New center ‘will promote a commitment to free expression and open discourse’
The University of Chicago reportedly plans to create a Center for Freedom of Expression that will include research and training on free speech.
“The new center will engage scholars, community leaders, public officials, and policy makers to better understand and advocate for the principles of free expression,” according to a job opening on the university’s website.
The director “will develop robust programs to encourage students to develop the skills and habits of mind that are essential to scholarly discourse” and the new hire “will promote a commitment to free expression and open discourse both within and beyond the University of Chicago.”
The Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper, first spotted the job opening at the end of January.
The College Fix contacted multiple media officials in the past week to ask for more information on the center but none responded.
Two professors at the university spoke positively about the idea in comments to The Fix.
Geophysicist Dorian Abbot, a critic of “diversity, equity and inclusion” initiatives, said more work needs to be done to promote open debate on campus. He said he believes the center will open next fall. Abbot told The Fix that the “current climate for free expression at UChicago is mixed.”
“We are in better shape than most universities, but according to [the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression] 58% of our students think shouting down a speaker to prevent him from speaking is acceptable,” Abbot told The Fix via email. He also said that “52% of students say they self-censor on campus, and 68% of students say they are worried about damaging their reputation because someone misunderstands something they have said or done.”
“Moreover, we have administrators, department chairs, and deans constantly violating the Kalven report by making pronouncements on social and political issues,” Abbot told The Fix.
The Kalven report is a 1967 document by the University of Chicago which urges neutrality on the behalf of institutions in order to ensure free and open debate.
“The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student,” the document states. “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.”
“The President has set up a process to report these violations and get them taken down, but it is a continual game of Whac-A-Mole,” Abbot told The Fix. “Overall, it is highly appropriate for UChicago to have a vigorous initiative to promote free expression on campus.”
Professor Rachel Brown told The Fix that the “general sense” is that the campus is “holding to our Chicago Principles as our standard.”
Brown is a history and medieval studies scholar who has come under criticism for her views.
The Chicago Principles refers to the university’s statement in support of free speech, which has been adopted by other higher education institutions.
“There are some professors who have set up a group called UChicago Free to help alert colleagues to our standards and carry on similar conversations, but this group is not involved as a group in the planning for the Center,” Brown said, when asked about her involvement in the initiative.