University of Chicago Professor Rachel Fulton Brown published an open letter to University President Paul Alivisatos and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee on Thursday, begging them to “save our school” by rejecting COVID-19 theater and anti-science policies.
Fulton Brown is an associate professor of history at the university with a celebrated publication record. She is also a member of the executive committee for the university’s M.A. program in social sciences.
To “save our school,” Fulton Brown argues that “NOW is the time” for the president and provost to change course by adopting a unique, facts-focused approach to COVID. “NOW is the time for US, the University of Chicago, to stand out. Or be buried in the avalanche of lawsuits that is surely coming,” she writes.
UChicago, a premier research institution since the days of first President William Rainey Harper and a center for pondering essential philosophical questions since Robert Maynard Hutchins’ tenure,* emerged as a strong institutional opponent of coddling and cancel culture under former President Robert Zimmer.
Yet, rather than asking “Big Questions,” conducting hard-hitting research, and setting scientific trends amid the coronavirus pandemic (in line with its tradition of free discourse and academic excellence), the university has been embarrassing itself by falling “in step with everyone else over the fear,” Fulton Brown says.
Since the start of the pandemic, UChicago has introduced scores of strict COVID policies in line with “orthodox” public-health guidance.
Last year, the university encouraged students to anonymously report their classmates for wearing their masks improperly or attending small gatherings, which led administrators to target students for taking photographs while masked outside. Additionally, the school required appointments to use libraries and gyms, barred students in dorms from hosting friends from other dorms, and required students to eat eight feet apart while in university buildings. Most classes were conducted remotely.
This academic year, UChicago introduced a vaccine mandate, imposed a booster mandate for some university populations but not others, banned professors and students from removing their masks while speaking in class, and altered its academic calendar with eleven days’ notice to impose two weeks of remote classes in response to the Omicron variant. UChicago has also demanded students attest to a politicized statement on COVID.
To avert UChicago reputational disaster, Fulton Brown offers the provost and president a checklist. First, she says the school should make public that it has extended exemptions from the COVID vaccine mandate, which she characterizes as a “giant experiment [. . .] compromised by politics and haste.” The university has offered students and faculty religious and medical exemptions, and as of October 22, 8% of employees and 4% of students were not fully vaccinated.
Second, Fulton Brown says the school should make public “which of our faculty were courageous enough to sign the Great Barrington Declaration,” a document signed by top health experts that advocates for protecting the vulnerable but otherwise eschewing COVID lockdowns.
Third, Fulton Brown begs the university to publicize that it has students “intelligent enough to see through the gaslighting and fear to the real questions we should be asking about what it means to be a great school.” (Later in Fulton Brown’s public post of her open letter, she links to the Chicago Thinker.)
In what appears to be an editorial addition to her open letter, Fulton Brown adds, “Stop the vaccine mandates and asymptomatic testing, get rid of the lockdowns and masks, and let us back into the classroom to study and learn.”
One of the Great Barrington Declaration’s organizers—Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University—reposted Fulton Brown’s statement, offered his gratitude, and wrote, “It is past time for universities to remember our high mission and put an end to the policies that have hampered our ability to accomplish it.”
The Brownstone Institute also published Fulton Brown’s open letter as a standalone article, sharing it on Twitter with the tagline: “So many people are speaking out now, at great risk to their careers.”
Between tweets from Fulton Brown, Bhattacharya, and the institute, Fulton Brown’s open letter has received thousands of likes and many supportive comments.
“You are a brave soul, uncommon in academia today,” one user wrote to Fulton Brown. Another tweeted, “May all the colleges awaken to your words! May they hear you loud and clear!” A self-described UChicago alumna added, “What is the point of the University if it fails when it counts? Could have been a leader two years ago in bringing critical thinking to bear on this crisis.”
As of publication, university leadership does not appear to have publicly responded to Fulton Brown’s letter.
* See Dean John Boyer’s The University of Chicago: A History.