The University of Chicago’s statement on the war versus other university statements

November 2, 2023 • 12:30 pm

I’ve been sent or seen quite a few statements by college and universities about the war. Most of these schools don’t have a policy of institutional neutrality, so they get all tied up in knots trying to express concern for all students while judiciously avoiding mentioning the butchery enacted by Hamas on October 7.  And since a lot of these schools have made political pronouncements previously, about things like the murder of George Floyd, the assault on the Capitol, and so on, it’s a gaping lacuna in their politics to avoid condemning Hamas. Harvard lost donors because of this kind of political hypocrisy. And this is why the University of Chicago has the Kalven Principles, assuring that we make no official pronouncements about ideology, morality, or politics save in those rare instances where public events affect the working and mission of the University.

Here, for example, is the short, lean statement our University issued two days after the Hamas attack:

Support for the University Community

OCTOBER 9, 2023

Dear Members of the University Community,

The attack, ongoing conflict, and loss of life in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank have brought deep concern and sorrow to the University of Chicago community. Our Office of International Affairs (OIA) has extended support to students affiliated with the region who may be directly affected. We recognize that the loss of life, casualties, and escalating conflict bring pain and distress for those in our community, especially those with family members or other loved ones in the region.

Please note that the U.S. State Department has issued a Travel Advisory for the region; we advise anyone considering travel to the affected areas to check the latest guidance from the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Israel. Members of the University community who are planning international travel are always encouraged to use the UChicago Traveler resource.

Students can also contact OIA at 773.702.7752 or if they need any information or assistance. Students can walk into the Student Wellness Center (840 East 59th Street) during open hours (8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday) to meet with the clinician on call in Counseling; or they can call 773.702.3625 and speak with a clinician after hours. Visit the Student Wellness website to learn more about mental health services and for information on how to schedule a counseling appointment. Assistance for faculty and staff is available through Perspectives at 800.456.6327.

Please contact our offices if you need support or assistance during this difficult time.


Michele Rasmussen
Dean of Students in the University

Nick Seamons
Executive Director of the Office of International Affairs and Assistant Dean of Students in the University

Compare that statement to one from McGill University below, only one of THREE statements issued (multiple statements are common for this war), as apparently the first one was deemed insufficient. McGrill’s bloated and full of virtue signaling.

The statement above minus the signatures, is 250 words long; the one below is more than twice as long: 621 words. And the second statement doesn’t accomplish anything more. Note too that the McGill letter is one of three sent out, so multiply that 621 by about three.

Dear members of the McGill community,

I write today because I feel compelled to speak once again to the profound sorrow, suffering and distress shared by many of our colleagues and students in the wake of the horrifying loss of so many Palestinian and Israeli lives.

Institutional messages carry weight, and they bring with them a responsibility that I take seriously. So, when I write to you as your Principal, I do so after considerable reflection, taking pains to first consult a range of stakeholders and viewpoints. Despite this, these messages can sometimes be received in unintended ways; as noted in the Oct. 20 message sent by Angela Campbell, Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) and Fabrice Labeau, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), recipients will read and interpret institutional communications “through the lens of [their] lived reality.” This is inescapable. Keeping this in mind, my role in divisive times is to listen attentively to those who are hurting, lead from a place of compassion, and work to bring our community together.

In that spirit, I hope today to make two things clear.

