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?”

Gargoyles and ducks

November 1, 2020 • 1:45 pm

I have a few pics and one video today; I decided to post my remaining duck pictures and videos over the coming weeks to help me remember them when they’re gone (they’re already leaving since we cut way back on their food).

First, though, here are the gargoyles over the arch attached to my building; they’ve been gussied up for the pandemic:

 

And some ducks. First, Honey was here yesterday, and may be here today but today’s a “no feed” day as part of our schedule to gradually wean the ducks from food. I don’t go to the pond on “no feed” days as the ducks know me and will rush me begging for noms. It breaks my heart. But they need to leave, and I need to exercise tough love.

Here, though, is Honey on September 28, when we were feeding ducks cracked corn on Duck Plaza. Honey partook of the comestibles, but you can see that she’s obsessed with driving the other ducks away from the food—to the extent that she would forego her own corn to peck and chase the other ducks. Watch the feathers fly when she pecks the intruders!

Here she’s simply showing the other ducks that she’s dominant, and the “barking” you hear is from her. We can always identify Honey by her barking and aggressive behavior. Although we sometimes call her the “psycho killer duck,” I still love her, and made sure she was well fed. I do hope she returns next spring.

Some photos of the late departed Frisky, who left fat and in good shape. He’s been gone for about a week. I do miss him!

Head on:

Frisky resting on the Sacred Knob:

And a lone drake in the afternoon:

Wokeness escalates at the University of Chicago: the school ignores its own “foundational principle” of not publicly espousing political or ideological views, and student activists occupy campus police headquarters

June 27, 2020 • 1:45 pm

UPDATE: Professor Brian Leiter of the Law School (he’s the director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values) added this comment to my public Facebook notice about this whole post:

_________________________

I’m deeply saddened at how woke The University of Chicago is becoming. The students, of course, are far woker than the faculty, but I always expected the faculty and administration would hold the line by adhering to two of the great “foundational principles” of our University: the Report on the Committee on Freedom of Expression (the famous “Chicago Principles” mandating pretty unrestricted free speech), and the Kalven Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action. These principles are among several that make The University of Chicago unique among other schools. The free-speech principles have been adopted by 55 universities, and I wrote about the Kalven Report here, explaining how it prohibited the University as a whole from taking political and social stands. (Individuals, of course, are free to say what they want as individuals.)  I’ll reiterate a bit of that report; the emphasis is mine:

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.

The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints. And this neutrality as an institution has its complement in the fullest freedom for its faculty and students as individuals to participate in political action and social protest. It finds its complement, too, in the obligation of the university to provide a forum for the most searching and candid discussion of public issues.

There is one exception to this: the University can officially weigh in on an issue that endangers its own mission as an educational institution.

These two reports are among the five seen by the University of Chicago as “faculty reports and policies that have guided the University’s approach to free expression and open discourse over the years and to this day.”

Further, the University, when appealing to prospective students and scholars, sells these foundational principles as something that sets our University apart from others: untrammeled free expression (see here).  The principles of free expression are highlighted in this video intended, I think, to lure students and scholars here:

 

I had hoped that the faculty and administration would hold the line on all the principles, but especially the two principles above. In truth, free speech is still viable here—at least temporarily. But now various statements issue constantly from the administration that align with political movements and ideologies, often involving assertions about race that are clearly ideological and political rather than purely moral. It looks as if the Kalven Report will soon be in tatters—if any administrator even remembers its purpose and dictates.

Although the University remained silent during the McCarthy-era red-baiting, and during the Vietnam war, it is no longer silent about things like structural racism, critical race theory, and so on. Indeed, though I agree with virtually every political statement the University is making on these issues, that is not the point: the point is that, qua the Kalven report, the University should not be making these statements at all as official policy.  For official policy creates a climate that brooks no dissent, and that is precisely what both the free-speech policy and the Kalven report were designed to prevent. Remember its words?

There is no mechanism by which [the University community] can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives.

Well, the freedom of dissent is no longer so full, as the University has made assertions that brook no dissent. Our only alternative is to agree to jump and ask only, “how high?”

**********

In contrast, the wokeness of students here is taken for granted: it’s a one-way ratchet to authoritarianism that will also destroy the “founding principles.”

To wit: the students are demanding the defunding and eventual disbanding of the University of Chicago Police Department, a large organization that patrols not just the campus, but a wide swath of the South Side, from 35th Street to 63rd Street. I’ve interacted with them quite a bit (often without them knowing I’m on the faculty, though they can see I’m white), and have found them polite, professional, and efficient. (This morning I saw one officer return to Botany Pond a stray turtle who had wandered several blocks away, doomed to expire in the heat.)

