More violations of my University’s principle of political neutrality

September 17, 2020 • 11:30 am

I hope you’ve kept up at least minimally with what I’ve written about the University of Chicago and the Kalven Report—the 1967 document that set the tone for University discourse by declaring that the school would remain neutral on all issues of morality, ideology, and politics, with a few rare exceptions having to do with the University’s ability to function. (See here for some background.) Written in response to demands that the University take stands on things like Communism, civil rights, and the Vietnam War, the Kalven committee decided that no stands should be taken on such issues, however popular, lest they chill speech, however unpopular. This was all in the service of the University’s main mission to foster learning through free discussion of ideas.

I’ve written a few times about how the University lately seems to be violating the Kalven principles, mainly by departments and administrators issuing statements about race, Black Lives Matter, and so on—statements that are explicitly political and ideological. Beyond asserting that the University does not discriminate on grounds of race, gender, handicap status, and so on, I don’t think we should be asserting anything more, for some of the statements of Critical Race Theory and tenets of the Black Lives Matter movement (see below) are things that warrant discussion, not forced and unanimous agreement—however laudable the ultimate goal of equality.

Somehow, in these tumultuous times, department after department in my school has been unable to resist issuing these statements, some of which border on self-abasement and ritual absolution, if not virtue signaling (see here and here, for example). In my view—although the University has not explicitly addressed this—departments and other University units should abide by Kalven principles since it is these units that are the very locus of free expression as well as the chilling of dissent. You probably won’t get in much trouble if you criticize the University’s President or Provost, but if you’re a grad student or faculty member and go against a departmental statement about, say, Black Lives Matter, you could lose your mentor, your tenure, or your promotion. This is why it’s vital that official units of the university abide by Kalven.

Individuals, on the other hand, are free to say what they want, and are encouraged to do so by the University. Kalven makes it clear that the unit of free expression is the individual, whether it be faculty member, staff, or student.

Yet the department and university-unit statements keep appearing at the U of C. One of them, which I just learned about, was put up by the Smart Museum (the university art museum) on June 5. Here it is.

This is explicitly a call for political action—telling students, faculty and employees what they should do. That is what Kalven is designed to prevent. It’s also a statement of unanimity (there are no signatories), so it represents an official position of the Museum. And that means that dissenting from the pledge to “dismantle exclusionary and oppressive systems” could get you in trouble.

This one’s from the Dean of our well-known School of Social Service Administration:

This also calls for individuals to act: White people are supposed to act one way, and “non-black people of color” another. They must act. Again, this violates the Kalven principles. While I of course agree that society needs to address racial disparities, it’s not the University’s call to tell people what they must do or how they should act.

But wait! There’s more! There’s an article in a right-wing site (The Federalist) by a right-wing Chicago undergraduate, but the instances she points out are genuine even if you want to dismiss anything that appears on a Right site. (Truly, you can’t expect mainstream media, mostly on the Left, to call out abrogations of free discussion.)

We’ve met Evita Duffy before when, in a “get out the vote” campaign, she was harassed for expressing conservative sentiments by holding up a whiteboard saying, “I VOTE BECAUSE the coronavirus won’t destroy America, but socialism will.” While I disagree with the last bit of that statement, as I am in favor of some socialism, I don’t think Duffy deserved to be demonized for what she said, and certainly didn’t deserve to be called a racist for it (apparently mentioning the coronavirus is racist). Her article recounts some of the hateful pushback she got.

Now Duffy has written for The Federalist, and gives several more examples of Kalven violations. I’ll just concentrate on the links she gives that are new to me (I’ve already posted on the English Department and Human Genetics Department statements), for Duffy’s new links interest me more than her conservative gloss on them.

Click on the screenshot to read.

Duffy highlights two emails from Department heads that, I think, violate Kalven by being official statements of a chairperson speaking for a department. Here’s one from the chair of our Physics Department:

This is again a call for action, as well as an encouragement for “non-Black members of our community” to act a certain way. It’s one thing to make people aware of events, but another to pledge a department to adhere to certain political and ideological tenets, and to encourage students to promote a political point of view.

This is from the Chair of the History Department:

Note that this isn’t just an affirmation of racial equity, but a call to adhere to the platform of Black Lives Matter, which includes contestable statements like demands for reparations and calls to defund the police.

