Should Universities Take a Stand on Ukraine? UChicago is Facing That Question

It has become increasingly common for universities to take political positions in support of everything from Black Lives Matter to D.C. Statehood. As such positions increase, there is more and more pressure for official positions to be taken on other subjects. Now, the University of Chicago is being asked to affirm its support of Ukraine after controversial statements from Professor John Mearsheimer. (For full disclosure, I am a graduate of UChicago and Mearsheimer was one of faculty when I was doing strategic studies research at the department).While I knew Mearsheimer as a new young professor, he was already a rising star in academia. He became famous for his realist approach to international studies and now holds the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Chair at the school.Mearsheimer has long been a critic of policies on Ukraine and denounced the removal of President Viktor Yanukovych as a “coup.” He also believes that the fighting in the Donbas region is a “civil war” between Ukrainians. He has given speeches on those views and wrote a widely read article in 2014 in Foreign Affairs. He has criticized the United States policies as destabilizing and endangering Ukraine, a view shared by others.Even if one disagrees, Mearsheimer’s views are is well-researched and well-reasoned. They are precisely the type of profoundly engaging viewpoints that are the very embodiment of our academic discourse.Nevertheless, as reported on the site College Fix, students have objected and called upon President Paul Alivasatos to publicly “identify and condemn those who are actively engaged in the spread of Putinism.”

Mearsheimer has objected to the overthrow of what he viewed as a democratically elected president in Ukraine and American policies that were pushing that country toward an inevitable conflict with Russia. He has been largely supported in his predictions of how those tensions would explode with Russia. That does not make him a Putin apologist.

However, even if Mearsheimer did espouse pro-Russian or even pro-Putin views, he has every right to do so as an individual and as an academic. The question is whether UChicago should take an official position on this debate or remain neutral as a forum for research and debate.  Despite my support for Ukraine in this war, I am concerned about universities taking such official positions.

The students, Daryna Safarian, Edita Kuberka, Iryna Irkliyenko, Darya Kolesnichenko and Sergiy Kuchko, wrote that they were “pained” by Mearsheimer’s references to a “civil war” and his calling the 2014 removal of Yanukovych a “coup.” What was most notable is the assertion that his views are “not substantiated by any meaningful historical or scholarly evidence.”

One can certainly disagree with his conclusions but it is bizarre to claim that it is without meaningful scholarly or historical basis. It is a common attack on those with dissenting views to declare their views as devoid of intellectual value. We have discussed a crackdown on academics who offered opposing views on World War II, Black Lives Matter, reparations, indigenous land, diversity programs, and other subjects.

We have also seen Russian artists and athletes blackballed for failing to publicly denounce the invasion or Putin.

The students are demanding disclosures of the funding sources of Mearsheimer and a university statement to denounce “anti-Ukrainian ideology on campus.”

UChicago has long been a global leader in protecting free speech and academic freedom, even as peer schools yield to the pressure of conformity and orthodoxy. It should publicly decline such invitations to stand against what some views as “anti-Ukrainian ideology.”

The Mearsheimer controversy should not be difficult for the university. A more difficult question is how universities should address Ukraine. There is a difference between labeling viewpoints and research as unacceptable “ideology” and labeling this attack on Ukraine as a violation of international law.

The problem for the university is that it is a global institution that has a myriad contacts with both Russia and Ukraine. Some of those contacts could be assisting Russia in its attack on Ukraine, particularly in access to research and resources at UChicago.  As companies from Mastercard to McDonald’s have suspended dealings with Russia, universities face the same dilemma. I believe that it is appropriate to sever some of those ties.

Universities took such a stand against South Africa during apartheid, though calls to boycott Israel has led to deep and ongoing divisions on our campuses.

There is a distinction that can be drawn between intellectual discourse and institutional support vis-a-vis Russia. Students and faculty should feel entirely protected in espousing views supportive of the Russian position. However, universities should suspend programs in Russia and limit some research collaborations that may support this invasion. That includes grants and programs funded by the Russian government or its proxies.

Where to draw that line is obviously difficult. For example, there is a call from some like Rep. Eric Swalwell to expel Russian students and academics. That, however, would reduce exposure of students and their families to opposing viewpoints and unregulated news. They are the least likely to support this war. Moreover, American academics need to support our colleagues in Russia who oppose the invasion. Putin has long had problems with students and academics who oppose his blood-soaked rule. There is a reason why Putin has shutdown media and closed social media access. He is afraid of interactions with the outside world and access to alternative viewpoints.

As a general matter, I prefer that universities focus on maintaining a fair and open forum for the discussion and research of such contemporary controversies. The invasion forces the hand of universities since they cannot support the violation of international law and the devastation of this sovereign nation. However, we should strive to protect not just access to our universities but the freedom to express dissenting viewpoints.

