The University of Chicago launched the Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression on Oct. 5, with President Paul Alivisatos opening the two-day event by underscoring its goal to serve as “a site for the genuine, never-ending struggle to be a place where free expression genuinely serves the seeking of truths, through listening as well as sharing our own ideas.”
The Chicago Forum builds upon UChicago’s historic commitment to free expression, providing a focal point for research and discussion in academia and in the broader culture. During the two-day launch event at the Rubenstein Forum, Faculty Director Tom Ginsburg and Executive Director Tony Banout joined experts and leading thinkers in the kinds of discussions that the Chicago Forum uniquely hopes to facilitate among members of the UChicago community and beyond—examining intersecting topics including the impact of technology, diversity and inclusion, and political polarization.
“For students, especially … expressing oneself does not come easily or automatically. It is not simply the absence of constraint which allows us to engage in deep expression,” said Ginsburg, the Leo Spitz Distinguished Service Professor of International Law. “Instead, the University really is required, in my view, to actively construct opportunities for interrogation of ideas and the exchange of views across difference.”
The role of higher education
Throughout the event, Alivisatos and other speakers reiterated the important role that universities play in upholding free expression.
“An openness to hearing that your own way of thinking isn’t quite right … is at the core of what a university truly is,” he said.
Conversations explored creating a university climate in which students, researchers and instructors feel invited to share their views, including the role of institutional neutrality.
“Universities and colleges do themselves a big favor when they remove taking a stance on political issues from the equation and instead say, ‘that’s for you all to do here at this University,’” said Alex Morey of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). “We’ve seen the problems that other paths have caused, and we think it will encourage free discussion when faculty know that their research isn’t going to make their president angry.”
Prof. Jeffrey Flier of Harvard University discussed the importance of asserting institutional values when necessary without curtailing a culture of free speech.
“We have institutional values,” said Flier, “but we’re not going to draw them in this fashion so that we chill the ability and inclination of our faculty to speak out on important issues.”