Hooray! My university sends letter to incoming students decrying safe spaces and trigger warnings, promoting free speech, and refusing to cancel controversial speakers

I’m not much of a jingoist: I don’t root for America in the Olympics, I don’t favor my home-town sports teams, and, although I like the University of Chicago, which has treated me very well, I don’t go around touting it as The Best School in the World.

But today I’m feeling quite proud to be here, for the U of C has just affirmed its commitment to free speech in a letter sent by the Dean to all incoming first-year students. So suck it up Oberlin, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, Amherst, Portland State, Yale, and all the other timorous schools that want to restrict speech. We’re better than you! We’re not going to cancel invitations to Ayaan Hirsi Ali; we’re not going to bow to protests about “culturally appropriated” food, and we’re not going to let students shout down speakers. In other words, we’re going to expect our students to act like adults rather than spoiled babies, and to learn to deal with opinions that differ from theirs. In short, we’re going to give them the opportunity to examine their views rather than simply buttress their preconceptions.

For a long time, the U of C has been a bastion of free speech, adhering strictly to the principles of untrammeled and open discourse. Those principles are encapsulated in a report produced in 2012 by a committee appointed by the President and headed by constitutional lawyer Geoff Stone. You can see the short version here (“Statement on principles of free expression“) and the full report here (“Report of the committee on free expression“). Here’s an excerpt from the shorter statement:

Fundamentally, however, the University is committed to the principle that it may not restrict debate or deliberation because the ideas put forth are thought to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the members of the University community to make those judgments for themselves.

As a corollary to this commitment, members of the University community must also act in conformity with this principle. Although faculty, students and staff are free to criticize, contest and condemn the views expressed on campus, they may not obstruct, disrupt, or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.

For members of the University community, as for the University itself, the proper response to ideas they find offensive, unwarranted and dangerous is not interference, obstruction, or suppression. It is, instead, to engage in robust counter-speech that challenges the merits of those ideas and exposes them for what they are. 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 the University’s greatness.

In light of all the mishegas going on in colleges throughout the U.S., doesn’t that just curl the soles of your shoes? And the principles of the “statement” have served as a model for speech regulations in other schools; FIRE reports that at least 11 universities have modeled their regulations after Chicago’s.

But things have got even better. According to many sources, including Inside Higher Education and Intellectual Takeout, incoming first-year students at the U of C have received the letter below, written by the new Dean of Students John “Jay” Ellison.  It’s a no-nonsense affirmation of freedom of speech, intended to let the students know what to expect when they get here. It also points them to websites about free-expression policies and provides them with a monograph to read.

The most telling paragraph is the third, to wit:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

You can imagine the huge smile that splayed across my face when I read that! We have had incidents in the past in which speakers were shouted down and forced to terminate their talks early, and I expect that the College will now do all it can to prevent that.

Anyway, good for the U of C, and kudos to Dean Ellison for standing up for principle in his letter. Read and smile!

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110 Comments

  1. Linda Calhoun
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    “For members of the University community, as for the University itself, the proper response to ideas they find offensive, unwarranted and dangerous is not interference, obstruction, or suppression. It is, instead, to engage in robust counter-speech that challenges the merits of those ideas and exposes them for what they are. 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.”

    Not merely just +1, how about +1000!!! L

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      sub

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Yes! Bloody fantastic! +1,000 indeed!

      What the world needs now … is the U of C’s free speech policy.

  2. J.Baldwin
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    To put it in popular parlance, the University of Chicago is on the right side of history regarding this issue.

  3. Christine Janis
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Yeah, but will they bring back Mory’s deli? (I remember that that was replaced by Starbucks in the bookstore, because the president decided that students should have familiar things in their new surroundings.)

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Mory’s isn’t on campus but now on 55th Street and it’s gone WAY downhill. The food scene around the University is still dire.

      • Christine Janis
        Posted August 25, 2016 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        Oh, I still remember the half price hotdogs after 4 pm!

  4. Merilee
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Hallelujah!

    • kevin7alexander
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      I am offended by your Christofascist language. Now I’m going to my safe space to eat my tear-sodden pablum.

  5. alexandra moffat
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    So proud of the University and to have been blessed by ceiling cat with a U of C education many years ago. Our anger then was often directed at The “Colonel” of the Tribune, PC hadn’t been invented…. so all subjects were up for discussion.

