A video: The President and Provost welcome new students to the University of Chicago

September 27, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Here’s a new, four-minute video that’s being sent to everyone on campus as a “welcome back to school” message. It features President Paul Alivisatos, a chemist who came to us from being Provost of the University of California at Berkeley, and Provost Ka Yee Lee, also a chemist. (We have a tradition of having administrators with a science background. Our last President, Robert Zimmer, was a mathematician.)

This has caused some discussion aong my colleagues because of the balance between emphasizing free speech, which is what the President does, and emphasizing the advantages of diversity, which is Ka Lee’s job in the video. The President begins by emphasizing the importance of research and free expression, one of the selling points of our University.  The Provost takes a different tack beginning at 1:57, emphasizing our commitment to “the values of diversity and inclusion, which help shape our distinctive intellectual culture.” As she continues, one could almost think her message is this: that everyone must feel welcome to ensure that there is free expression. 

This is the “free expression” versus “DEI” perspectives, but in this case I think they have the balance down pretty well. No university can get away with completely ignoring the diversity issue, but here they couch it as “feeling welcome”—in other words, civility. And the free-speech and argument culture issues start and end the video. I can’t think of any other colleges that would do that.

I have no beef with the message, but others do, arguing that free expression does not necessarily flow from diversity, should be its own stand-alone principle, and, indeed, that too much balkanization could stifle free expression.

What do you think?

11 thoughts on “A video: The President and Provost welcome new students to the University of Chicago

  1. I dont like getting moral lectures from anyone. I dont like anyone telling me I have to prove I am a”good person”. I dont like loyalty oaths and wont sign them. I live according to my own principles, not those forced on me or shaming me. I dont live by other peoples’ moral or ethical standards. Remember King Lear’s daughter who refused to swear her love for her father. That is an important lesson: those who swear the loudest are often the most guilty and the least trustworthy. I think I am entitled to demand of BLM and all the DEI supporters proof that they support MY principles! Why not? Why are they superior to me? Who gave them that authority to dictate to me?
    Are they the new priesthood? Preaching fire and brimstone, otherwise known as
    cancel culture from their podium? Who gave them that power? Just having the right skin color? Or the right gender? Or genitals? Bugger off, all you doctrinaires. I didnt commit any crimes. I am not guilty. I dont have to apologize or sign off on your loyalty oath. I think and act for myself. All you mental retards want to do is impose your own personal standards on others. That’s call Power Hunger, not humanitarianism.

  2. I can see a situation where too much balkanism could result in the trivialization of free speech. Too many different opinions could result in the ignoring of all others and with no possibility for consensus, futility.

  3. Because I’ve traveled to many countries, I know how to greet people in several languages. I always greet them in their native language if I can tell where they are from (the Thai food stall worker, for instance) because I want them to feel as at home where they live now as they felt when they were in their home country.

  4. Seems absolutely fine to me, provided that the statements – including Provost Ka Yee Lee’s stress on the importance of everyone listening – are taken at face value.

  5. I didn’t hear the Provost mention “Equity.” That’s a significant omission from the DEI trinity, and its an omission I applaud in the sense usually given to that term – mandating of equal outcomes. Diversity and Inclusiveness don’t seem hostile to free speech in principle. The more who are included in the discussion and the better they listen to one another, the better and freer the discussion will be. It’s the enemies of free speech who want to shout down certain views and deplatform certain speakers. I don’t hear Ka Lee saying that certain things can’t be said, quite the contrary. Courtesy and civility are, however, never out of place in a classroom or a bull session. That’s what I, an old grad of the College, remember and value most about the culture of the U of C.

  6. 1:21 – were those butterflies? Robots?

    I guess there was some general idea of Kalven principles.

    I pretty much want to live in that library at this point.

    … what? No ducks?

  7. My first thought, before watching the video, was, “Is it the role of the academic provost to foster diversity and inclusion?” But on hearing Prof. Lee out, I think the answer is Yes. Her references to D and I were to D and I of viewpoints, not of skin colour or ethnic background and by avoiding the use of the word “equity”, the D and I can indeed further the academic mission of the university, which is Job 1 for the Provost. The warm admonition to let people with diverse viewpoints be heard hit the nail on the head.

    Full marks. I’ll be renewing my donation to U.C. this year even though I have no personal connection to the place whatsoever.

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