ALEC Applauds Acceptance Letter by University of Chicago Dean of Students
This is the Letter that Every University Should Send
Many universities surrender to student demands to be protected from “offensive” speech. The University of Chicago provides a refreshing contrast to these institutions.
The Dean of Students at University of Chicago, Jay Ellison, recently sent a welcome letter to incoming students declaring that “one of the defining characteristics of the University of Chicago is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression.” He highlights the free speech policy statement that the University’s Committee on Freedom of Expression produced in January 2015. (The Chicago statement has become a gold standard for universities desiring to articulate a commitment to free expression on campus).
Ellison prepares students for their campus experience, explaining that “Members of our campus community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn without fear of censorship.” At the same time, Ellison clearly states that civility and mutual respect are vital and “freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others.” He acknowledges that “At times this [policy] may challenge you and even cause discomfort” but he is unapologetic.
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.
With the letter, Ellison encloses a short book, Dean John Boyer’s Academic Freedom and the Experience of the Modern University: The Experience of the University of Chicago.
Other universities would be wise to emulate the University of Chicago’s choice to tell students in their acceptance letters that the university believes in free speech, open debate and diverse opinions. Students should know going into college that they will hear different views on controversial topics; that they are encouraged to read, write and develop their own views; and that they should not suppress the views of others.