  6. angelaevans773
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    This is amazing! I so hope that this signals a new trend and that it catches on like wild fire!

  7. GodlessMarkets
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Just great. I am printing this out and posting it on my office door, with the some mildly obnoxious but very celebratory phrase like, “the U of C kicks a**” (but no asterisks on the my door version.)

  8. rickflick
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    That’s just wonderful! Congratulations to the University.

  9. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Very good. It’s too bad that such a pronouncement is necessary in America but it is. The offended will just have to join the real world and they can do it now or later.

  10. Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Love it. Delighted to see that U of C is a sane place rather than a “safe place”!

  11. Kevin Colquitt
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    “In short, we’re going to give them the examine their views rather than simply buttress their preconceptions.”

    Guessing that this sentence should read: “In short, we’re going to get them to examine their views rather than simply buttress their preconceptions.”

  12. jaxkayaker
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    This is good news. And just imagine how triggering this statement is to the biggest whiners.

  13. GBJames
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Good for my wife’s Alma Ma!

  14. Taz
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I propose an email campaign to send a copy of this letter to all the university administrators that have caved like a house of cards to childish demands.

    • dorcheat
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Yes indeed, all universities and colleges need to follow the University of Chicago commitment to free speech.

    • Merilee
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Great idea!

  15. Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    In the interests of vigorous debate, I feel I must disagree with the sentiment expressed in this post. Setting aside the fact that safe spaces- particularly for GLBT students- can literally save lives, what if U of C invites a speaker who says that evolution is complete bunk? Offering a counterargument, or even asking for evidence, would likely be seen by that speaker as harassment, which is explicitly decried in this letter. You can’t even oppose the speaker’s views in the classroom, since that would be tantamount to making the lecture hall into a “safe space” for people who actually want to learn proper biology.

    I agree that college serves its students best when it exposes them to difficult or contrary ideas, but it must also give students the tools to argue back against those ideas, and safe spaces are one such tool.

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Actually, we had a creationist speaking here two years ago, invited by a member of the physics department. I didn’t go, and wrote a post about it, but really, do you seriously think that arguing with a speaker is going to be construed as “harassment” by the university. No way; and I know that because I work here. There are TONS of acrimonious discussions involving issues much less pressing that creationism. And I do mention creationism in the classroom, and decry it, because it is the major opposing theory to evolution.

      I don’t think you know what the University means by “safe spaces” either. It almost certainly means places students can go on campus where their views are prohibited from being challenged: rooms with puppies and the like. It doesn’t mean that a student can be harassed personally anywhere, including GLBT students.

      Safe spaces are the worst places to give students the tools to argue back, because their arguments are supported in such spaces, not contested, and you don’t learn how to argue back in an atmosphere where dissent is not permitted.

      • Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        In a few years we should be able to compare the mental health of students who graduate from Chicago with those who went to a ‘safe’ university.

        • bluemaas
          Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          One (at the least) such “safe” university and apparently, for its student body in this y2016 – y2017 academic year, this threat has to it a global framing as well: “The strict Satmar sect issued the decree, seen by The Independent, warning that university education for women is “dangerous”. Written in Yiddish, the decree warns: “It has lately become the new trend that girls and married women are pursuing degrees in special education. Some attend classes and others online. And so we’d like to let their parents know that it is against the Torah.

          “We will be very strict about this. No girls attending our school are allowed to study and get a degree. It is dangerous. Girls who will not abide will be forced to leave our school. Also, we will not give any jobs or teaching position in the school to girls who’ve been to college or have a degree.

          “We have to keep our school safe and we can’t allow any secular influences in our holy environment. It is against the base upon which our Mosed was built.”

          of http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/ultra-orthodox-rabbis-ban-women-from-going-to-university-in-case-they-get-dangerous-secular-a7204171.html

          Yeah, well for a certainty as re that “We have to keep our school ‘safe'” – muck, I know what .my. “mental health” ‘d be like were I so “instructed” there and thusly !

          Blue

      • Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        All right, I acknowledge that there’s a difference between a speaker claiming to be harassed, and the university taking such a claim seriously. I’m not certain I trust any university’s administration to make the distinction infallibly, but it’s not as serious an issue as I’d worried.

