The Chicago Principles

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Now and again you come across a statement that is so important that it demands attention and celebration.  One such is the report on freedom of expression by the University of Chicago.  This is the background.

The Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago was appointed in July 2014 by President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Eric D. Isaacs “in light of recent events nationwide that have tested institutional commitments to free and open discourse.” The Committee’s charge was to draft a statement articulating the University’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community.  The Committee has carefully reviewed the University’s history, examined events at other institutions, and consulted a broad range of individuals both inside and outside the University. This statement reflects the long-standing and distinctive values of the University of Chicago and affirms the importance of maintaining and, indeed, celebrating those values for the future."

This is how it begins:

"From its very founding, the University of Chicago has dedicated itself to the preservation and celebration of the freedom of expression as an essential element of the University’s culture.  In 1902, in his address marking the University’s decennial, President William Rainey Harper declared that “the principle of complete freedom of speech on all subjects has from the beginning been regarded as fundamental in the University of Chicago” and that “this principle can neither now nor at any future time be called in question.”  Thirty years later, a student organization invited William Z. Foster, the Communist Party’s candidate for President, to lecture on campus.  This triggered a storm of protest from critics both on and off campus.  To those who condemned the University for allowing the event, President Robert M. Hutchins responded that “our students . . . should have freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself.” He insisted that the “cure” for ideas we oppose “lies through open discussion rather than through inhibition.” On a later occasion, Hutchins added that “free inquiry is indispensable to the good life, that universities exist for the sake of such inquiry, [and] that without it they cease to be universities.  ...”

And this is how it ends"

"As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contestspeakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, 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.  As Robert M. Hutchins observed, without a vibrant commitment to free and open inquiry, a university ceases to be a university. The University of Chicago’s long-standing commitment to this principle lies at the very core of our University’s greatness. That is our inheritance, and it is our promise to the future."

Amen to all that.  You can read the rest here.  It really is wonderful.   How many UK institutions have anything similar to this, I wonder.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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