1.  Even in my brief time so far as Principal and Vice-Chancellor, I have come to care profoundly not only about the McGill community as a whole, but also about its members as individuals. Given this, it is not my place to weigh the anguish of one McGillian over that of another. Likewise, I will not draw distinctions between the suffering caused by the loss of Israeli and Palestinian life. Seeking to weigh the pain being experienced by one group over another both detracts and distracts from the collective grief within our community, which is where we must direct our focus and care at this time. Relatedly, while I can understand the many impassioned calls for McGill to weigh in on geopolitical crises around the world, doing so lies beyond a university’s mandate and role. Our academic mission is most faithfully served when institutional views are limited to what happens here on our campuses, so that all students, faculty, and staff feel included as members of our community, regardless of their identities and personal beliefs. As stated above, it is an inescapable reality that each of you will understand and interpret my messages based on your lived reality; rest assured however that my intentions are never to make a political statement through these communications. My focus is on you and on our community.
2.  This brings me to my second point, which is to call, once again, for respectful and constructive engagement on our campuses. In recent weeks, we have heard reports of intimidation, doxing, and other threatening behaviours targeting McGillians. These hostilities are unacceptable and must stop. As I have stated earlier, words and acts of retaliation and intimidation will not be tolerated, and reports of such conduct will be investigated and acted upon pursuant to our policies. Although I am firmly convinced that a university should remain impartial with respect to political questions, I am equally convinced that here on our campuses we must act clearly and decisively to ensure that institutional values, which include academic freedom, responsibility, integrity, equity, and inclusiveness, are upheld.

In our university community and beyond, we will inevitably come across viewpoints with which we disagree, sometimes vehemently. And here, as elsewhere, we are called upon to act with the empathy and respect that we ourselves wish to receive. Echoing Profs. Labeau and Campbell once again, I ask you to remember that words have great weight in times like these – not only my words, but yours as well. I invite us all to reflect upon this weight, and to choose words – and actions – that foster an environment of compassion, inclusivity, and respect.


Deep SainiPrincipal and Vice-Chancellor

Both statements express the same things:

  1. There’s a war on
  2. People are upset
  3. If you need help in dealing with this situation, here are our resources:

Can’t you see Principal Saini wringing his hands and using the thesaurus to find new words to show how compassionate he is?  And although he argues that his university should remain impartial with respect to political questions (and he does in his letter, but at tedious length), he also gives a list of “institutional values”, including “academic freedom, responsibility, integrity, equity, and inclusiveness.” The good Principal can’t write very well, either: he’s apparently afflicted with logorrhea.

The only valid value here is “academic freedom”. The rest are moral values not officially specified by the university. If there is, say, inequity in representation of genders or races in computer science or sociology, is that a violation of “university values”?  If a student treats another badly but not illegally, is that a violation of “responsibility and integrity”? If there are “affinity spaces” for black or indigenous students, does that violate the value of “inclusivity”?

All this shows how necessary it is for all universities to have a policy of institutional neutrality, and to NOT espouse “values” beyond the ones necessary to fulfill the University’s mission, which pretty much comes down to “teaching, learning, academic freedom, and freedom of speech.”

6 thoughts on “The University of Chicago’s statement on the war versus other university statements

  1. Both statements express the same things:
    There’s a war on
    People are upset
    If you need help in dealing with this situation, here are our resources:

    Nothing else needs saying, but these leaders do like to signal their virtue… (Kudos to Chicago for bucking that trend.)

  2. My cynical one is a violent gang on one side that when tired from harassing the locals harasses the guy’s next door forcing them to go all out and a pair of governments on the other that pull strings, play the long game, stack their cards right and keep things in some way or another from ending when the end is in sight and it all crumbles.

  3. I’m uncertain about what official pronouncements were issued by the University of Washington main administration. However, its Ed School’s Diversity and Inclusion office sent an Email to students which took a forthright position: “We firmly support the cause of Palestinians and their fight for freedom from the unlawful and oppressive settler colonial apartheid state. Palestine has been grappling with prolonged settler colonialism by Israel, land appropriation, military control, and ethnic displacement for more than 75 years.” The Email neglected to specify whether it favored execution, kidnapping, or just cancelling for those guilty of wrongthink on the issues involved. The office’s website announces that its mission is “providing leadership and support for the development of diversity and inclusion in all aspects of teaching, research, service, scholarship and learning.”

    1. I would write to the University’s President and head of the D and I office and tell them that these “official” positions chill freedom of speech. Send them the Kalven Report and tell them to adopt it and adhere to it. This office is an official unit of the university and such a statement would never be tolerated at the University of Chicago.

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