        I do maintain that “safe spaces” are different than you describe. As nice as it would be to prevent any harassment of GLBT students on campus, I know from personal experience that that just isn’t possible. Students will, just by virtue of existing in the world, be forced to either learn to survive that harassment, or fail to survive it. If my own campus hadn’t had a place I could go where the expected shared belief was “GLBT students deserve basic respect”, I would likely not have survived college. Dissent from that view was so pervasive that it was not only unavoidable- it was taken as fact by a wide majority of students, and more faculty than I care to imagine.

        Please, don’t imagine that the existence of a safe space means the students who check in there will never encounter opposing ideas. You can’t live in that office, and as soon as you walk out the door, you’re constantly exposed to other worldviews. Safe spaces aren’t able to shield students from that; they can only ever really say, “hey, you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, and here are some ideas for how to deal with the world outside”. They aren’t a place to stay forever out of the water; they’re not even life preservers. They’re just a place you can learn to swim, without having to worry about sharks.

        • mikeyc
          Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

          I could be wrong but I think you are talking past what is meant by the mention of “safe spaces” in the letter from the UofC. I think very few people would object to a school setting aside space for groups who wish to have a place of refuge for people who feel they are threatened or need to relax and seek support.

          When the UofC used the term “safe spaces” I don’t think they meant “a room set aside for people who feel unsafe”. They meant that some people insist that the University *itself* become a safe space. Some are demanding that public venues at Universities (lecture halls, class rooms, arenas, stages, soapboxes, etc) ought to be “safe spaces”. I applaud the UoC for slamming the door on that kind of fascist nonsense.

        • Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          “I do maintain that “safe spaces” are different than you describe.”

          The term “safe space” has been so overused, and misused, it is no longer perceived by most as synonymous with the idea of a “support group” that it may have been at one time.

    • jay
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      If you’ve followed these stories, that’s NOT harassment. Harassment is physical blocking of the door, intimidation of attendees, demanding the event be cancelled, and shouting chants so nothing can be heard.

      A number of controversial speakers (including the famous Milo) have actively INVITED people with contrary opinions to challenge them in debates. But that’s not been acceptable to the protesters.

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      James I think you misinterpret the standards. The University is expressly encouraging demands for evidence and for other verbal challenges to oposing viewpoints. You are not allowed to throw rotten tomatoes at controversial speakers, but you can protest their views.

      How refreshing to see a college treat its students as adults rather than petulant cupcakes!

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Safe spaces -particularly for GLBT students- can literally save lives

      Only if a gunman chases you in there and you hide in the ball pit or throw puppies at him.

      • Sastra
        Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        No, I think James LeRoux probably meant that an ability to talk freely to sympathetic people who know and understand what you’re going through and who therefore won’t judge, mock, dismiss, or throw Leviticus at you can help dissuade someone from suicide.

        • Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

          And how many lives are lost when graduates find themselves unable to cope with the real world?

          As I said above, let’s compare what happens to graduates of Chicago with those who graduate from a nursery for adults.

          If the suicide rates for overgrown toddlers is higher then there’s nothing ‘safe’ about ‘safe spaces’.

          • Sastra
            Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

            Are you arguing that an LGBT support group can’t confine its membership to people who want to help with problems and nurture a healthy LGBT identity because then they’ll never learn to cope with the real world? My guess is that it’s very likely that the suicide rate will go down if there’s this particular kind of ‘safe space’ support.

            I think you need to direct your response to James to the actual situation he brought up here.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted August 25, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              I agree. There is still a place for the kind of support James talks of in universities that decry the current incarnation of safe spaces. It is a fact that suicide is multiple times higher amongst LGBT people than the rest of the population and that is a result of the attitudes they are subjected to by many. I don’t see UofC’s anti-safe space message, which I admire, as being incompatible with supporting demographic groups that are the target of bigotry.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      “… it must also give students the tools to argue back against those ideas, and safe spaces are one such tool.”

      I read this and think: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery.”

      “Safe spaces” are by definition restrictions on the exchange of ideas. They are completely the opposite of “tools to argue with”.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      I think you missed the exact point of the letter in your immediate distress.
      All views can be challenged in an appropriate way.
      This is the point.

  16. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Good news in general.
    I do ee however that

    Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings,

    Doesn’t actually mean that individual departments (or faculty) would be banned from setting up “safe spaces” – or other mollycoddling centres with a deafening “la la la la” sound track. But that they wouldn’t be supported by the campus authorities. Probably the squadron of arse-wipers and nose-pickers would then have to be paid for out of the departmental budget, not central funds.
    Which is probably the right way to go, as it allows individual departments or staff the freedom to make themselves appear like idiots in public. An important freedom, I’m sure you would agree.

