Wokeness escalates at the University of Chicago: the school ignores its own “foundational principle” of not publicly espousing political or ideological views, and student activists occupy campus police headquarters

June 27, 2020 • 1:45 pm

UPDATE: Professor Brian Leiter of the Law School (he’s the director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values) added this comment to my public Facebook notice about this whole post:


I’m deeply saddened at how woke The University of Chicago is becoming. The students, of course, are far woker than the faculty, but I always expected the faculty and administration would hold the line by adhering to two of the great “foundational principles” of our University: the Report on the Committee on Freedom of Expression (the famous “Chicago Principles” mandating pretty unrestricted free speech), and the Kalven Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action. These principles are among several that make The University of Chicago unique among other schools. The free-speech principles have been adopted by 55 universities, and I wrote about the Kalven Report here, explaining how it prohibited the University as a whole from taking political and social stands. (Individuals, of course, are free to say what they want as individuals.)  I’ll reiterate a bit of that report; the emphasis is mine:

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.

The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints. And this neutrality as an institution has its complement in the fullest freedom for its faculty and students as individuals to participate in political action and social protest. It finds its complement, too, in the obligation of the university to provide a forum for the most searching and candid discussion of public issues.

There is one exception to this: the University can officially weigh in on an issue that endangers its own mission as an educational institution.

These two reports are among the five seen by the University of Chicago as “faculty reports and policies that have guided the University’s approach to free expression and open discourse over the years and to this day.”

Further, the University, when appealing to prospective students and scholars, sells these foundational principles as something that sets our University apart from others: untrammeled free expression (see here).  The principles of free expression are highlighted in this video intended, I think, to lure students and scholars here:


I had hoped that the faculty and administration would hold the line on all the principles, but especially the two principles above. In truth, free speech is still viable here—at least temporarily. But now various statements issue constantly from the administration that align with political movements and ideologies, often involving assertions about race that are clearly ideological and political rather than purely moral. It looks as if the Kalven Report will soon be in tatters—if any administrator even remembers its purpose and dictates.

Although the University remained silent during the McCarthy-era red-baiting, and during the Vietnam war, it is no longer silent about things like structural racism, critical race theory, and so on. Indeed, though I agree with virtually every political statement the University is making on these issues, that is not the point: the point is that, qua the Kalven report, the University should not be making these statements at all as official policy.  For official policy creates a climate that brooks no dissent, and that is precisely what both the free-speech policy and the Kalven report were designed to prevent. Remember its words?

There is no mechanism by which [the University community] can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives.

Well, the freedom of dissent is no longer so full, as the University has made assertions that brook no dissent. Our only alternative is to agree to jump and ask only, “how high?”


In contrast, the wokeness of students here is taken for granted: it’s a one-way ratchet to authoritarianism that will also destroy the “founding principles.”

To wit: the students are demanding the defunding and eventual disbanding of the University of Chicago Police Department, a large organization that patrols not just the campus, but a wide swath of the South Side, from 35th Street to 63rd Street. I’ve interacted with them quite a bit (often without them knowing I’m on the faculty, though they can see I’m white), and have found them polite, professional, and efficient. (This morning I saw one officer return to Botany Pond a stray turtle who had wandered several blocks away, doomed to expire in the heat.)

Criticism of the UC Police began in earnest in 2018, although there had been sporadic complaints of police racism that I don’t know much about. But in April of 2018, the campus police got a report of a man acting erratically off campus, bashing in cars with a rod and doing other damage. Responding to the call, the police were charged by the man, who wielded the metal bar as a weapon. They warned him to drop it, and, as he continued charging them , they shot him in the shoulder.

The offender turned out to be a mentally ill student, Charles Thomas (my reports here and here), who has since been in and out of jail and is now incarcerated for violating parole. But the shooting upset the student body— though, as I said, the cops really didn’t have a choice if they didn’t want their heads bashed in—and they shot him in the shoulder. Note, they didn’t try to kill him—these are not, after all, Minneapolis police. There were calls for mental health care to be improved on campus (it was), and, inevitably, for the defunding and disbanding of our police department. Here’s the report from the Chicago Maroon,  the student newspaper, about the student sit-in in at campus police headquarters on June 12 (I’d missed the event). Click on the screenshot to read:


100 students began sitting in inside the police station, and, acting professionally, the police let them in, but, as business hours ended, refused to let anyone else in, though they could leave. Bathroom facilities were locked, as they are normally after hours, and delivery pizza, also ordered after hours, wasn’t allowed in, either. Forty students stuck it out for the night. They could have been arrested for trespassing, but the police wisely decided to let them be.

What did the protestors want?  This:

Their demands were “defund,” “disarm,” “disclose,” and “disband”: for the University to reduce the UCPD budget by at least 50 percent for the 2020-21 school year; entirely disarm the police force; make the organization’s budget from the past 20 years and all future years public; and dissolve the force altogether by 2022.

Protest signs (photo from the Chicago Maroon by Yiwen Lu):

I’ve read in other places that by eliminating the UC Police (I believe we have about 50 officers), the protestors don’t intend to replace then with the Chicago city police, whom they dislike even more. It is not in fact clear what they want in terms of campus security.