Now you may ask yourself, “What’s so bad about those statements?” After all, their tenor is to promote racial equality, which is what enlightened people want.  But the ways that they do this—by urging action and group adherence without dissent to discussable issues—is exactly what Kalven was designed to prevent. You can bet that if you favor equality of opportunity for everyone but don’t adhere down the line to the principles of Black Lives Matter, or think that affirmative action is debatable, you will be demonized. And you can avoid that by doing what many conservative students do—self censor. That is a chilling of discussion that shouldn’t take place on any college campus, much less one as famous for free speech as The University of Chicago.

21 thoughts on “More violations of my University’s principle of political neutrality

  1. I am inclined to believe that strictly statist forms of socialism will likely result in economic stagnation, but that is hardly “destroying America”. Scandinavian countries have experimented with “market socialism” which seems more promising to me.

    I am in favor of open markets, but NOT unregulated ones, and modern capitalism is way over-governed by the Wall Street stock brokers, robber barons, and over-fueled by money-lending.

  2. How nice to learn that the SMART Museum and the U. Chicago History Department stand with Tony McDade. The details about St. Tony can be found at Wikipedia.

    1. I read the Wikipedia piece earlier and it seems that some of the cops’ actions were contested.


      According to the Tallahassee Police Department they approached McDade on May 27, as a suspect in the fatal stabbing of Malik Jackson earlier in the day. The Department Police Chief Lawrence Revelle told reporters that; “the suspect was in possession of a handgun, and a bloody knife was found at the scene.”[12] The officer reported this information over the department’s radio frequency.[21]

      Witnesses have refuted this via videos posted on Facebook where they claim officers said “Stop moving, n–r” and then shot McDade after he stopped moving. The witnesses also claim that officers never identified themselves or told McDade initially to stop his actions.[12]

      So I don’t know what to believe.

      1. Well, the bodycam footage has been released, so you could see for yourself if you like. An officer shot Tony McDade after he pointed at object at him, and the officer said “He pulled a gun! He pulled a gun.” Then they approach McDade and you can see the gun on the ground. I also didn’t hear anyone say “Stop moving, nigger”, and it doesn’t ring true to me, but I can’t say it definitely didn’t happen.

        The claim that the officers didn’t identify themselves or ask McDade to stop is a bit silly. They were uniformed officers who emerged from clearly marked police cars. I don’t think they have to ask someone to stop pointing a gun at them before shooting (if indeed the object pointed was the gun later visible on the ground).

        I think it’s also relevant that in a Facebook video posted by McDade when he described his plan to get revenge on Malik Jackson (whom McDade stabbed to death before police arrived), McDade also said, according to that same Wikipedia article, “Just know before I kill myself through a shootout, because that’s what’s going to happen, because I’m [going to] pull it out and you know these officers nowadays they see a gun they just [going to] shoot….So that’s what I’m pushing for, because I don’t want to be here on earth dealing with the government.”

        1. If the perpetrator belongs to a marginalized minority group, of course police officers are expected to ask him politely to stop pointing a gun at them. And if he doesn’t, they are expected to call in a Diversity Consultant.
          Anything more severe is, of course, a sign of systemic racism, grounds for defunding.

  3. Prof. Gorman-Smith seems to have not gotten the memo on woke capitalization, as she writes “White” (as well as “black” in a couple places, though “Black” in others).


    There’s actually some okay stuff in the various paragraphs. I have no problem with a department responding to recent events by looking at their own practices and institutions to see if they truly create a welcoming environment for everyone (or not). A little introspection can be a good thing. Still, they don’t have to declare the official department is on ‘the side of’ the protestors to do that.

    1. “I have no problem with a department responding to recent events by looking at their own practices and institutions to see if they truly create a welcoming environment for everyone …”

      I’m willing to bet that “everyone” does not include Trump supporters. Or indeed anyone non-Woke.

      1. If someone supports Trump, they are endorsing a racist, corrupt, incompetent narcissist and known sexual predator to the highest office in our country. Through their enduring support, in light of everything known about the man, they align on the side of bigotry and racism. If Trump supporters feel unwelcome, some long overdue introspection is advised.