  17. charlize
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Grinned so hard during this read that now my jowls hurt.

  18. Sastra
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

    All quite laudatory if we apply it to the extreme examples you’ve been bringing up, but I’m trying to think of how this might be misconstrued or abused.

    What about trigger warnings on very graphic descriptions of abuse for a class which focuses on the sort of topic which is likely to attract those who have been abused? I could support that.

    If an invited speaker turns out to be prepared to talk in support of a pseudoscience or conspiracy theory when those who invited them expected them to stick to something reasonable they’d been noted for, can they be disinvited? I’m not sure.

    Would “intellectual safe spaces” include LGBT groups, substance dependency groups, domestic violence support groups, or various clubs or organizations which are formed for the express purpose of being around others who share the same ideas and perspectives? If so, that could get problematic. Why should U of Chicago Atheists & Agnostics be forced to allow Christians to join — or disband? Or, of course, vice versa.

    I’m not arguing that all this is a natural consequence, just that it conceivably might be … plus Murphy’s Law, of course.

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Why should U of Chicago Atheists & Agnostics be forced to allow Christians to join — or disband?

      What has that got to do with ‘safe spaces’?

      You might as well ask ‘What if the canooing team wants to flood the gym for rowing practice?’

      • Sastra
        Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        Well, that’s just it. What exactly qualifies as a “safe space?” Is the definition clear and unambiguous enough that it can distinguish groups which do not admit people with different ideas and perspectives for bad reasons from groups which do not admit people with different ideas and perspectives for good reasons?

        How are you defining “safe space?”

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      “What about trigger warnings on very graphic descriptions of abuse for a class which focuses on the sort of topic which is likely to attract those who have been abused? I could support that.”

      Wouldn’t someone who took such a class be aware in the first place that such a class might cover subjects that could be triggering? And if not couldn’t exposure to something that triggers them in the safe, supportive environment of a college classroom provide them with just the impetus they need to recognize that they could use counseling, and seek it out. Also exposing people to things that trigger them in such an environment can be helpful in desensitizing them. I’m not pulling this idea out of my @ss, I understand that significant numbers of psychiatric professionals hold these views. More Here and here.

      • Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        And here as well.

      • Sastra
        Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        My understanding about trigger warnings in this sort of situation is that they’re not there to dissuade people from reading the assignment, they’re there to tell them to brace themselves. People who have been abused say that this advance notice is helpful. They choose the right time and way to expose themselves to something which is likely to be particularly nerve racking or hard to deal with.

        I’ve never suffered from extreme abuse. I have a hard time then telling those who have gone through it what they do or don’t need.

        I’m also wary about making distinctions between people who have suffered abuse and those who actually had it pretty easy, really, no big deal. Maybe … I hesitate over the gray areas, and it’s mostly gray areas — how would I know?

        • Posted August 25, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          “My understanding about trigger warnings in this sort of situation is that they’re not there to dissuade people from reading the assignment, they’re there to tell them to brace themselves.”

          Yes I understand that, but it is dissuading people, and often times dissuading those who are most in need of outside help, and cope through avoidance.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 25, 2016 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

          I think it’s reasonable for teachers to give students a heads-up when controversial or explicit matters are to be covered in course materials (and I think most reasonable professors already do this). It’s when publishers or professors are required to included warnings according to a specified formula that “trigger warnings” become a problem.

          From there, I’d leave it to professor and student to work it out, if the student seeks some exemption from the course work. Were I the professor, I’d be chary to let a student out of a specific assignment, absent some documented extraordinary circumstance. Better the student should take another course until he or she is ready to complete this one.

        • eric
          Posted August 25, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          How about “brace yourselves: you’re going to college.”

          • eric
            Posted August 25, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

            And just to expand on that, if the complaint is about particular reading assignments, that is what the course syllabus and the back of the book cover are for. If someone has a strong psychological aversion to some subject, they should be scanning the course description and reading assignments before they commit to taking the class.