What is clear is that if eliminate the police force, or even disarm it on the gun- and crime-ridden South Side of Chicago, the school will eventually vanish. What parent would send their child to the University of Chicago if there were no campus police?

The University Provost and Chief of Police even met with the protestors in person, but refused to immediately accede to their demands.

It is stuff like this that disheartens me even more than usual, for I am immensely proud of being associated with this university, and I’m saddened by watching it slowly—on the student, faculty, and administrative sides—put its foot on the greased slide of wokeness. That produces a one-way trip to 1984—36 years late.  I’d love to hear what kind of campus security these students want when the cops are gone by 2020. But no worries: I’m 100% sure it won’t happen. The University administration is not as muddled as these students.

Now if only the administration would stop violating the dictates of the Kalven Report by taking official University positions on politics, I’d regain more confidence in my school.

21 thoughts on “Wokeness escalates at the University of Chicago: the school ignores its own “foundational principle” of not publicly espousing political or ideological views, and student activists occupy campus police headquarters

  1. “I’d love to hear what kind of campus security these students want when the cops are gone …”

    Gangs of woke students patrolling with baseball bats, as at Evergreen?

    1. According to regressive hacks and NewRacist galaxy brains Thomas “Serious Inquiries Only” Smith, and Peter “Humanisticus” Ferguson, the whole Evergreen thing was a “hoax”.

      And they both call themselves skeptics.

  2. I used to visit U Chicago for social events lasting into the evening, and I was told by students about what was called “the Perimeter”, the area that was patrolled by UC Police. I was advised to park and generally stay within this area, where, I was assured crime was minor and infrequent, as opposed to outside the area. I recall that while walking to my car late in the evening, on usually empty streets, often the only moving thing I would see was a patrolling UC Police car.

  3. I got my alumnus letter from the Prez yesterday on building a stronger, more diverse UChicago. Reasonable enough, but it seems he is under pressure to appease the woke.

    1. Sorry, “more inclusive”, not more diverse. Probably, a distinction without a difference, but just to be accurate. Again, I saw nothing objectionable in President Zimmer’s letter.

  4. I always find it peculiar when people complain about being painted with the same brush (here: being black – no pun intended), but at the same moment they do exactly the same to others (here: ACAB or “fuck police”, like in the photo above).

    By showing their own prejudices this openly, they usually lose a large portion of credibility and sympathy in my eyes.

  5. If the students truly think they should be calling the shots, running the school, why not eliminate the administration and put the students in charge. Try this and see how long the school last. The wokie students are just like the Trump republicans – destroy everything and crate nothing. Just demolish do not create.

  6. Interesting. At my uni, the faculty are much more woke than most of the students. There are a few “woke” students but most here just want to go get a good job after graduation; some are much more interested in partying than activism and others are more practical.

  7. It would be really interesting if you could, without danger to yourself, ask one of these people some in depth questions about their cause.
    Their demands seem totally irrational to me, unless their primary goal is actually to destabilize and weaken the country. I could see how investing and guiding such groups could be a smart means of unconventional warfare for nations that could not oppose us with arms.
    But the people holding the signs and committing the direct actions are pretty unlikely to be taking those actions because they actually want to promote the Juche Idea, or because they want to live like Ukrainian peasants in the early 20th century.
    But perhaps they really do think that they will each be made commissar or appointed to the central committee.

    It would very much interest me to know exactly what is going on in their heads.

  8. I have hardly any recollection of campus cops in the sixties. I believe there was one stationed more or less permanently at the Bursar’s Office in the Admin Bldg, and others were intermittently visible at the larger dorms and at Ida Noyes. None wore uniforms, and I don’t believe they were armed. I hardly noticed them and certainly didn’t think of them as protecting me as I went about my life as a student. There were no call-boxes, no patrol cars, no cops walking beats.

    The surrounding neighborhoods were surely as poor and crime-ridden then as today. I myself lived in an apartment south of the Midway, as many students did, on turf claimed by the Blackstone Rangers, with whom I had several dicey interactions. I lived to tell the tale. Indeed, I can recall only one student death during that time, and likely that kid was involved in drug dealing.

    I don’t see this in ideological terms but practical ones. Are students today in such actual danger as to require a large UCPD presence supplemental to the CPD? Or is that show of force simply performative – to reassure suburban parents that the U of C is safe for kids inexperienced in big city life? I suppose that too is a practical reason, but it doesn’t seem like a good one in a school that values straight talking and thinking.

    1. In the 1960s, crime was significantly lower than today, as shown by the murder rate. It is noteworthy that many people who would have been killed back then survive today because of improvements in medicine. There was also more poverty in the 1960s and a larger share of the population was young. Interestingly, the Japanese managed to decrease their crime rate consistently since the Second World War, without suffering an epidemic of super-predators.

  9. I see worrisome times ahead for higher education. There are a constellation of factors that will be coming together in the near future:

    1. The college age population will be shrinking no matter what, in terms of sheer numbers (although this could perhaps be offset with international students for bigger universities.)

