University of Chicago Warns Incoming Students That They Will Not Be Shielded From Opposing Views Or Given “Safe Spaces”

Unknown-2I have always been proud of my alma mater, The University of Chicago, and the education that I received in Hyde Park. However, that pride has been magnified this week with a letter sent to the class of 2020. As we have been discussing how various schools have eradicated free speech protections on campus in a national trend toward speech regulation. UChicago has decided to stand its ground and reaffirm its commitment to free speech on campus. The letter warns students that they will not shielded from views that upset them or given “safe spaces” on campus. In doing so, UChicago has recommitted itself to the very touchstone of education: the free and robust exchange of ideas.

The letter states “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” That line is especially welcomed with nearby schools like DePaul caving into the heckler’s veto and allowing the mob to silence voices with which they disagree.

Speakers (particularly conservatives) are routinely shut down by protesters as universities respond with relative passivity:

We have seen protester’s screaming profanities while claiming to be injured from events that they voluntarily attended:

Universities have an obligation to preserve the right of free speech and students who prevent others from speaking should be suspended from the university. Instead, schools like Dartmouth have officials who actually apologize to the protesters who shutdown libraries and prevented students from leaving.

There is now a leading university that is defying the trend against free speech and that is the University of Chicago. Hopefully the position of the university will be replicated by other schools.

Notably, the underlying report at UChicago quotes Hanna Holborn Gray, who was president during my time at the school, as saying that “education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think.”

Bravo, UChicago, Bravo.

66 thoughts on “University of Chicago Warns Incoming Students That They Will Not Be Shielded From Opposing Views Or Given “Safe Spaces””

  1. If I had paid for or paid to attend the event, I’d be suing the disruptors in civil or even small claims court to recover the event or ticket costs as well as time and court costs.

  2. Is this the highest ranked university to shine a bright light on these social justice cockroaches? Hopefully this will nudge society back to sanity.

    1. If you comb through FIRE’s site you will find that Chicago is the highest rated university with a green light for free speech. But University of Pennsylvania and Duke, both in the US News top ten, are not far behind. If fact, UPenn launched the modern college free speech movement. UPenn Professor Alan Kors successfully defended the student charged in the infamous “Water Buffalo” incident and then led his school to abolish its speech code. It was the first elite university to do so, and is today the only Ivy League institution to rate a green light for speech and expression. Professor Kors went on to co-found FIRE with civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate. The organization they founded has defended numerous students and faculty members with just a perfect track record. It’s a great story and these two men are real heros. This is a great organization, worthy of support from anyone who values freedom of expression. Check it out.

  3. Barry Godvasser – Milo is a ‘dangerous faggot’ and he is on tour.

  4. What a marvelous step towards academic rigor. I hope this emboldens other universities to require their students to grow up.

  5. Very curious to hear Jonathan Turley’s rebuttal to this:

    “Underlying much of the hand-wringing about the state of the academy is a simple desire to have the gatekeepers remain in place. The perception of the threat is entirely out of alignment with the reality on the ground. For every ginned-up hypothetical scenario of spoiled brats having a sit-in to protest too many white guys in the lit course, there are very real cases where trigger warnings or safe spaces aren’t absurdities, but pedagogical imperatives.”

    I applauded the Decision but also feel there is a very strong counter-argument.

    America is going through a very serious Dark Ages.

    1. Grateful for this decision from the U of C. I assume that they have a very good student health service for those students who need mental health evaluation [and appropriate referrals] for all the usual reasons. I’d much prefer my kid use student health than go to a safe space with crayons, teddy bears, etc with student/peer counselors who should not be dealing with acute or chronic mental health issues.

    2. there are very real cases where trigger warnings or safe spaces aren’t absurdities, but pedagogical imperatives.

      What ‘real cases’ and which ‘gatekeepers’?? If you fancy these crybullies are antagonists of the faculty and administration in general, buy my bridge.

    3. Thanks for that link. Just when you think you’ve finally stumbled across an argument that has only one side, the author of this critique does a good job making his case that,

      Despite the apocalyptic tone that often accompanies screeds against supposedly coddled students and their trigger-free safe spaces, the issues involved strike me as far more complicated than the overheated rhetoric suggests.

      As with any conversation about teaching and learning, context and nuance matter greatly — but they’re not present in most of the critics’ attempted takedowns of trigger warnings (better called “content advisories,” in my estimation) or safe spaces.