            A friend of mine and I are both science fiction fans. When I was in grad school and he was an undergrad, he got excited about a course in sci-fi he could take as an elective. So we looked at the reading list and talked about it. Dreck, dreck, dreck, never-heard-of-it, dreck, hey look a good book made the list! He still took the class, and yes complained about the dreck, but he never complained about being unfairly surprised about the material. IMO there is nothing wrong with expecting that very minimal level of preparedness out of an 18-21 year old. If they don’t do it, well, then at least maybe they’ll learn to do it the next time around.

          • jeremy pereira
            Posted August 25, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

            That’s what the letter is.

          • Posted August 25, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

            Not good enough for people who’ve been abused or assaulted. They need a head’s up. Now, I have no problem with that being in the syllabus; if nothing else, it might get people to actually READ the syllabus. (Sorry, I hang out with too many college professors. 🙂 )

            Where, in the post-college world, is someone going to say “Oh, I want you to read and comment on this rape apologist’s book next week?” Not gonna happen. It’s fine for it to happen in a university setting, but dammit, it takes very little effort to actually warn people ahead of time and let them mentally prepare.

            The other alternative is to deny a college education to people who have admittedly already been damaged by life. That is far more unfair.

            For the rest of it… I had safe spaces in my college experiences; they were the library as an undergrad, and the lab as a grad (MS) student. In both places, I and my brain were alone together, and we could take refuge in books or (in the lab) rocks. And unless the students are a captive audience (graduation, for example) I really disapprove of disinviting a speaker. If you don’t want to hear what they have to say, don’t go!

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted August 26, 2016 at 1:09 am | Permalink

              When you say you had “safe spaces” at school, Karen, do you mean that the library and lab were de facto locations you found where you could be left alone in privacy — or were these locations de jure “safe spaces,” that is, locations specified as such by university rule or regulation?

    • mikeyc
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Yeah, there are all sorts of “what ifs” one could come up with when instituting such a policy. It will have to be carefully administered and there may well be instances where it would be counter to the very freedoms it seeks to preserve. No policy can accommodate all permutations of student behavior.

      But having one that states that an invited speaker will not then be disinvited because some are opposed to what they have to say or that those who are made to feel uncomfortable about certain ideas do not get to deny others the right to hear those ideas, or one which does not force instructors to change the content of their courses in order to spare the feelings of a few students, accomplishes a lot to counter the growing regressive left form of fascism the letter is intended to address.

      A good policy will recognize that there are members of the community for which some ideas are harmful and discomforting and will accommodate their concerns in ways that infringe on the rights of others to the least possible extent. Those who advocate for safe spaces demand that last is reversed; they wish that ideas which are perceived to be harmful or discomforting to a few be silenced in ways that infringe on the rights of others to hear (and challenge) those ideas. This UoC letter is a step in the right direction but it is sad that it is necessary.

  19. ploubere
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Very encouraging to see this, I hope it sets an example for other schools.

  20. Matt G
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I’ll bet the U of C Republican Club will immediately call a special session to make a list of the most obnoxious speakers they can think of.

    So how will speakers be chosen? Based on their commitment to the highest standards of scholarly inquiry? To unflinching intellectual honesty? Will there be any standards at all? Shouldn’t an institution of higher learning care about these things? So often, there is a strong correlation between the offensive and the dishonest.

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Does it matter? The obnoxious speakers come, they talk to a small audience, and they then go. So what?

    • eric
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      At the risk of stating the obvious, speakers get invited from all sorts of on-campus groups for all sorts of reasons, according to all sorts of group criteria. I don’t know whether you were just being rhetorical or not Matt, but I thought pretty much everyone knew that there isn’t one monolithic speaker selection process.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      The notion of countering these supposedly negative types with argument and evidence still obtains.
      And why pick on the Republican club? There are plenty of left wing ideologues who wouldn’t let the truth stand in the way of a good narrative.

  21. Steve Brooks
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    What good news this is! Perhaps universities which have fallen for the “safe spaces” sham will rethink their priorities.

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Hopefully companies and individuals who fund research and scholarships will invest their money where it is most useful.

  22. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    At least this year’s batch of incoming Maroons might turn out to be something other than … well, maroons.

  23. Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I can’t wait to see how the Snowflakes will react to this. Will they, in their own minds, take the moral high ground and fight the privileged patriarchies attempt to stifle free-speech and suppress social justice?? They will if they’re motivated by principles, however misguided. If some U in the 60s had banned Viet Nam War protests would anyone have taken it seriously?