    2. The cost of a college degree has become prohibitively high, as its value in terms of future earnings has shrunk.

    3. There is a move towards online learning already, which will likely be accelerated by Covid.

    4. In cases like the one mentioned in this article – some of these kids probably have uber-Woke parents, but I’m sure many do not. I have been noticing an increasing wariness and reticence on the topic of higher education by my conservative family members for years, and I think seeing stories like this will spread that wariness to even more moderate conservatives.

    What the outcome of that will be, I’m not sure. I’ve noticed before that more companies seem to have extremely broad internship programs, sometimes called ‘campuses’, so maybe we’ll see more of an apprenticeship model. Maybe we’ll see more online schools, leading to a Balkanization similar to that of the internet in general (you’ll have the version of a “Fox News” school and a version of the “NYTimes” school). Maybe you’ll see a replacement standard, such as a standardized test, for entry level jobs that, 30 years ago, wouldn’t have required a college degree anyways. Not sure, but I think a big change to higher education will mean a big change to society.

  10. Cool video on freedom of expression at the U of C (even if, though it pains me at long last to have to concede this, my discernment for what constitutes The Cool may be waning toward passé).

    For some of us cats that’s worse than coming to grips with encroaching mortality.

  11. I’ve admired the UoC’s stance on freedom of speech ever since I learned about it. I hope it remains, especially in today’s climate. It is like a shining beacon for others to look to.

    As for defunding the police, I understand the sentiment, but it’s not something that can be done short term if it’s to be done properly. In NZ and some other countries, for example, (and I would assume it’s true of the US too) it’s been found that a huge %age of prisoners have had hearing issues since childhood which weren’t picked up when they were kids. As a result, many didn’t learn to read and write properly, or even at all. If those kids got grommets, a cheap and simple procedure which is free in our health system, they would have a much better chance at avoiding a life of crime. Putting more money into identifying such issues is, long-term, much cheaper than paying for police and prisons. However, the point is it’s a long-term fix.

    Almost all the investments into areas like education, health (including mental health), etc. will enable governments to reduce the funding of police (and also courts and prisons) in the future. Ultimately, the fence at the top of the cliff approach is cheaper than the ambulance at the bottom. All these current demands for immediate defunding of the police do not help except to bring attention to a long term fix that’s required.

    It also appears that many police forces in the US (but certainly not all) do need to use better criteria in selecting police in the first place, and also need an improvement in the quality in training. De-escalation training in particular should be a priority so the instinct isn’t always to revert to force. I don’t know how much police are paid in the US, but maybe the pay is too low to attract good quality officers in some areas too.

    1. “It also appears that many police forces in the US . . . need to use better criteria in selecting police . . . I don’t know how much police are paid in the US, but maybe the pay is too low to attract good quality officers in some areas too.”

      Just to congenially inquire, what is the connection/correlation/causation between salary and quality of work?

      Perhaps Fortune 500 MBA/JD CEO’s should take these law enforcement jobs, for the amount of money they make as CEO’s. How many of them would take such a job? They themselves certainly expect others to take these law enforcement jobs.

      A major U.S. university football coach is paid, say, $1.2M/year. The President of the United States is paid one-third of that, $400k/year. Compare the accountability and responsibility. Does the prestige of the latter’s office compensate for the comparatively modest salary of the latter? the office apparently is not sufficiently prestigious to prompt anyone to accept a salary of $0.

      Surely many if not most posters here know people in various fields who, despite making modest salaries, do outstanding work out of a sense of duty and self-respect. The current pandemic is evidence of this. I trust it will be a while before we hear someone say words-to-the-effect, “They’re only employees.”

      1. “the office apparently is not sufficiently prestigious to prompt anyone to accept a salary of $0.”

        Although JFK, independently wealthy, donated his (at the time) $100,000 salary to charity.

      2. Obviously there are plenty of police officers who do a good job whatever they’re paid. They want to be police officers because they want to serve their community. But there are many also who would be good officer but go into higher paying roles in order to support their families and other such reasons. It’s often the same with jobs like teaching, which are also poorly paid in many parts of the US. Also, a higher salary would increase the prestige of the such roles. It’s not the same as CEO and jobs like that because fewer people can do them in the first place. The pool is much larger for police officers.

  12. “..patrols not just the campus, but a wide swath of the South Side, from 35th Street to 63rd Street..”

    Off topic, but wasn’t there at one time an overhead ‘subway train’ line over top of 63rd? Google earth seems to show it’s gone, e.g. near a long-distance train station there. First time he came up to visit and go for the symphony, a mate from Liverpool, doing a sabbatical at Urbana U. of Illinois, decided to get off there, which was rather adventurous at night in 1968.

    But we got him, no stolen wheels, though a cop would go up to the track level to accompany disembarking passengers down into the station (gun drawn in my memory, but likely just my over-active imagination!)

    After that we’d get him at the downtown rail station.

    Pretty sure I have the correct street, but that’s 52 years ago.

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