      His example regarding Verginia Tech’s invitation to Charles Murray is a good case in point:

      Murray is a racist charlatan who’s made a career out of pseudoscientific social Darwinist assertions that certain “races” are inherently inferior to others. To bring him to campus is to tell segments of your student community that, according to the ideas the university is endorsing by inviting Murray, they don’t belong there. This isn’t a violation of academic freedom. It’s an upholding of scientific standards and the norms of educated discourse — you know, the type of stuff that colleges and universities are supposed to stand for, right?

      Indeed, if one uses Freedom Of Speech as a bludgeon against the very criteria that defines Institutions of Higher Learning, the exercise of educated discourse, scientific standards, etc., it would appear to defeat at least one of the highest purposes of higher learning; the process of rigorous examination to ascertain that knowledge gained is truth.

      Is Freedom Of Speech so important that a university should insist that a group such as the Nazi’s should be welcome to start the process of insinuation, fear mongering, and hatred that ultimately leads to mass murder? Of course it seems simple in hindsight because we know where the Nazi ideology ultimately led the better part of a whole country, but it is much harder when such a group first starts to gain power and speaks only of redressing certain social evils. Is it not within the purview of a place of higher learning to require certain standards being met before someone or some group can burnish and legitimize their screed by presenting it on a given University Stump?

      On the other side of the argument, these “triggers” and institutionalized “safe spaces” DO evoke a sort of rigid bureaucratic attempt to address the issue that is easy to take aim at. This is the sort of thing that is difficult at best to codify into an institutional policy, particularly in the case of higher learning, without serious sacrifice of intellectual principal. I once had a class about politics in literature where the teacher would not allow so much as a neutral mention of the word “anarchy”, even in a question. Naturally, I took the teacher to task on whether a university was the appropriate place to ban such a term, particularly in a class on politics, and whether a Puritan Settlement in the seventeenth century wouldn’t be a better venue. But back then, that teacher was the odd ball, and Universities were not held hostage to admitting intellectual charlatans into their curriculum to pay obeisance to the principal of freedom of speech. They also didn’t need to send arrogant position statements – in spite of which I too agree with in the main – to students that obscured the nuances of making decisions about who you do and don’t invite to enjoy if only by association the reputation of their institutions.

      1. @Brooklin Bridge: “Is Freedom Of Speech so important that a university should insist that a group such as the Nazi’s should be welcome to start the process of insinuation, fear mongering, and hatred that ultimately leads to mass murder? Of”

        The problem with the NAZIs was not that they spoke freely about their ideas. The problem was that their bully boys beat people up and, yes, intimidated them.

        I think there is a pretty good argument that we would all be better off if the positions of NAZIs were more widely discussed starting in the early 1920’s.

        Shutting up people like NAZIs does not prevent their ideas from coming to fruition or them from gaining power. On the contrary, the best hope we have of shutting down people like NAZIs to assure their ideas are widely known so that we can all understand the fallacies that sustain them and the threat they pose.

        1. In the main, I agree with you, but I also agree that it isn’t always that cut and dry. Going back to the example of the Nazi’s, it would be highly unusual for their appearance at a University to result in any sort of “ah ha” moment of clarity regarding what they really stand for. Such groups or individuals are too smart for that so your point that such events would be getting Nazi ideas out in the open should be tempered by the way these things usually work. Guest presentations at such institutions are not only carefully segmented to reveal only what is attractive, but as “guests”, they are also rarely scrutinized with the same academic rigor as are ideas in classes or research. If they were, truly nefarious groups or individuals selling such elixirs wouldn’t make appearances for they would consistently loose more than they gained. But in reality, such appearances are more often stepping stones to give, as I mentioned, legitimacy and polish to themselves or their organization, or to make recruits with half truths and false promises. By the time the truth is clear, the group is in power or in the dustbin of history.