    • mikeyc
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Maybe it’s because I haven’t had my morning coffee yet, but I can’t figure out if this…

      “Will they, in their own minds, take the moral high ground and fight the privileged patriarchies attempt to stifle free-speech and suppress social justice??”

      ….is satire or a serious question.

      Me no understand. ISTM that it is the SJWs’s demands for “safe spaces” that are attempts to stifle “free-speech”.

      I need some coffee.

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted August 25, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        “ISTM that it is the SJWs’s demands for “safe spaces” that are attempts to stifle “free-speech”.”

        You are correct. I believe Iantog is alluding to the probability that SJW’s will misinterpret a lack of restriction on speech as constituting a restriction on their freedom to stifle.

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Yes. This is what I get for trying to cram too much into a sentence.
      I think the SJWs will see the effort to prevent them from harassing and no-platforming speakers they dont like as impinging their own free speech rights.

    • jay
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      I’m a bit more worried to see how the Dept of Education will respond to this. A lot of the pressure for ‘safe spaces’ has come from them under the ‘anti discrimination’ and ‘anti bullying’ rubric.

      I was just reading today that West Virginia University issued guidelines telling students that failure to use ‘preferred gender pronouns’ was a violation of federal law and also gave the university contact to report such malfeasance.

  24. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    … and, although I like the University of Chicago, which has treated me very well, I don’t go around touting it as The Best School in the World.

    Which sets you in contradistinction to that University-of-Texas chauvinist Steven Weinberg (if I’m recalling correctly his remarks on “morality” from the “Moving Naturalism Forward” workshop).

  25. Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Bravissimo University of Chicago and thank you Jerry for sharing the letter with us.

    Carl Kruse
    Miami

  26. Cate Plys
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Fantastic! I went to NU undergrad, UC for grad, and I didn’t realize until I started at UC that there was some acrimonious feeling among some between the two places. Since then I’ve laughed at whatever stereotypical insults I hear from one against the other. But since there’s a grain of truth in all of it, I’ve never been a huge rah-rah booster of either alma mater anyway, though I love both. UC has had some low moments, after all, like any other institution. But this makes me really, really proud of UC. I wish NU was doing as well on this issue.

    Jerry, I hope you’ll keep everyone updated on student response. From what I’ve seen when randomly picking up the Maroon, the students are not universally onboard with this.

  27. Curt Nelson
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    This is so good to see, especially after having just listened to Lindsay Beyerstein’s interview of Wendy Kaminer on the Point of Inquiry podcast, in which LB showed skepticism of the kind of free speech (without the safe spaces and abundant trigger warnings) that WK promoted.

  28. Dee
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Slate has just posted an article on the letter that has a very different interpretation. I agree with Dr Coyne on this one, but it was interesting to read another perspective. I will be checking back on that article periodically – I expect the comments to be vigorous and I think I will learn quite a bit about other points of view.

  29. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    My brother’s alma mater (NYU), the school where my father spent over half his career teaching at (Stanford) and the Brit University of which I attended one of their prep schools (Oxford) all get low ratings from FIRE.

    My own undergrad alma mater (University of Pennsylvania) remains the home base of one of the founders of FIRE (Alan Kors).

  30. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t be any more pleased with what’s going on at the U of C if Bernie went out and got himself arrested again for protesting segregated “Willis Wagon” classrooms.

  31. Posted August 25, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    The Oregonian (the one state-wide newspaper, centered in Portland, Oregon; available on-line) has an article on this letter from University of Chicago.

  32. Oxford Don
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

    And we do not use the Oxford comma, even when doing so would greatly enhance the clarity of what we’ve written.

    • Merilee
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      🙂

    • darrelle
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      I guess I’m not smart enough to see how that could be particularly confusing because it didn’t confuse me at all.

      • Posted August 27, 2016 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        Agree; the “we do not” formula makes it very clear.

        /@ / Adelaide

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      “I wish to dedicate this letter to my parents, God and Ayn Rand.” 🙂

  33. Posted August 25, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations to the University of Chicago for its’ free speech standards. Would that University of California, Portland State University and all other universities do the same.

    It is critical that all people be exposed to a
    broad range of concepts and ideas they may never have heard discussed in their homes or cultures. Learning to research, evaluate and respond (if desired) should be part of growing up. What better place than universities for this to happen?!

