Academic freedom is central to the mission of a liberal arts education, and more specifically, the mission of the College.
UChicago faculty exercise their academic freedom by following their curiosities through teaching and research. But what sometimes gets lost in this rigorous pursuit of knowledge, according to Prof. Christopher Wild, is how academic freedom pertains to students.
In his upcoming Aims of Education address, Wild will pose this question to the College’s Class of 2027, and encourage them to answer it by taking ownership of their individual intellectual journeys.
“Taking control of one’s own education requires responsibility and courage,” Wild said. “The most important thing is that students get an education that equips them with intellectual virtues and habits of mind to navigate an increasingly complex and diverse world.”
This year’s address, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 21 in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, will be webcast on Facebook Live, YouTube and the UChicago News website.
A professor in the Germanic Studies department, as well as the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies, Wild also has a faculty appointment in the Divinity School.
He additionally serves as the faculty director of the Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse, which offers an innovative undergraduate curriculum and programming relating to freedom of expression and the theory and practice of discourse.
When he was asked to deliver the Aims of Education address, Wild said he first thought of the purpose of this time-honored College tradition, which has been in place since 1961.
The address is one of many mechanisms that shape the College community, Wild said. Each year, it provides incoming students and the speaker with an opportunity to come together before the beginning of a rigorous academic year, in which spare moments to pause and reflect can be hard to come by.
“We have conventions and traditions for passing on our culture to the next generation, because the challenge of a university is that it may have a set of values when it is founded, but these values should be renewed regularly by its faculty and student body,” he said. “Traditions like Aims force us to ask, as an institution: ‘What are our values? What does our culture look like?’”
An important aspect of that culture, Wild said, is the joy of intellectual discovery, which he said can sometimes conflict with the pressures students face when choosing their fields of study.
“Many students are thinking about what they're going to major in earlier and earlier, rather treating their education as a kind of intellectual adventure that allows them to free themselves from some of those constraints,” he said. “That doesn't mean that they shouldn't major in a field they want to pursue professionally, but they should do it for their own reasons.”
By committing to pursuing knowledge freely, Wild said, students in the College can take ownership not only of their education, but also of their institution.
“In giving the Aims of Education address, I step into the footsteps of others who have worked to help shape the University into what it is,” he said. “I'm very honored to take up the baton for this year, and introduce this incoming class to the intellectual and academic culture at the University of Chicago.”