          The point about students shouting down speakers or preventing them from speaking in the first place is similarly hard to disagree with on the face of it, but I suspect at least sometimes there is more to it. Suppose a University, for what ever reasons – usually money, gives undue time and space to speakers from a a group that has a financial interest in fracking and presents all manner of lies about it’s safety and non existent or sound good but meaningless “precautions” being put in place (à la Debbie Wasserman Schultz). Increasing University participation in for profit industry/research for the purpose of financial gain is a well known problem that I believe has been discussed on this site so such an example should be within the realm of the possible. Suppose also, students are required by policy to listen politely until question time and yet they find again and again that the speaker has no time for questions or by some amazing coincidence points only to those asking give away questions (“how do you get soooo much done in a day?”). Again, not unreasonable suppositions at least in some cases which I suspect could easily be borne out as facts by a little digging. Do those students not have the right to protest and if so, should such protest be held in sound proof rooms far away from the event or from public scrutiny so that the decorum of free speech for the “guest” speaker is maintained? Then, in cases where the students are given a reasonable chance to make their opinions known, they find the media swallows their points in utter synchronized silence, do they not have an innate right to protest in a way that is heard even if it’s messy? And if the University in question drops it’s responsibility to have all sides of such issues presented, (unfortunately the case most of the time now) do the students then not have the right to protest such one sided events from taking place at all?

          1. Really good points both @bigfatmike and @brooklynbrudge.

            And look at that my feelings weren’t hurt! I walked away with thinking: this is more complicated than simple.

            That’s what a good American higher education is supposed to teach you: you are not the only right one, there are other perspectives, some you will continue to disagree with even after you hear the other side. But in the best cases, you will walk away with a new thought.

            1. @Justateacher: “. But in the best cases, you will walk away with a new thought.”

              I don’t come here because every one agrees with me. If I cannot answer, at least in my own mind, the arguments presented here then I probably ought to reconsider my opinions.

            2. BTW, Justateacher, thanks again for that link and for the point made regarding counter argument. A good discussion.

          2. ” And if the University in question drops it’s responsibility to have all sides of such issues presented, (unfortunately the case most of the time now) do the students then not have the right to protest such one sided events from taking place at all?”

            Again I think this is a mis statement of the issues. The question is not whether students, or anyone, has a right to protest – they do.

            The question is whether they have the right to shut down the speech, prevent others from hearing the speech, or prevent a speaker from appearing on campus – they do not.

            1. In the abstract, I have no argument. Students,do not the right to shut down or prevent guests from appearing on campus and making their presentation. . In practice, however, I think the issue is sometimes a monopoly on free speech by the powerful that students end up dealing with in messy ways which are indeed very subject to criticism but nevertheless not as clear cut as would be the case in a test tube discussion of free speech.

              1. Sorry BFM, that came out a little aggressive and I didn’t mean it to. You provide some very real examples below which are not at all abstract so that distinction is inappropriate. Also, I think the response by various Universities and particularly the names used such as safe places and trigger warnings tend to confuse the discussion by evoking images of spoiled brats and coddling administrations (which probably has at least some grain of truth in it). Even Kevin Gannon , author of the article that Justateacher links to, suggests, “content advisories” in place of trigger warnings, clearly aware of the problem. Again, the effort to codify political correctness comes out awkwardly at best.

                But I still think you are a little rigid in your statement of what the issues are. Sure, sometimes it is a clear cut case of abusing freedom of speech in discussion. And sometimes students are indeed perfect spoiled brats thus justifying some of our comments. Sometimes, however, they react to the fact there is no discussion at all in any real sense. There is only vested interests that have in effect purchased exclusivity of speech and claimed it as their right to freedom of speech.

                1. @BB: “that came out a little aggressive and I didn’t mean it to.”

                  Instead of boring you with old war stories, I will just observe that so far we haven’t broken any furniture or sent anyone to the emergency room – and that is pretty good for this place.

                  If it needs to be said, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to express a view on this topic, especially those who were kind enough to respond to me. The best way I have found the clarify my own views is to face the challenge of those who disagree.

      2. Very thoughtful comment. When I was an undergrad not too long ago, my college hosted both Ralph Nader and Kent Hovind(?), a young-earth creationist, not too far apart from one another. While neither explicitly addressed the issues broached by the other, it’s still quit a dichotomy between speakers. In the context of this contemporary debate, I’m quite proud of my alma mater for presenting a broad spectrum of public discourse. Not sure if students are more intellectually insecure these days, or the whole thing is overblown. Even if so, I’m not so alamrmed as many on this board. Intellectual wimps are still capable of thoughtful discourse. they just need an extra pat on the head and maybe a trophy for trying;-)


    4. “Underlying much of the hand-wringing about the state of the academy is a simple desire to have the gatekeepers remain in place.”

      This is a completely unsupported statement impugning the motives of the opposition. It should be clear that we cannot judge the validity of the argument based on the motive of the speaker. We actually have to examine the arguments to know whether they are strong or week. The statement constitutes an ad hominem attach on those defending free speech.