  34. eric
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    This is great, but I think it would be even better if they made it part of future year application packages. Here is the school’s philosophy; be aware of it before you apply, and if you come here, you know what you’re getting into.

  35. ascanius
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Above the Law is not impressed.

    “Just in time for classes, the University of Chicago just released its bold stand against “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” in what’s ostensibly a defense of academic freedom, but really just boxes with the shadows of what dumb people imagine “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” to be.”

    “In the end, the University of Chicago statement is going to generate a lot of social media buzz and warm the hearts of the right-wing press, but as a response to a problem that isn’t really there, it’s just intellectual masturbation dressed up in some stirring free speech buzzwords. They say they’re not going to take any guff from students when it comes to inviting speakers to campus. Cool. If the school feels that hosting a student protest is better than a disinvitation, more power to them.”

    http://abovethelaw.com/2016/08/university-of-chicago-takes-tough-stand-against-safe-space-strawman/

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      Yep, just like the Slate article says too, those inherently evil ‘white males’ are at it again.

  36. DrBrydon
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Well, I am proud of my alma mater. Learning a single viewpoint is not education, it is propaganda.

  37. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Excellent!

  38. Greenriver
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Since trigger warnings have been elective at the University – how is it “academic freedom” to now restrict a professor from choosing to use them? Wow, talk about some hypocrisy.

    • Posted August 26, 2016 at 4:39 am | Permalink

      I’m sorry but the University would not discipline any professor who used trigger warnings; this is just a note about what the University supports. Read the letter! It says “we do not SUPPORT trigger warnings.” Neither do we ban them. Before you start accusing schools of hypocrisy, why don’t you find out what they actually DO?

  39. Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Hooray for my alma mater. The regressive left must be in stunned disbelief.

  40. Posted August 26, 2016 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  41. Posted August 26, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    PZ has the opposite take (http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2016/08/26/university-of-chicago-dean-declares-war-on-student-autonomy/), over on his blog, which is interesting since you’re both smart atheists who I read and respect. So it would be very interesting to see the two of you debate this directly with each other. I’m going to make the same suggestion over on his post.

    • colnago80
      Posted August 26, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      I was going to cite Myers’ blog post here but you beat me to it. Note that there was a response to your comment over there from Myers that basically trashed Dr. Coyne and his commentors. I’m rather surprised he allowed your comment to stand as he is remarkably intolerant of any commentor having an un-Myers thought in his/her head.

      • Posted August 26, 2016 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Shrug. As I said, I read and respect both of them. I have no particular opinion on PZ’s moderation; it’s his site, so he can do as he pleases, although I might do differently in his shoes. I’m sure he gets a huge number of trolls (as does Jerry, no doubt), so I sympathize with his plight. I think it’s a shame that Jerry and PZ apparently don’t get along. It would be a good thing for all the rest of us to see them actually engage in a debate on this, I think; I would find that quite helpful in forming my own opinions about it all. When intelligent people disagree, the proper response, I think, is rational discussion, not retreat. (And no, I’m not accusing either Jerry or PZ of “retreating”. I’m just saying I wish they would engage productively on this.)

        • drosera
          Posted August 26, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          Such a debate would look good on PZ’s anaemic CV, not so good on Prof. Coyne’s. Besides, think of all the poor straw men that PZ will inevitably attack.

    • drosera
      Posted August 26, 2016 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      “you’re both smart atheists who I read and respect”

      PZ Myers is a smear-mongering nobody, a failed author and insignificant scientist, who responded to the Dean’s letter with his usual Orwellian dishonesty. It’s an insult to Prof. Coyne to suggest that he somehow dwells at the same level as this creature ‘PZ’.

    • Andrei
      Posted August 26, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      PZ went full regressive and anti-liberal lately. 10 years ago I might have said a similar thing about his blog, but not anymore. Now he sounds like anti-abortionists and anti-vaxers.

    • Nullifidian
      Posted August 27, 2016 at 12:32 am | Permalink

      “University of Chicago dean declares war on student autonomy”

      Because “autonomy”, if it is to mean anything, must mean students sitting back and expecting the professors and administration to cater to their whims for them. Don’t waste your time checking out the syllabus and other course materials for what might potentially upset you. You must let your professors do that!

