Over 300 University of Chicago faculty members signed an open letter to University President Paul Alivisatos and Provost Ka Yee Lee, publicly demanding expanded security measures in the wake of Chicago’s surging crime wave. Reflecting on the current situation in Hyde Park, the co-signers conclude that “[we] are experiencing an existential crisis.”
The letter comes nearly one week after recent UChicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng was killed during an armed robbery in broad daylight, just one block from campus.
The UChicago faculty members emphasize that Zheng is the third university affiliate to be shot and killed in Chicago this year. “We are […] all shocked, saddened and frightened by the ruthless murder of […] Zheng [last Tuesday], while we are still mourning the loss of Ph.D. student Yiran Fan in a shooting rampage [in January] as well as undergraduate student Max Solomon Lewis to a stray bullet [in July],” the co-signers wrote. “These tragedies have been happening right on and around campus, and we are hearing of gun robberies on a weekly basis!”
“As educators, parents, and community members, we are deeply disturbed and outraged,” they continued. “We are no longer certain if our campus allows students, staff, and faculty to study, work, and live safely.”
For this reason, the co-signers insist that “anti-violence should be made TOP [sic] priority at the University,” noting that UChicago is “being depicted as one of the most dangerous campuses in the United States by several international news outlets.” According to these faculty members, the recent spate of violence has negatively impacted UChicago’s reputation, harms the university’s ability to attract and retain students, and discourages current students from attending in-person classes.
Their letter proposes several “concrete actions” to address the violence around campus.
First, the group demands that the university “enlarge the borders of [the University of Chicago Police Department] territory to the Hyde Park neighborhood,” seeking greater off-campus protection for students, staff, and faculty. In particular, the group requests enhanced surveillance and monitoring systems, as well as greater off-campus security guards and an expansion of the university shuttle service.
In addition, the co-signers call for the university to “re-build accountability” by establishing a committee to implement new security measures, set “quantifiable goals” for these strategies, and regularly “communicate plans and any progress in achieving these goals” to the public. The authors stress that “[every] gun robbery or other crime that has occurred on campus requires attention,” saying “[criminals] need to be identified, arrested and sentenced – this is essential to rebuild public trust.”
The letter also demands that the university “bring justice to the Dennis Zheng incident” by urging local law enforcement to “capture the murderer and bring the person to justice as soon as possible,” and providing community members with periodic updates on the criminal case.
According to Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, 18-year-old Alton Spann was arrested and charged with Zheng’s murder on Friday. Prosecutors told the Chicago Sun-Times that Spann has an “extensive juvenile court history,” and was on parole for a 2019 armed robbery and vehicular hijacking conviction.
Spann is now being held without bail and he is due in court on Friday.
The faculty members further call on the university to support Zheng’s family by returning his tuition fee and covering the family’s travel expenses to the U.S. to attend funerals and memorials.
The letter concludes by calling upon the university to “further engage with the city [of Chicago] and the local [South Side] community and promote quantifiable long-term plans to mitigate criminal activities, particularly those targeting University students, staff, and faculty members.”
Meanwhile, UChicago students have organized a 12 P.M. rally today under the banner, “We are here to learn, not to die.”
The event is not connected to the faculty letter, but similarly demands greater safety measures for the university community. “We are urging the university leadership to take stronger and more concrete measures to ensure the safety of the UChicago campus and the Hyde Park community,” the organizers state. “[We] hope to build strength and unity among the traumatized members of our community, and to promote awareness of public safety in the Hyde Park neighborhood.”
In Zheng’s honor, the Chinese American Association at Greater Chicago launched an online fundraiser for his family, which has raised over $300,000 as of Tuesday.