      “The perception of the threat is entirely out of alignment with the reality on the ground. For every ginned-up hypothetical scenario of spoiled brats having a sit-in to protest too many white guys in the lit course, … ”

      False claim of what the issue is and why we are concerned. I am not aware of anyone who is writing op-ed pieces about students ‘protesting too many white guys in a lit course’ either real or hypothetical.

      The very real concerns have to do with real students who actually shout down speakers or real students who actually force administrators to withdraw invitations to speak, or real students who actually disrupt class because a Professor will not issue trigger warnings. In addition there is concern over real professors who support these real actions that ride rough shod over both freedom of speech and academic freedom.

      ” … there are very real cases where trigger warnings or safe spaces aren’t absurdities, but pedagogical imperatives.”

      Really? Perhaps you could identify a few instances and make a clear explanation why these are general problems that are best addressed safe spaces provided by the university administration rather than individual problems that are better addressed with counseling?

  6. If they had safe spaces when I was going to college, there would not have been any teaching spaces.

  7. FIRE consistently gives U. of Chicago its highest rating for free speech. This will be challenged by the fascists. Make no mistake about that.

  8. Interesting how those that shout down what they think to be wrong, destroy everything that is right. Right or wrong only reveals itself when heard and pondered. Anything beyond a ponder starts to reek of a closed mind. Only after much pondering should a definitive position be taken. Carting out, as it should have been done, that large student with the haystack hairdo, would have made the major papers.

    1. Well said Issac. I find the other troubling thing is how these people turn their back to civilization as a whole. No respect for fellow humans there. These people are devolving into stimulus-response creatures (What makes me feel good–GOOD, what doesn’t make me feel instantly good–BAD). I look at these legions of self-perceived educated (but not educated) reacting in mass and wonder. I think that’s why zombie shows are so popular right now, it’s a glimpse into what society is actually turning into. Get upset, don’t think, and demonstrate worse-than-animal behavior… then excuse it. Yeah, that’s good for everyone…

    2. “Only after much pondering should a definitive position be taken”

      Some brains are much better at pondering and analyzing than other brains. Many are unable to ponder and compare ideas at all. They seem to be able to adopt a single idea and stick with that idea, but unable to change that idea. Hence they are attracted to anything held out as “absolute truth” such as a religious book or the Constitution.

  9. We must not cater to the Regressive Left Social Justice Bolsheviks.

    Instead we must realize the threat they pose to liberty and oppose them at every step.

    The Regressive Left Totalitarians are the types that take your rights away in the name of their cause and eventually line you up against a wall to purge

  10. Very good article. I have always been keen on the Univ of Chicago. Good law school too. Schools which do not adopt this program as outlined above by U of C, need to be discredited by society as a whole. Do not let your kid go to some weeny place.
    Who is Milo?

  11. @Darren

    It worked out very well in the end. The president of DePaul resigned AND the extra money the Republicans had to put forth for extra security — who obviously did nothing – was refunded. Milo rocks IMO! And I am a JillnotHill gal. This goes beyond partisan politics.

  12. I have a lot of respect for Milo and he certainly is at the front line in the anti-free speech cultural upheavals in universities and others. Some on the left have even went so far as to say he is not really gay because he fields conservative views.

    As for the first video, those two who hijacked the stage should have been arrested for disorderly conduct and booked. There is no free speech right to disrupt a lawful assembly of people. When he was told to leave and he refused, it’s time to hook them up. It doesn’t matter if it is a speech, a wedding, or something you politically disagree with.

    1. Exactly right. If someone went to a James Taylor concert, and then started singing over JT, they would be arrested. The DOJ should be all over people who organize these protests inside these venues, or prohibit people from coming and going to events, whether a Trump rally, or a Milo speech at a university.

      If Trigglypuff had to spend 6 months in lockup, it would probably do her some good.

      Squeeky Fromm
      Girl Reporter

  13. From a column in the Washington Post by the president of Northwestern University,

    “I’m an economist, not a sociologist or psychologist, but those experts tell me that students don’t fully embrace uncomfortable learning unless they are themselves comfortable. Safe spaces provide that comfort. The irony, it seems, is that the best hope we have of creating an inclusive community is to first create spaces where members of each group feel safe.”

    Unite by dividing. Makes wonderful sense to me. /snark

    1. As a Northwestern alumnus I found this disappointing. But the Laura Kipnis Title IX investigation at NU was truly cringeworthy. NU was an amazingly sensible place 35 years ago.

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