University of Chicago student says that the purpose of our school’s free-speech policy is to perpetuate white supremacy

January 26, 2021 • 10:45 am

I’m suffering vaccine side effects today, so posting will be light. But I should be right as rain by tomorrow. I am at work, but not firing on all cylinders. Bear with me.

The University of Chicago is famous for its principles of free expression, which include the Report of the Committee on Free Expression pledging “commitment to free and open inquiry.”  The Chicago Principles, as they’re called, have been adopted by about eighty American universities, and are a point of pride for our school. (They simply mirror the courts’ construal of the First Amendment on our private campus, which needn’t adhere to that Amendment.) The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) ranked our University #1 in the 2020 Free Speech Rankings.

But lots of students aren’t too keen on the Chicago Principles. The one below, who wrote an op-ed in the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, would have us abandon those principles. It’s the usual argument: “free speech” enables “hate speech” and racism.  But the problem with the anti-free-speech stand, so prevalent these days, is glaringly obvious in her piece. Click to read it:

Ms. Hui is in fact a rising student leader, even as a first-year student. She interned for Elizabeth Warren, worked for Planned Parenthood, and is part of an organization on campus that connects students to politicians. In other words, she’s likely to be influential after she graduates. She’s clearly on the Left, which makes it even more worrisome that she is so adamantly opposed to free speech, which is traditionally a position of the Left.

And yet Hui’s also fallen victim to the anti-First-Amendment virus, seeing students as malleable automatons subject to being swayed by “hate speech” and bigotry. Her solution: make herself (or someone like her) the arbiter of acceptable speech, ban those who purvey “hate speech”, for students should not be allowed to hear that stuff, and scrap the Chicago Principles—and probably the First Amendment as well.

Were I an undergraduate here, I would resent the implication that I’m so pliable to argument that I can’t be allowed to hear speakers like Steve Bannon (you can, after all, skip their talks). I would resent the notion that Hui, or others like her, should be allowed to determine which speech should be heard. And I would resent the idea that she thinks that the First Amendment enables bigotry, and its implementation in liberal colleges is a deliberate attempt to turn students into white supremacists. (I am not making this up.)

Like most liberal arts schools, the University of Chicago is liberal, with, I’d guess, 90% of the faculty falling on the Left end of the spectrum.  But, observing that both Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz went to Ivy League schools (Stanford and Yale Law for Hawley, Princeton and Harvard Law for Cruz), Hui concludes, for reasons that baffle me, that these two quasi-insurgents were the product of a liberal education deliberately designed to turn young people into Nazis and Klan members. Do I exaggerate? Read this (my emphasis):

It is not that [Hawley and Cruz’s] education failed them—their education did exactly what it was meant to do. It prepared two budding conservative minds to go forth into the corridors of power—to disguise bigotry as love of country, hate speech as meaningful debate. You see, despite constant claims to the contrary, elite institutions are not liberal bastions that engender “woke” minds; rather, they propagate white supremacy by justifying racism as intellectual discourse. The University of Chicago is no stranger to this phenomenon—in fact, with its “Chicago principles,” our school has become a leader in framing hateful rhetoric as par for the course in the pursuit of free speech. These principles bolster and enable the next Ted Cruzes and Josh Hawleys and harm marginalized students, who are told that their rights—their very humanity—are up for debate.

If Chicago is turning out people like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, it’s escaped my notice. Yes, we have a beleaguered titer of conservative students (they’ve founded their own newspaper, the Chicago Thinker), but they’re not white supremacists. I haven’t seen any “hateful rhetoric” on campus so long as I’ve been here—that is, unless you construe speech about abortion or the Israeli/Palestine situation as “hate speech.”  If Hui is simply objecting that our school produces conservative students, well, my advice to her is to live with it. Not everybody is going to turn out like Hui, which is why we have politics in the first place.

And here, avers Hui, is the result of the Chicago Principles, which itself mirrors the First Amendment. Note her low opinion of our malleable students and the view that people like Steve Bannon simply shouldn’t be given a platform because they might influence students.