This position was laid out in the famous Kalven Committee Report at the University of Chicago. I have included it below. It stated in part that the university must protect its core intellectual mission and resist pressure to take political positions on contemporary controversies:

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 understand the passion and sense of offense of these students. Indeed, I share their views on the invasion. They have every right to denounce Professor Mearsheimer, who I expect would be the first to defend that right. However, he also has a right to hold opposing views without being singled out by the university or officially denounced for what some view to be unacceptable “ideology.”

Kalven Report


140 thoughts on “Should Universities Take a Stand on Ukraine? UChicago is Facing That Question”

  1. When this author says that universities cannot support the violation of international law is he saying that they cannot remain neutral about the violation of international law? If so, then on the face of it he is rejecting the Kalven principles.

  2. We are sick of cancel culture, cancel this cancel that, stop buying from countries yet others have at atrocious crimes against children, organs, ethnicity groups, etc.
    We are all sick of this “getting back at people” dysfunctional way of resolving things. That is disgusting.

    Dont people know that many Ukrainians and Russians married each other over there; and the Russian people are not to blame; and no country is to blame for what their politicians are doing.
    This is really bad that this is encouraged like cancel culture, to cut people off from things, and that this narrative is allowed on media is wrong b/c it is hurting people who live in both places out there. People need to start thinking again, have compassion, use logic.
    Support the countries and the people b/c that’s what a country is made up of.
    Thank you kindly

  3. Nuke the Kremlin and this will all be over.
    You do want this to be over, don’t you?

  4. News guys are giving the Russians ideas that they probably haven’t even considered.

  5. Things aren’t going to my liking. We shouldn’t be afraid of what Russia will do. Russia should be afraid of what we will do.

  6. If World War 3 can depopulate the planet, that is a good thing.
    I need more elbow room.

  7. Any treaty that Ukraine enters into with Russia will be under duress, so it should be invalid.

  8. I wonder when Putin will host a charity event for all of the victims of the war in Ukraine.

  9. Lavrov is having breadbaskets dropped into Ukraine. Isn’t that nice of him?

  10. If the Russian soldiers surrender or run away, then it is reasonable to assume that Russian pilots would run away, too, thus Ukrainian civilians stop getting killed.
    Escalate to de-escalate, right?

  11. Russia doesn’t want WW3 either, so it would end and soon as it starts, when American fighter jets scare away Russian fighter jets.

  12. We should re-evaluate the idea of civilian control of the military. The military knows what needs to be done to win wars and defeat enemies, but the civilian “leadership” won’t let them.

  13. Revenge of the Putin-Nazis!

    CJ Hopkins

    And they’re back! It’s like one of those 1960s Hammer Film Productions horror-movie series with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee … Return of the Putin-Nazis! Revenge of the Putin-Nazis! Return of the Revenge of the Bride of the Putin-Nazis! And this time they are not horsing around with stealing elections from Hillary Clinton with anti-masturbation Facebook ads. They are going straight for “Democracy’s” jugular!

    Yes, that’s right, folks, Vladimir Putin, leader of the Putin-Nazis and official “Evil Dictator of the Day,” has launched a Kamikazi attack on the United Forces of Goodness (and Freedom) to provoke us into losing our temper and waging a global thermonuclear war that will wipe out the entire human species and most other forms of life on earth!

    I’m referring, of course, to Putin’s inexplicable and totally unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, a totally peaceful, Nazi-free country which was just sitting there minding its non-Nazi business, singing Kumbaya, and so on, and not in any way collaborating with or being cynically used by GloboCap to menace and eventually destabilize Russia so that the GloboCap boys can get back in there and resume the Caligulan orgy of “privatization” they enjoyed throughout the 1990’s.

    No, clearly, Putin has just lost his mind, and has no strategic objective whatsoever (other than the total extermination of humanity), and is just running around the Kremlin shouting “DROP THE BOMBS! EXTERMINATE THE BRUTES!” all crazy-eyed and with his face painted green like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now … because what other explanation is there?

    Or … OK, sure, there are other explanations, but they’re all just “Russian disinformation” and “Putin-Nazi propaganda” disseminated by “Putin-apologizing, Trump-loving, discord-sowing racists,” “transphobic, anti-vax conspiracy theorists,” “Covid-denying domestic extremists,” and other traitorous blasphemers and heretics, who are being paid by Putin to infect us with doubt, historical knowledge, and critical thinking, because they hate us for our freedom … or whatever.

    continued at…

    1. Nazi AKA Fascists are the same as any other Socialists. Read their two historical manifestos by Lenin and Hitler. Ergo sum the same as that followed by Progressive Liberals aka Democrats.

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    The controversy surrounding Dr. Fauci’s finances reached a fever pitch in January of this year, and my column at Forbes was right in the middle of it.

    In the Senate hearing on January 11, 2022, U.S. Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), cited my Forbes article in his questioning of Dr. Fauci’s salary and his financial disclosures. First, Fauci claimed his financials were “public knowledge,” then, the hot mic caught the doctor calling the senator a “moron.”

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