Articulating and defending free expression

To: Faculty, students, and staff

From: Robert J. Zimmer, President, and Eric D. Isaacs, Provost

Re: Articulating and defending free expression

Date: September 25, 2014

As the academic year begins, we wish to reaffirm the University’s fundamental and long-standing commitment to free expression. The nature of rigorous inquiry at the highest level, in both research and education, requires an environment that fosters sustained open discourse. A commitment to such inquiry as our highest value has been an essential part of the University of Chicago’s culture since its inception. It is incumbent upon all of us, faculty, students, and staff, to ensure our University continues to be a model of open discourse, now and into the future.

Free expression will inevitably generate conflicting, controversial, and sometimes unsettling ideas. Being part of a community in which open discourse is a fundamental feature of education and research means subjecting our own ideas to scrutiny and hearing competing views—even those we sometimes find objectionable. As former University President Robert M. Hutchins once wrote, the means of addressing ideas one opposes “lies through open discussion rather than through inhibition and taboo.”

On campuses across the nation, we have seen this value challenged in a variety of ways over many years. These problems highlight that free expression is ingrained deeply in the culture of the University of Chicago, but also that we must reassert this value and foster a culture that supports it.

We have therefore asked Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, to chair a committee of faculty members from across the University who will draft a statement reflecting the University’s commitment to and tolerance of multiple forms of free expression. This process will include opportunities for members of our campus community to offer their thoughts and share their perspectives, and we expect that it will foster ongoing campus discussion about the role of free expression and how it plays out in all of our work.

The committee will release a draft of its statement and a report of its work by January 1, 2015. We look forward to reviewing the committee’s work and discussing these issues with the community in the months to come.

The committee membership is included below:

  • Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law and committee chair
  • Marianne Bertrand, Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics in the Booth School of Business
  • Angela Olinto, Homer J. Livingston Professor, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Enrico Fermi Institute, and the College
  • Mark Siegler, Lindy Bergman Distinguished Service Professor, Departments of Medicine and Surgery
  • David A. Strauss, Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law
  • Kenneth Warren, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor, Department of English and the College
  • Amanda Woodward, William S. Gray Professor, Department of Psychology and the College