert J. Zimmer, President, and Daniel Diermeier, Provost

Subject: Fall Welcome

Date: October 1, 2019

As the new academic year begins, we welcome new and returning faculty, students, staff, researchers, lecturers, and those who are visiting the University.

The beginning of the academic year affords an opportunity to reflect on the enduring values of the University and how those values are manifest in evolving ways over the years. In recent years, we have spoken forcefully and frequently about the essential importance to the very nature of the University of Chicago of our long-standing values of open inquiry, free expression, and embrace of ongoing intellectual challenge. This discussion took on added salience as these values became increasingly at risk across the country.

Today we address another critical commitment of the University: to having a community that is open and inclusive to all segments of the nation and the world, which in turn amplifies the nature of our intellectual environment. We often refer to the University as an intellectual community, and it is important to recognize both components of that expression – that we are defined by a commitment to an ambitious and challenging intellectual environment, and by a sustained effort to build a community in which this environment can take full shape. In that context, we reaffirm in the strongest terms the University’s values of openness and inclusion, and our dedication to welcoming people of all backgrounds and nations.

This University has long recognized that there is great talent in every population waiting for opportunities to be fully realized – specifically, individuals who can greatly benefit from and contribute to the University’s particular intellectually challenging environment. The wide-ranging participation of individuals from all parts of American society, and the involvement of international students and scholars, deeply enriches the discourse on campus and makes us a better and stronger institution.

It is especially important to highlight these convictions in a time marked by isolating and ostracizing rhetoric and actions, both domestically and in much of the world. Such limiting perspectives stand in opposition to the environment we seek on campus, one that reflects the diverse strengths of our nation and of scholars and students from every part of the world. This requires an unwavering commitment to broad inclusion, openness in discourse, embracing of intellectual challenge, and accepting of strong disagreement and diverging perspectives.

The University is renewed every day by the work of all of us on campus – faculty, students, staff, researchers, lecturers, and visitors.  We extend our deep thanks to all of you, for your efforts at sustaining the University of Chicago as a place of openness and inclusion in an environment of mutual intellectual challenge and free-flowing discourse. We wish you a stimulating and productive year.

21 thoughts on “A proper welcome to a new academic year at the University of Chicago

  1. As an alumnus, I applaud this letter. I believe that all alumni I know, no matter their political persuasion, agree with this letter. We did not let UofC kick our butts for however many years (six in my case – AB and MBA) and have it turn into some useless piece of crap. We are proud of the University’s attitude – one most of us have adopted in our own lives.

    1. How wrong of you to use the gender encapsulating “alumnus”. 😉 They are seriously trying to move away from that and use “graduate” or some such. I offered “alumnum”, the gender neuter version and kept repeating it over and over until people frowned.

      1. Actually, my gender encapsulating term was alumni. If I was woke, I would have use alumni/alumnae/alumnthey. My use of alumnus to describe myself, a cisgendered male (he/him/honeybuns), is OK.

            1. Ooooh, and I call my sweetheart “Honeyman”. We’re kind of strange, too.

              And I called a doctor “Sugarbritches”. I hate elderspeak.

              When someone young or younger than me calls me “Sweetheart” or “Sweetie” or “Honey” (I’m NOT a duck!!! Honey is a famous and well-loved duck in Chicago, in Botany Pond!!!) and is a professional of sort, well, I don’t like it one bit. (Don’t like it when the person is *not* a professional, either.)

              (Elderspeak? ??? I’m not going to spend time at this late hour educating young people on what to with ol’ Granny here [yeah, that’s me, Granny Goodwitch], but I’ll suggest asking Nice Mr. Google about Elderspeak. Just google elderspeak and you’ll find something to read, plenty of somethings to read.)

              Anyway I have this pulmonary doctor whom I’ve been educating. He comes on with this “Honey” or “Sweetheart” crap, and I give him a dose of his own medicine. “You got it, Sugarbritches!”

              Bleaggghhhh! (If you’re in the nursing or caregiving professions, watch it!! Wash your mouth out with soap! Don’t invalidate those of us who are Youth-Challenged!)

              1. Yes that talk is very condescending. It was bad enough being talked down to that way as a child! My parents let doctors, nurses, etc have it when they start with the “deary” “honey” & “sweetie” crap. They tell them to call them by their names. I’m almost afraid to pass on “sugar britches”. Their luck, the doctor will decide they are demented.

              2. If you finds yourself accompanying/assisting a relative/patient of questionable cognitive capacity on a visit to a neurologist (or any other physician for that matter), be alert to the possibility that the “situationally unaware” physician will direct all statements/questions about the patient to you, effectively ignoring the patient, treating the patient as an object to be talked about, not talked to.

                I have been in that position. During the meeting I observed my aunt becoming monumentally enraged. (I’m sitting there thinking, “Is this doc clueless?!?”) I had to endure her wrath on a 40-mile return trip to her house.

      2. Actually, my gender encapsulating term was alumni. If I was woke, I would have use alumni/alumnae/alumnthey. My use of alumnus to describe myself, a cisgendered male (he/him/honeybuns), is OK.

        1. That’s what I thought too but even that is beginning to be frowned upon so alumnum is still my solution. 🙂

  2. The problem with Chicago is that all you need is some drummed up Larry Summers-style “controversy” and the President gets dumped and some true believers come in with the wrecking ball of “diversity” and “inclusivity” (which is only bona fide to the extent to which you exclude diversity of viewpoint and sideline considerations of merit).

    1. Not going to happen. UofC is still its own weird little world. Remember, it was students who proudly use the motto “Where fun comes to die” to refer to their school. Administration really hates that.

  3. Ostracize is a great word to use with respect to “cancel culture” and that ilk. Ostracizing is simply not something universities, or for that matter communities in general, should be doing.

  4. You are a part of one fine institution Jerry. Thanks for pointing out the prevailing sanity at U of C when it is so lacking in many other universities.

  5. What a letter. A sweet, reasoned find in your mailbox and now in ours. I’m glad you sent it on after asking, of course.

  6. It’s a nice letter. It would be interesting to see any responses to it from “woke” elements that surely still exist at the U of C. Could they really complain?

  7. Pardon for sounding like a ‘broken record’ again on this, and it may not be hugely relevant, but I’d like to think it is somewhat germane:

    And that is the fact that Zimmer is a (research) mathematician, a professor of pure mathematics by basic vocation. I’d like to think that his clear-minded statements here, and on several previous occasions, concerning free speech and the real purpose of a university are at least partially generated by the kind of education undergone by well educated mathematicians (and by scientists in fundamental physical sciences).

    (You may recall my similar statement about the vocations of the each of the authors of those strong volumes Jerry mentioned, the books pointing out the harm and stupidity of the postmodernists/poststructural dickbrains.)

  8. This is what I expect from my alma mater. Crescat Scientia, Vita Excolatur
    John Dietmann
    AB ’63 AM ’65

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