Chicago stands up for campus freedom

Nicholas G. Hahn III
The Detroit News

When the class of 2020 arrives at the University of Chicago’s campus this fall, some students will get a welcome they may not have expected.

Jay Ellison, the college’s dean of students, warned incoming freshmen 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.”

Ellison said the university’s commitment to a free exchange of ideas—“without fear of censorship”—is principally about diversity. But not in the way some high priests of political correctness on campus have used “diversity” to only mean race and ethnicity.

Diversity at the University of Chicago, its dean of students wrote, is a “diversity of opinion and background” which allows others to explore a marketplace of ideas.

That shouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary, but a visit to most college campuses these days is like stepping into an alternate universe. Students behave like children and expect those in positions of authority on campus to shield them from “offensive” speech. And so-called adults in the Ivory Tower tend to oblige them. Wimpy administrators are often flat-footed as hecklers derail events featuring provocative, mostly conservative, speakers.

But administrators in Chicago’s Hyde Park promised Maroons in a 2015 statement on freedom of expression that “the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.”

The University of Chicago’s statement, which ought to be widely adopted, ultimately suggested that “without a vibrant commitment to free and open inquiry, a university ceases to be a university.”

Too many institutions of higher learning don’t meet that standard.

Twitter: @NGHahn3