By following the Chicago principles, the University effectively legitimizes and encourages students who may share similar bigoted ideologies. When a Booth professor invited noted white supremacist Steve Bannon to participate in a debate on campus, President Robert Zimmer stood by the invitation, withstanding pressure from student protests outside Booth and a widely circulated letter signed by 122 UChicago faculty members urging him to rescind it. Thankfully, Bannon never stepped foot on campus, though the University certainly made their stance on hate speech clear. Acknowledging that the antisemitic, homophobic, alt-right nonsense Bannon has espoused throughout his life has some academic worth or intellectual merit is categorically absurd. For a young person with hate in their heart to see a man like Bannon espousing his intolerant views behind a podium with the UChicago coat of arms is dangerous and potentially radicalizing. For an immigrant, for a person of color, for a member of the LGBTQ+ community to see that, it is devastating, an assertion that their personhood is not natural, but something to be “debated.” When elite institutions treat people like Bannon as academics—with something to teach, with something valuable to say—it not only validates and potentially propagates such bigoted thoughts, but also signals that the University’s commitment to academic inquiry is more important than the safety of marginalized students an

Yeah, President Zimmer should have banned Bannon, for Bannon purveys “hate speech”. That should keep our students from being molded into little Nazis! (In fact, suppressing conservative speech doesn’t make it go away, it just drives it underground.) Zimmer did exactly what he should have: adhered to the Chicago Principles and refused to ban a speaker who was not violating the First Amendment (n.b., Bannon never came). See my 2018 op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, defending Bannon’s right to speak, though I despise the man: “Hate speech is no reason to ban Bannon”.  Truly, Hui seems to have no idea that students can think for themselves—that they can hear a man like Bannon, or a woman like Christina Hoff Sommers—and come to their own judgments. She wants to force them to think her way by banning speakers she doesn’t like.

The problem, of course, is that one person’s “hate speech” is another person’s free speech—speech worthy of debating. Even if you think Bannon is odious, exactly why should we censor him? And who else should we censor? And who should be the censor? It’s clear: someone who has Hui’s values. In the end, her views boil down to the old saw, “Free speech for me, but not for thee.”

Finally, Hui conflates speech that directly and predictably incites violence (Trump’s speech before the Capitol siege falls into this class)—speech not falling under First Amendment protections—with “hate speech” that doesn’t incite such violence. The conflation arises because Hui, like many on the far Left, sees speech as violence:

My peers at the Thinker may think me hypocritical, then, for wanting to reimagine free speech on campus. It is, after all, these very principles that affirm my ability to openly criticize the administration, or, say, call for the abolition of the University. But my words—radical as they may be, disagreeable as they certainly are to some—do not do any harm. They do not inspire hate or fear. In short, they have no capacity for violence. And now, more than ever, we are seeing how the latent violence wrought in language can speak (or tweet) violence and death into the world.

And so we see that Hui’s definition of “hate speech” is “speech that inspires hate or fear”, in other words, speech that some find odious and offensive. (Note that she sees words as a form of “latent violence.”)

Hui ends her piece with the “yes, free speech is good, but. . . ” trope.  Safety before speech! But I’m not aware of a single student at my University who has been physically hurt or objectively rendered unsafe by somebody else’s speech:

What is so-called “intellectual intolerance” compared to the kind of intolerance that incites hate crimes? It is no longer a matter of students feeling comfortable—now, after an insurrection at the Capitol, after a year marked by racial injustice and police brutality, it is a matter of students being safe.

We’ve seen the consequences of elevating hateful rhetoric—we have seen it now in the highest echelons of power. It begins in our classrooms, where the Trumps and Cruzes and Hawleys are given the tools they need to acquire and keep power, even if it means promoting fascism and white nationalism. The next Ted Cruz could be walking through the quad right now. The future Josh Hawley might be playing devil’s advocate in your Sosc class. We can prevent such radicalization by reexamining the Chicago principles and prioritizing safety over absolute free speech.

When you hear the word “safe,” run for the hills, because censorhip is following close behind.

What I find ineffably sad about Hui’s piece is that I admire her Leftist activism, and because she’s clearly smart and committed to causes I favor. But along the way she’s come to think that the First Amendment, and the foundational principles of her own University, are not only harmful and violent, but designed to create bigots.  If our University instituted an orientation seminar on free speech and the meaning of the Chicago Principles, perhaps Ms. Hui wouldn’t have such a negative take on the foundational tenets of her own University.