  4. One of the problems in the American academy is that the faculty care more about their department or (professional) school than they care about their university as a whole. Harvard was once described to me as a collection of fiefdoms along the Charles River. The University of Chicago was always the opposite. I think the person who embodied the ethos of UofC the best was Wayne Booth, literary critic and member of the English department.

    Unfortunately, I think that has changed. UofC is losing what made it distinct. I think that includes the College, the undergraduate part of the school. One of the biggest changes is the siae. Right now, their are 6,286 students in the College our of a University total of 16,445. I was in the class of 1978. Back then, the College enrollment was around 2,800.

    The change may have started with the College – or at least accelerated. UofC has always struggled with the role of undergraduate education in a research university. William McNeill’s Hutchins’ University gets into this.

    During the Great Depression, UofC had discussions about merging with NU becoming the undegrad school and UofC having all the grad programs.

    A reflection of the change at UofC is the athletic program – now big time Division III in a conference (UAA – University Athletic Association) with “peer institutions (Wash U, CWRU, CMU, NYU, Brandeis, Emory, Rochester). UofC was a founding member of the Big Ten, then dropped football, quit the Big Ten, sports were a minor afterthought, and now starting about 25 years ago, they are back.

    When UofC was looking at changing back in 1998, it was (literally – A1) front page news in the NY Times.

    Jacon Weisberg wrote a legendary piece in Slate opposing the changes.

    1. So many typos – including my name.

      Second paragraph – siae = size. Also, I wrote “their are” instead of “there are.”

      Kind of goofed up the merger paragraph. NU is Northwestern.

  5. What’s wrong with the statements, in my opinion, is that they are based on false premises. There is no evidence that the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, etc. were caused by acts of “racist violence”. Their descriptions of the events also leave out key details and make false implications, as in police “kneeling on the neck of a Black man who begs for air, killing him”, which clearly and falsely implies that the police asphyxiated him.

    If they can’t get their facts right and if they make completely unevidenced assertions, why should we take them seriously? Clearly they are ideologues who live in a fantasy world of racist, demonic police out to murder blacks “just for the color of their skin”, as they so often put it…

  6. About fifty years ago, when I was in my late teens/early twenties, I read practically everything that Alan Watts wrote. One thing he wrote–if memory serves me correctly, it’s in his autobiography– has stuck with me all these years, namely, whether “the far left or the far right posed the greater threat to human liberty.” I have thought that the far right has posed the greater threat in the USA, mainly because of the crypto-fascism of its ideology associated with barely concealed threats of physical violence and death. At present, I still believe the far right is the greater threat to human liberty, but I don’t deny and am alarmed about the increased threat from the left.

  7. It looks like the Kalven principle is pretty much toast at the Department level. Every “Woke” Department will want to flaunt their virtue. Hopefully it will not spread to the general administration, although I am betting there are SJW administrators chomping at the bit. One can only hope that, like the pandemic, this too will eventually pass.

  8. A bit related, did you see this?

    It seems that Betsy DeVos took Princeton’s letter of ritual self-abasement over racism literally, and pointed out that this amounts to an admission of guilt, over violation of non-discrimination rules tied to all the federal money they get.

    And asks for all evidence which was used in reaching this conclusion, including (with a straight face) suggesting that the President must surely have compiled a spreadsheet of incidents in order to reach such sweeping conclusions.

    1. Ha! I saw that and am still laughing. Galactic-level trolling from the DOE. Princeton’s hapless prez is now going to have to explain just what “systemic racism” is…a term we are all supposed to understand, but which no one has ever bothered to define or pin down. It apparently is something that pervades everything, like the aether.

  9. As has been mentioned there are problems with absolutionist positions on many of the examples of supposed racism mentioned.

    The mention of Amy Cooper in such a harsh unbalanced way is also problematic.

    The supposedly innocent mere birdwatcher did in fact threaten her and her dog.

    She is obviously really scared but no one has bothered to try and see her side of the situation.

    While it would still be a betrayal of the Kalven principals if all the supposed representations of racism were exactly as presented, the fact is that they are not.

    It is reprehensible position for a university department to take.

    I do think though that the Ahmaud Arbery situation was fueled by racism.

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