Criticism of the UC Police began in earnest in 2018, although there had been sporadic complaints of police racism that I don’t know much about. But in April of 2018, the campus police got a report of a man acting erratically off campus, bashing in cars with a rod and doing other damage. Responding to the call, the police were charged by the man, who wielded the metal bar as a weapon. They warned him to drop it, and, as he continued charging them , they shot him in the shoulder.

The offender turned out to be a mentally ill student, Charles Thomas (my reports here and here), who has since been in and out of jail and is now incarcerated for violating parole. But the shooting upset the student body— though, as I said, the cops really didn’t have a choice if they didn’t want their heads bashed in—and they shot him in the shoulder. Note, they didn’t try to kill him—these are not, after all, Minneapolis police. There were calls for mental health care to be improved on campus (it was), and, inevitably, for the defunding and disbanding of our police department. Here’s the report from the Chicago Maroon,  the student newspaper, about the student sit-in in at campus police headquarters on June 12 (I’d missed the event). Click on the screenshot to read:

 

100 students began sitting in inside the police station, and, acting professionally, the police let them in, but, as business hours ended, refused to let anyone else in, though they could leave. Bathroom facilities were locked, as they are normally after hours, and delivery pizza, also ordered after hours, wasn’t allowed in, either. Forty students stuck it out for the night. They could have been arrested for trespassing, but the police wisely decided to let them be.

What did the protestors want?  This:

Their demands were “defund,” “disarm,” “disclose,” and “disband”: for the University to reduce the UCPD budget by at least 50 percent for the 2020-21 school year; entirely disarm the police force; make the organization’s budget from the past 20 years and all future years public; and dissolve the force altogether by 2022.

Protest signs (photo from the Chicago Maroon by Yiwen Lu):

I’ve read in other places that by eliminating the UC Police (I believe we have about 50 officers), the protestors don’t intend to replace then with the Chicago city police, whom they dislike even more. It is not in fact clear what they want in terms of campus security.

What is clear is that if eliminate the police force, or even disarm it on the gun- and crime-ridden South Side of Chicago, the school will eventually vanish. What parent would send their child to the University of Chicago if there were no campus police?

The University Provost and Chief of Police even met with the protestors in person, but refused to immediately accede to their demands.

It is stuff like this that disheartens me even more than usual, for I am immensely proud of being associated with this university, and I’m saddened by watching it slowly—on the student, faculty, and administrative sides—put its foot on the greased slide of wokeness. That produces a one-way trip to 1984—36 years late.  I’d love to hear what kind of campus security these students want when the cops are gone by 2020. But no worries: I’m 100% sure it won’t happen. The University administration is not as muddled as these students.

Now if only the administration would stop violating the dictates of the Kalven Report by taking official University positions on politics, I’d regain more confidence in my school.

Glenn Loury calls out his university for an official letter on racism that, he says traffics in “sophomoric nostrums.”

June 7, 2020 • 9:00 am

Glenn Loury is a well-known American author and economist, and you might have seen his hard-hitting “The Glenn Show” on Bloggingheads.tv.  Loury was the first tenured black professor of economics at Harvard, but left for Brown University—where he’s now the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics—because he said his appointment at Harvard was a “mistake” (he didn’t feel sufficiently established as scholar).

On June 1, the administration of his school published a “Letter from Brown’s senior leaders“, which not only decried the police killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, but also made sweeping statements about structural racism, the lack of progress in securing civil rights (“we have been here before, and in fact have never left), and, in the end, makes promises about reform:

In the weeks and months to come, we will leverage the expertise of our faculty, staff and students to develop programming, courses and research opportunities designed to advance knowledge and promote essential change in policy and practice in the name of equity and justice.

According to Loury, the letter was sent to “thousands of students, staff, and faculty”.

The letter is signed by every bigwig in the Brown administration, from the President on down through Vice Presidents, deans, executive officers and financial offers. What struck me was that although it was well intentioned, it was an ideological statement by the University itself, which would not be allowed by the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report (1967), which affirms political neutrality of a University, rejecting the idea that a University can hold a position to which all members ascribe, and leaving it up to individuals to make their own personal statements. My own view is that the University should not be issuing statements like this, soothing and empathic, but rather leave these these statements up to faculty who, after all, may dissent from a University position. If Universities start issuing statement on the issues of the day, there will be no end to it (I recommend reading the Kalven report). That, of course, doesn’t mean that the University shouldn’t emphasize its resources for those affected, as our own University’s statement did (see below).