I end with a question for Ms. Hui:

“Who would you have decide which people are allowed to speak at the University of Chicago, and which should be banned?”

35 thoughts on “University of Chicago student says that the purpose of our school’s free-speech policy is to perpetuate white supremacy

  1. I would add an additional question for Ms. Hui:

    If Hawley and Cruz turned out the way they did because of their education locales, and you also have 100 other people who turned out differently, how would you explain that?

    L

    1. I’ve seen statements by professors involved in Hawley’s education outraged at how he’s turned out. It would be interesting to hear them discuss this with Hui. That’s a debate I would pay to hear.

  2. “We can prevent such radicalization by reexamining the Chicago principles and prioritizing free speech over absolute safety.”

    There fixed it for the person known as Hui.

  3. Hui: “For an immigrant, for a person of color […] it is devastating, an assertion that their personhood is not natural, but something to be “debated.”

    This is empty woke rhetoric. Has Bannon (or anyone similar) really ever debated whether immigrants or those “of color” are people with personhood? I really don’t think so.

  4. What is immediately forgotten: That untrammeled free speech is what led to the changing of hearts and minds for all of our expanded civil rights. The recognized, inalienable rights of immigrants, minorities, women, and LGBTQ persons have sprung directly from free speech.

    Also I question whether Hawley and Cruz were radicalized by their university experiences.

  5. “Who would you have decide which people are allowed to speak at the University of Chicago, and which should be banned?”
    I once heard the correct answer to this question but I forget now from whence it came.
    The only person qualified to be the censor is someone who would refuse the job.

    1. Asimov, IIRC. Discussing the qualifications to be President. The one absolute disqualifier was ever having expressed any interest in the job.

      1. Arthur C. Clarke, another of the Big Three (I could never really get into Heinlein) once wrote a novel, The Songs of Distant Earth, in which the head honcho is chosen by lottery.

      2. While of course I am not a fan of absolute monarchies, one advantage, also shared by a constitutional monarchy, is that the monarch doesn’t owe his position to anyone, directly or indirectly, officially or inofficially.

  6. Ms. Hui fears contamination. If you are gay, you are very familiar with the charge…..that certain people contaminate others and must be quashed. This was essentially the religious argument regarding gays: that their “recruiting” of impressionable minds lead to their becoming homosexuals. It was used for decades to quash gay rights.

    And Ms. Hui seems to advance a similar argument in a different context.

    BTW, Tablet, which has been publishing extraordinary article…maybe becoming a handful of the best magazine’s in English, just published this:

    “Journalists Mobilize Against Free Speech
    A new generation of media crusaders clamors for government control over what you see, hear, and read—and for banning their competition”

    https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/jounalists-against-free-speech

  7. “The future Josh Hawley might be playing devil’s advocate in your Sosc class.”

    Let us hope so. The better able his fellow students learn to refute him there, the less likely he and his ilk are to ascend to the upper echelons of political power.

  8. I expect that if you go back to op-eds from decades — > a century ago, you would see the same ‘logic’ used in arguments against gay marriage, against inter-racial marriage, and against women’s right to vote. There, you would also see calls for censoring these things (gay marriage, etc.), because of the offense it would cause to delicate sensibilities, and that it would inspire people to become something seen as immoral, and of course because it would inspire violence.
    Different times. Different issues, to be sure. But the same brain circuitry seems to be used to arrive at a pre-ordained conclusion.

  9. Ms. Hui might find a couple of enlightening tools in Jonathon Haidt’s explanations of how the brain processes value laden information. And how a conservative’s core values differ from a progressive’s core values. Simple but powerful info that might help her understand people, nuance, and how to forge relationships across idealogical divides. If she is aspires to be an effective politician or a compassionate human being, Haidt’s info could accelerate her development.

  10. I find Ms. Hui’s words hateful, threatening, and violent. They make me feel unsafe. And no, I haven’t read her entire body of work, nor read beyond the quotes here. I don’t need to do so to recognize her words as bigoted and hateful. She should not be allowed to speak, because her words create an unsafe environment.

  11. “By following the Chicago principles, the University effectively legitimizes and encourages students who may share similar bigoted ideologies.”

    Banning hate speech pushes these ideologies underground. Free speech, especially in schools, allows those holding such ideologies to be confronted with arguments while they are younger, more flexible and more able to change their mind.

    “…it is a matter of students being safe…”

    Life is not safe. Better science/medicine can make it safer, freedom can make nicer. The ability to look beyond one’s self can make it safer for more and for longer.

    “It begins in our classrooms, where [they] are given the tools they need to acquire and keep power…”

    It gives all sides tools for power. Discriminating against one line of thought seems like a power grab by the other side to me.

    These are my thoughts and reactions. I’ve no proof for any of it. – Joan

  12. The Chicago Principles have existed not a few years. As politically engaged and progressively astute as Ms. Hui appears to be, I reasonably assume that she was aware of the Principles before she applied to the University of Chicago. Why didn’t she rather deign to attend and envelope herself in a university cocoon more to her liking? Did she resolve to attend the U of C so as to make a name for herself by undermining/destroying the Principles?

  13. I can understand completely why many people would disagree with Ted Cruz on political issues. But equating his political positions with White supremacy or fascism does not seem sensible to me. I tried to find racist or antisemitic statements he has made, but could not find any. Perhaps I missed them.
    Opposing open borders does not make one racist. There are a great number of Texans of Hispanic or Vietnamese heritage that strongly oppose open borders. The large Vietnamese community there, like the Cuban community in Florida, still has pretty strong memories of what communist oppression feels like, and generally oppose it for reasons unrelated to White supremacy.

    I find it very troubling that so many people here today see their own opinions as divine and eternal truths, and anyone who does not share them is pure evil. The only thing that separates such people from the Khmer Rouge is the power to enforce their will on others.
    In one of her articles she claimed “But my words—radical as they may be, disagreeable as they certainly are to some—do not do any harm. They do not inspire hate or fear. In short, they have no capacity for violence.”
    Yet she also claims that the views of her political opponents threaten the rights or very existence of “marginalized students”.

      1. Not particularly. I do think that it should be possible to disagree with someone without having to insist that they are pure evil.
        With the sort of rhetoric that is being used against Cruz, I expected to find a great many hateful statements attributed to him. If they are out there, they do not seem to be easily located.
        It seems like such accusations are routinely made not seen as progressive enough, then repeated until there is a general belief they are true.
        A lot of leftist rhetoric seems to rely on conveying general impressions that a person, book, object or practice is evil, while avoiding specifics.
        This is why many people strongly believe Trump is “openly anti-Semitic”. I asked one person who repeated that claim why they believed it to be true, but they knew no specifics, it was just an impression they had.
        Opposing vague libels as a political tactic does not equate liking or even supporting those accused.

  14. Jerry ends with the perfect question: who will be the censor? Who will watch the watcher?

    As Churchill said of democracy, it’s the worst system in the world, except for the others that have been tried from time to time. The same goes for free speech. Hui’s alternative has definitely been tried before, never with good results.

  15. Hmmm, let me get this straight — or is that “hate speech” these days? — students are brainless robots who can be turned to “violence” if they even hear “hate speech”. In that case, what’s the point of having higher education at all? Or maybe there are two classes of students: the brainless robots and the Woke, who take such care to sniff out “hate speech”? Is this a genetic difference? In that case, is Hui a racist?

    And of course there’s the question of just what is “hate speech” — which right now seems to be any speech that Hui hates.

  16. The way you went out of your way to target a freshman undergrad student because of your difference in political opinions as a retired professor is embarrassing and honestly disturbing.

    1. I’m sorry you’re embarrassed and disturbed, but what is your point? Do you have an argument, for you surely didn’t mention one.
      I’m tired of people like you who are fixated on identity and ignore arguments. Bye!

  17. The New Yorker. I am almost a charter subscriber,my parents subscribed starting in the 30s, so I grew up with it and on and on until today. EB White, Thurber, Adams and more. I often no longer find the cartoons funny but humor does change over time. Booth makes up for any & all. The fiction is beyond me mostly. But there are wonderful articles and authors from time to time. Mayer,, Gawande , Gessen, Kolbert Lapore, Trillin Robin, & Lawrence Wright and many more . Anthony Lane is a marvelous, high standards and witty movie reviewer. The New Yorker gave us Rachel Carson, James Baldwin and more. So, annoyed as I may get with the modern New Yorker, and the woke stuff, I won’t cancel. No point in tossing the very good with the bad…..

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