I swear, maybe I should try writing some of my website posts as articles for magazines, where I could actually get paid. It’s not that I need the dosh, but getting a check is a special form of love in return for one’s words. Don’t worry, though, I’ll never monetize this site.
The reason I thought about this is because monetized sites, like the Atlantic piece below by Conor Friedersdorf, often have articles about the very same topics I’ve written about days before. You’ll know about the several posts I’ve done about universities like UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz making unwarranted statements about the Rittenhouse verdict (opposing it because it’s supposed to be an instantiation of “white supremacy”), when they should not be making any official statements at all. Such statements violate the spirit of the University of Chicago’s “Kalven Report”, which prohibits my university from making official statements about any ideological, political, or moral issues unless they directly impact the mission of the university. Why? I’ll reiterate what I wrote a week ago:
There are actually two principles of free speech that should be proclaimed and adhered to by every college and university in America, whether they be private or public. (Religious schools, of course, must exempt themselves.)
1.) There must be freedom of speech for all as that freedom is described by the First Amendment and construed by the courts.
2.) The university must remove itself from making official pronouncements on morality, ideology, or politics, except when those statements affect issues that could impinge on the mission of the university itself: teaching, debating, and learning.
The second principle is there to protect the first one. For if the University makes political statements, like the one we’ll discuss today, that chills or quashes the speech of other people who might fear punishment from the administration for their opposing stands. If an administrative or departmental website puts out a statement supporting the goals of Black Lives Matter, or that the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict demonstrates white supremacy in action, or that science is structurally racist and misogynist, what student or untenured professor is going to contradict that in public? We already know that about 55% of college students feel that the climate on their campus prevents them from saying things they believe. That goes for professors as well, though the percentage would be lower. Ideally, the figure should be 0%.
The University of Chicago has adopted both of these principles. The first is the famous 2014 “Report on the Committee of Free Expression” headed by Law Professor Geoffrey Stone, with the committee convened by the then President Robert Zimmer. Now called the “Chicago Principles“, the statement has been adopted in its entirety or near-entirety by over 80 American colleges and universities.
Now if I’d had the gumption, I’d have proposed a piece on Kalven and its violation by Rittenhouse-dissing universities. Sadly, the laws of physics prevented me. However, they didn’t prevent Friedersdorf, who undoubtedly got a big wad of green stuff for the piece below (click on screenshot). However, I’m not all that jealous because a.) he did a much more thorough job than I of collecting statements and parsing their meaning, and b.) He’s a better writer than I. So read the article (it’s free); you will find even more examples of miscreant university administrators, though his conclusion is the same as mine: universities should abide by the Kalven Report:
Friedersdorf summarizes several places where administrators issued negative statements on the Rittenhouse aquittal; these include UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, and the “progressive” New School, whose President, Dwight McBride, published an official statement that violates Kalven seven ways from Sunday. Friedersdorf’s take on McBride:
At the New School, McBride described a starkly different ethos:
I don’t know immediately how to parse the Rittenhouse verdict at a university where students, faculty, and staff work so tirelessly and passionately for social justice. Therein may lie the answer in this moment: when we don’t know yet what to say, let’s take solace in each other. Let’s unite in our shared commitments and values. I am grateful to be part of this community that is so driven to confront inequality, unpack systemic racism, challenge oppression, and create positive change.
Tellingly, McBride continued:
While we don’t know what to say, we know what to do, which is to act to build stronger communities, unite amongst ourselves, and use our scholarship and research in service of social justice.
He’s not calling for searching, candid discussion among people with diverse views. He’s presuming that the community is united in one collective view––and, what’s more, that the community is somehow united both in not knowing what to say and in knowing what to do about it! And what about professors and students who disagree that the verdict was unjust, or feel upset by inaccuracies in media coverage, or believe that Rittenhouse was a victim of prosecutorial misconduct, or worry that widespread criticism of the verdict is undermining the jury system?
Now deans and departments at my own University of Chicago have issued similar verboten political statements, though none that I know of about Rittenhouse. They’ve concentrated on systemic racism, and they all violate the Kalven Report. In that sense we’re hypocrites, for while ex-President Bob Zimmer recently reaffirmed that departments of our University cannot issue such official political statements, they’ve done it anyway, and the administration is too timorous to order these statements removed.
If nothing is done, the University of Chicago will go the torturous way of the New School and the University of California campuses, issuing statement after statement that gives “official” positions or, like the New School’s statement, tells all the students what they do or must believe and how they must act. Parents of prospective students, I think, won’t be keen to send their parents to such woke schools, for they’ll get no instruction about what free speech means, much less how to exercise it. And I’m sad because the unique aspect of the University of Chicago: it’s near-absolute encouragement of free speech, will erode away to nothing.
Those “official” statements are unnecessary anyway. Their main (if not only) purpose is to affirm the virtue of the writer by setting out ideological and behavioral principles that jibe with the progressive Zeitgeist. By doing that, though, they’re chilling the speech of anybody who thinks that, for example, the Rittenhouse verdict was correct. The uselessness of these statements is limned by both Friedersdorf and Glenn Loury:
But most top-down proclamations from administrators are unnecessary: As the Brown University professor Glenn Loury explained last year, they either affirm platitudes or present arguable positions as certainties. “We, the faculty, are the only ‘leaders’ worthy of mention when it comes to the realm of ideas,” he insisted. “Why must this university’s senior administration declare, on behalf of the institution as a whole and with one voice, that they unanimously—without any subtle differences of emphasis or nuance—interpret contentious current events through a single lens?”
It really is crazy—and totally unnecessary. Professors and administrators can write their own personal statements on websites and the like—that is free speech. But they need not, and should not, present those opinions as official views of their universities.
So I echo, and have anticipated, Friedersdorf’s conclusions, which are that universities should adhere to the Kalven principles. The Atlantic has a huge and intelligent audience, and though the Chicago Principles of Free Speech are widely known—and have been adopted by over 80 American universities—the Kalven Report is much less known, and Friedersdorf sets out its history as well as its principles. The report is here, and every university that has adopted the Chicago Principles of Free Speech should also adopt the Kalven Principles. They are simply two arms of the same endeavor: to allow free speech without intimidation. Friedersdorf has one a service by simply bringing this issue to the nation’s attention. But of course administrators at schools like Williams, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz simply can’t restrain themselves from weighing in on politics, thereby making themselves look empathic and sensitive.
At universities, the recent acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse should be an opportunity to study a divisive case that sparked complex debates about issues as varied as self-defense laws, guns, race, riots, the rights of defendants, prosecutorial missteps, media bias, and more. If administrators were doing their jobs, faculty and students would freely air a wide variety of viewpoints and have opportunities to better understand one another’s diverse perspectives. Instead, many administrators are preemptively imposing their preferred narratives.
And his ending:
Indeed, there are as many different views of what’s wrong in the world as there are individuals on a campus. People also differ widely in which news events, if any, they find upsetting. Students and faculty should challenge university leaders who, as if speaking for their entire communities, put forth subjective assessments and notions of what everyone else thinks or “must” do. These administrators tell the group what they think it wants to hear, create incentives for people to hide other views, and harm everyone’s ability to inquire and to learn from one another.
I wish that all the readers who fight for free speech at universities would also fight for the prevention of official statements on politics and ideology by those schools which, by giving “official views”, chill everyone’s speech. We already know that many professors and students—more than half of the latter in the U.S.—are intimidated from speaking freely about certain topics. That’s no way to get an education, much less produce a good citizen.