Glenn Loury, however, has no truck with his university’s letter, and has written a scathing response in City Journal, which you can see by clicking on screenshot below:

What struck me on a first reading was how poorly written the Brown letter was, a fact that didn’t escape Loury, who said it “was obviously the product of a committee.” Loury wrote a response (it’s not clear to whom), but shared it with the City Journal website. Here are a few of his pungent remarks about the content of the Brown letter:

I wondered why such a proclamation was necessary. Either it affirmed platitudes to which we can all subscribe, or, more menacingly, it asserted controversial and arguable positions as though they were axiomatic certainties. It trafficked in the social-justice warriors’ pedantic language and sophomoric nostrums. It invoked “race” gratuitously and unreflectively at every turn. It often presumed what remains to be established. It often elided pertinent differences between the many instances cited. It read in part like a loyalty oath. It declares in every paragraph: “We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident.”

And just what truths are these? The main one: that racial domination and “white supremacy” define our national existence even now, a century and a half after the end of slavery.

I deeply resented the letter. First of all, what makes an administrator (even a highly paid one, with an exalted title) a “leader” of this university? We, the faculty, are the only “leaders” worthy of mention when it comes to the realm of ideas. Who cares what some paper-pushing apparatchik thinks? It’s all a bit creepy and unsettling. 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?

And that’s why the University shouldn’t speak with one voice, for there may be faculty who dissent from that voice.

You have to admire Loury’s moxie; after all, he’s calling out his own bosses, though of course he’s tenured and can’t be fired. He goes on (the bolding is mine):

They write sentences such as this: “We have been here before, and in fact have never left.” Really? This is nothing but propaganda. Is it supposed to be self-evident that every death of an “unarmed black man” at the hands of a white person tells the same story? They speak of “deep-rooted systems of oppression; legacies of hate.” No elaboration required here? No specification of where Brown might stand within such a system? No nuance or complexity? Is it obvious that “hate”—as opposed to incompetence, or fear, or cruelty, or poor training, or lack of accountability, or a brutal police culture, or panic, or malfeasance—is what we observed in Minneapolis? We are called upon to “effect change.” Change from what to what, exactly? Evidently, we’re now all charged to promote the policy agenda of the “progressive” wing of American politics. Is this what a university is supposed to be doing?

I must object. This is no reasoned ethical reflection. Rather, it is indoctrination, virtue-signaling, and the transparent currying of favor with our charges. The roster of Brown’s “leaders” who signed this manifesto in lockstep remind me of a Soviet Politburo making some party-line declaration. I can only assume that the point here is to forestall any student protests by declaring the university to be on the Right Side of History.

What I found most alarming, though, is that no voice was given to what one might have thought would be a university’s principal intellectual contribution to the national debate at this critical moment: namely, to affirm the primacy of reason over violence in calibrating our reactions to the supposed “oppression.” Equally troubling were our president’s promises to focus the university’s instructional and research resources on “fighting for social justice” around the world, without any mention of the problematic and ambiguous character of those movements which, over the past two centuries or more, have self-consciously defined themselves in just such terms—from the French and Russian Revolutions through the upheavals of the 1960s.

My bottom line: I’m offended by the letter. It frightens, saddens, and angers me.

Brown’s letter is in fact a social-justice screed, not affirming the values of the University to teach or foster critical discussion, but rather presuming unanimous adherence to an approved ideology. Granted, I happen to agree with most of that ideology—but not completely, for, as Loury implies, the Brown letter echoes the Critical-Racism-Theory tone of the New York Times’s 1619 Project. As the Kalven report said half a century ago, a university “is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.”

Brown, of course, has long been a woke university, so its response is not surprising. What did surprise me is that The University of Chicago also issued a letter from our provost—one similar to Brown’s. It’s not nearly as social-justicey, though it does mention “the intractable scourge of racism” (I prefer to think that racism isn’t intractable), and calls attention to various university resources that might be useful to students in these troubled times.  And of course I agree with nearly all of it. My point is that it pretends that we have a collective position when we don’t, just as Loury dissents from his own University’s “official” letter. I remind you again of what the Kalven report says, and I’ve emphasized the last paragraph:

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.

“Endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness” means converging on a single acceptable political opinion from which dissent is unacceptable. By all means anybody, from the President to the Provost to the faculty, can expound their own personal opinions. But they should not issue them under the imprimatur of the University, which promulgates the incorrect view that all of us agree with everything in the letter.

h/t: cesar

 

The Kalven Report of 1967, supposedly ensuring the political neutrality of the University of Chicago

June 5, 2020 • 10:30 am

In 1967, President George Beadle of the University of Chicago (a Nobel-winning geneticist and also an avowed atheist) convened a committee whose charge was to “prepare a statement on the University’s role in social and political action.” This was the result of many people calling for the University to take positions on political issues like the Vietnam War, security hearings in the U.S Congress, and so on. The Committee was convened in February and produced its report, remarkably, by November. The report took its name from Harry Kalven Jr., the Committee chair, a famous legal scholar, and a professor of law at the University’s law school.

The document is only a bit more than two pages long, and you can get a pdf by clicking on the screenshot below. You should read it whether or not you think that universities should take official political positions.

The basic conclusion of the Kalven Report was that the University as a whole comprises scholars who are supposed to provide the opinions, but the University itself should not—with two exceptions (see below). This was a landmark document that the University has basically adhered to for over half a century—though I suspect those days are ending.

First, the meat of the document (bolding is mine):

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.

The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints. And this neutrality as an institution has its complement in the fullest freedom for its faculty and students as individuals to participate in political action and social protest. It finds its complement, too, in the obligation of the university to provide a forum for the most searching and candid discussion of public issues.

I agree with that, though I can envision some circumstances that adherence to it would make me a tad uncomfortable (e.g., divesting from harmful causes). But as far as I know, the University has adhered to this pretty scrupulously over the years. And the statements I’ve put in bold show why; it’s hard to argue otherwise. “The University of not a lobby.” The Kalven Report ranks with the Principles of Free Expression of the University of Chicago (chaired by Geoff Stone, another law school professor) as the two pillars of academic freedom and freedom of speech that has made me proud to be associated with this university.

The report does cite two exceptions, which seem reasonable. The first are cases in “which the society, or segments of it, threaten the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry.” In such instances, the University is justifiably obliged to combat the threats to its underlying principles.  The second is more mundane:

There is another context in which questions as to the appropriate role of the university may possibly arise, situations involving university ownership of property, its receipt of funds, its awarding of honors, its membership in other organizations. Here, of necessity, the university, however it acts, must act as an institution in its corporate capacity. In the exceptional instance, these corporate activities of the university may appear so incompatible with paramount social values as to require careful assessment of the consequences.

Economist George Stigler, also on the committee (and also a Nobel Laureate some yearslater), took exception to this last bit and added his own coda:

Special Comment by Mr. Stigler:

I agree with the report as drafted, except for the statements in the fifth paragraph from the end as to the role of the university when it is acting in its corporate capacity. As to this matter, I would prefer the statement in the following form: The university when it acts in its corporate capacity as employer and property owner should, of course, conduct its affairs with honor. The university should not use these corporate activities to foster any moral or political values because such use of its facilities will impair its integrity as the home of intellectual freedom.

I think Stigler’s comment is an improvement.

Now, however, I worry that the Kalven Report is being forgotten, or deliberately ignored, as social pressures are applied to the University to make official statements about politics and ideology. Most of these I’ve agreed with in their content, for they are liberal and I am a liberal. I won’t mention the statements, perhaps because I’ve been treated well here, am proud of my school, and don’t want to single individuals out for criticism. Suffice it to say that the increasing wokeness of the University is seeping into its official statements, and this politicizes the University in a way that the Kalven report feared and prohibited.

Will the University of Chicago become, in terms of wokeness, a high-class version of The Evergreen State College or Middlebury College?  I hope not, but I’m worried. Wokeness seems to be a one-way ratchet, for if you oppose it you risk being tarred with all kinds of names and labels.

Well, I’m older and won’t be around forever, but I hope to Ceiling Cat that (as Harvard did do), the University of Chicago won’t start producing “social justice placemats” to put in its dining halls. We seem to be creeping in that direction.

More fall at the U of C

October 30, 2018 • 12:30 pm

These are pictures taken with my iPhone on my walk home yesterday. (Please, no more cracks about my owning an iPhone!). It’s about the most beautiful time of the year on campus.

This is my building:

Mandel Hall, which houses a food court, a big dining hall, and a theater, as well as various offices for student government and journalism:

Rockefeller Chapel:

The old Chicago Theological Seminary (now housing the Department of Economics) is the big towered building to the right; on the left is the Oriental Institute with its lovely museum:

Gingko biloba: