A few weeks ago, the University of Chicago reminded the world of its status as the leading academic institution with regards to protecting free speech with a letter that the Dean of Students, Jay Ellison, sent to the Class of 2020.
This morning, the President of the University of Chicago, Robert Zimmer, doubled down on the University’s commitment to free speech in an email sent to the entire student, staff, and faculty bodies. In the email, he writes that “engagement thrives in a climate of respect and civility, requiring an environment of inclusion and a willingness to engage in conversations that can be difficult and even uncomfortable” and that “we look forward to a year of common effort by the University community to reaffirm our commitment to rigorous discourse and free expression, to enhance the diversity of our faculty, students, and staff, and to foster an inclusive climate on campus.”
This email is important in how it makes clear that diversity and freedom of expression are in no way contradictory terms.
Thank you to the University of Chicago for its continued leadership on this issue. I believe that schools will continue to follow in our steps on this topic.
For more of my coverage of the Chicago Letter and its aftermath, read here!
The full text of the email reads:
To: Faculty, Students, and Staff
From: Robert J. Zimmer, President, and Daniel Diermeier, Provost
Subject: Fall Welcome
Date: September 30, 2016
As the new academic year begins, we are writing to welcome new and returning faculty, students, and staff members. Each year offers the opportunity to celebrate the many individuals in our community, to reflect on the values and history that have made the University of Chicago a distinctive place of learning and discovery, and to consider how the University community renews those ideals over time.
A salient issue on many university campuses today is a perceived tension between two values that the University of Chicago has long espoused: a deep and foundational commitment to free expression and rigorous inquiry on one hand, and the importance of the rich diversity of the campus community on the other. The University of Chicago has long been committed to the idea that these values are not in opposition: that a culture of rigorous inquiry demands an environment where diverse perspectives, experiences, individuals, and ideas inform and stimulate intellectual exchange, challenge, and engagement.
Such engagement thrives in a climate of respect and civility, requiring an environment of inclusion and a willingness to engage in conversations that can be difficult and even uncomfortable. Members of the University community have rightly expressed concern about certain climate issues on campus and the relationship of these issues to free expression. These campus climate issues are varied, relating particularly (but not exclusively) to minority status due to race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability status, nationality, or political perspective. Our society as a whole has engaged in many exclusionary practices, and these acts of bias—both historical and ongoing, both explicit and implicit—have limited opportunity and participation for many individuals and groups. As a university community we must take these climate issues seriously and address them openly. This is critical for ensuring that all faculty, students, and staff are able to fully participate in open discourse on campus, and thus fully benefit from and contribute to the deeply enriching and challenging academic environment characteristic of the University of Chicago.
We look forward to a year of common effort by the University community to reaffirm our commitment to rigorous discourse and free expression, to enhance the diversity of our faculty, students, and staff, and to foster an inclusive climate on campus, so all may participate fully in the distinctive open and questioning environment that has always defined the University of Chicago.
We wish all of you a successful and gratifying year.