It is no secret that the University of Chicago is THE university for free speech—according to UChicago. However, evidence suggests that UChicago’s real “core institutional value” is a fancy new thing called “diversity and inclusion” (D&I).
Granted, our much-vaunted “Chicago Principles” apparently set the standard for free speech. Our professors write op-eds in higher-ed trade publications and The Wall Street Journal advocating for free speech. The “Who We Are” page on UChicago’s website brags that “we believe freedom of expression is fundamental,” providing the “foundation of a transformative education.” Students at other universities get their minds coddled, but our brains get transformed through the magical power of free speech, which must be important. Or something.
While UChicago gives free speech all the puffery in the world, somehow D&I gets even more puffery—plus the full-blown support of an activist administrative machine. UChicago has at least 12 university–wide offices and centers that promote D&I, not including the truly numberless “staff-, student-, and faculty-led initiatives happening all across campus.” School administrators have created programs to give blacks, Hispanics, and LGBT people advantages in securing faculty and student positions in the name of D&I. And they’re not done yet: D&I apparently “requires rigorous study, discussion, and meaningful actions . . . [and] is critical for us to remain committed to the founding principles of the University.”
To really top things off, UChicago has implemented an array of “campus climate” measures designed to align all aspects of campus life with D&I. They include programs to promote “inclusive pedagogy,” training on “diversity hiring” practices, centers devoted to every flavor of identity politics, and D&I extracurricular activities for students to partake of on their own time.
If you think diversity politics might interfere with campus free speech, you’re not alone. UChicago recognized this a long time ago in two seminal documents, the Kalven Report and the Shils Report. Those reports are more interesting and less advertised than the Chicago Principles, perhaps because the university flagrantly violates them.
The Kalven Report requires that UChicago “maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures” to “sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry.” The Shils Report mandates that only scholarly and teaching output may be considered during faculty hiring, warning that using other criteria might diminish a university’s “atmosphere of stimulation, tolerance, and critical openness to new ideas.”
Kalven and Shils should be applauded for both their ability to see the future and to do somersaults in their graves.
University of Blackballing
By giving in to the diversity mafia, UChicago has let its unique culture of free speech—and the intellectual fire behind it—die.
Curious, bright young people want adventure; they want debate; they want to challenge the paradigms of the cultural mainstream. You can’t really do that at UChicago anymore. There are too many consequences.
Do you want to tell an off-color joke or start an off-the-wall fraternity? Think again—the Title IX office might come for your head. Do you have a non-mainstream take on family policy or sexual ethics? Shut up—the Black Law Students Association might want to talk to you. Do you disagree with affirmative action and progressive views on race? Cut it out—you don’t want to tick off the people reading your graduate school applications, do you? Or maybe you prefer to have your job applications thrown out by an automatic, blind social-media background check that determines you to be a racist? Oh, and by the way, you should be grateful you are here at UChicago, where “freedom of expression is a fundamental part of UChicago culture.” I’m sure you feel it every day, right?
Academics are even easier to blackball than students. Becoming a conservative professor is not hard at all—you just have to get past the woke graduate school admissions office, the woke faculty selection committee, the woke academics peer-reviewing your journal articles, and the woke students writing your course evaluations. Simple enough.
Maybe that’s why there are so many conservative professors. Out of UChicago’s 700+ active tenure-track faculty, I know of three out-of-the-closet conservatives: two economists and one medievalist. (If there are more of you out there, I invite you to check out the LGBT movement’s many coming–out guides for inspiration; some of them have good advice.)
Three cheers, UChicago, for creating an “inclusive campus environment” where “all scholars feel welcome, heard, and encouraged to do their best work”! The 100+ million inhabitants of red America might have something to say about all this, but I wouldn’t know. I’m at the law school, and we don’t have any (openly) conservative professors over here.
The Fire Still Burns
Congratulations, UChicago: You’ve ceded the free speech high ground to Substack. The fire is still burning, the debates are still being had, but they have migrated to independent magazines, boutique think tanks, rogue podcasts, closed-doors gatherings of dissidents.
We’re laughing at your cringe professors, your preachy bureaucrats, your junk papers that reiterate dogmas anyone could intuit from a first-year economics or gender studies class. Universities are settling nicely into their new role as credentialing mills for the ruling elite. So much for “ideas that matter”!
At least the current state of affairs gives UChicago some cachet. Being one of the less repressive schools, UChicago funnels many of the heterodox young people into one place, where they make friends with each other and, heck, write the occasional op-ed. It’s nice to give credit where credit is due.
* The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker. For another perspective on UChicago’s speech policies from a Thinker team member, please view this op-ed.