      I adored this comment from PZ: “Coyne despise [sic] me, and the commentariat on his blog even more so, so you’re not going to get a sympathetic response. I’d rather you didn’t, because his oh-so-civil commenters will just start sneering.” PZ complaining about other people sneering? That is well above the recommended daily allowance of irony. Myers doesn’t strike me as being overly endowed with self-awareness.

  42. Rich Sanderson
    Posted August 26, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    It is great to see the University of Chicago standing up for liberal principles, and standing up against the regressive left, the pro-Islamists, and the illiberal bullies.

    PZ Myers disagrees? What more evidence to we need that the U of C is absolutely spot on. I hope more institutions follow suit.

    The salt that is flowing (there are STILL one or two commentators left!) over at Pharyngula at the moment is beautiful.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 26, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      I read through much of the comment thread. It looks to me Sastra (comment 2) nails it. The definition of the terms trigger warning/safe space, seems to be a big obstacle to understanding. The terms seem to have ridiculously plastic meanings.

  43. Posted August 26, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Should students be forewarned if they are going to be shown graphic photos in class? Or should they be surprised by them?

  44. canuckistani2008
    Posted August 26, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Bunk in freedom-drag is still bunk.

    The thesis that either trigger warnings or safe spaces are obstacles to a successful higher education lacks evidence, & the letter’s author has been overtly enthusiastic in regard to maintaining a safe space for his own peer group. Neither has any inherent impact on academic freedom either good or bad, & the letter’s author is in need of professional counselling, medication, or both if he sincerely believes otherwise. Trigger warnings are antithetical to censorship by definition as the “verboten” subject will indeed be raised – not omitted – soon after said warnings. How campus safe spaces for groups at risk even relate to academic freedom can perhaps be discovered by reading the entrails of doves or interpreting the shapes of clouds – it will surely never emerge in any lucid form from the facts on the ground.

    The very real concern this letter illustrates in contemporary dominant culture (never stated) has nothing to do with either trigger warnings or safe spaces – & everything to do with which people are now demanding access to both, & the excruciatingly real reasons why.

    • drosera
      Posted August 26, 2016 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Maybe you should quit the passive-aggressive innuendo, and state directly and clearly what you are talking about. You don’t even have to include a trigger warning.

    • Nullifidian
      Posted August 27, 2016 at 12:38 am | Permalink

      Trigger warnings are antithetical to censorship by definition as the “verboten” subject will indeed be raised – not omitted – soon after said warnings.

      Which is why Ovid’s Metamorphoses is still part of the core curriculum at Columbia after the snowflakes raised a hue and cry about how it was “triggering” them. The only change is that the work is now being taught with the appropriate trigger warnings (TW: it’s a long and complex work of classical literature, and it may hurt your little brains and cause the absent smile to disappear from your face for a time).

      Oh, wait. Scratch that. Metamorphoses has been replaced in the core curriculum. We apologize for the error.

  45. Gerald
    Posted August 27, 2016 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t quite understand your response to the third paragraph.

    The Dean says “no safe space where individuals can retreat from ideas etc.”, but then you seem to actually want such safe space where speakers cannot get confronted with opposite ideas.

    • Nullifidian
      Posted August 27, 2016 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

      Gerald,

      You’re either being willfully dishonest on an impressive scale or you’re one of the most intellectually confused people I’ve ever heard from.

      Creating an environment where a speaker is free to say his or her piece without being shouted down, physically threatened, no-platformed, or otherwise having the free flow of ideas impeded is not the same thing as constructing a room and “equipp[ing it] with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma” for the sake of students who find alternative views too distressing and crack under the strain. The former is making the university—if you will have it so—a
      safe space” for the free exchange of views. The latter simply encourages students to retreat even further inside their own intellectual bubbles.

      I honestly feel ashamed on your behalf at having to explain something that should be so plainly obvious to you. One is consistent with valuing free expression and the other isn’t. One pretends as if thoughts can be harmful and gives implicit sanction to the idea that they should be tightly regulated, while the other recognizes that the free exchange of ideas is a core democratic principle. The difference between the two is as stark as night and day.

      • Nullifidian
        Posted August 27, 2016 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

        P. S. If the only way you know to “confront” a speaker with “opposite ideas” is to scream at them during their speech until they leave off out of fear of their own safety or because they can no longer make themselves heard, then… you’re doing it wrong.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 28, 2016 at 5:34 am | Permalink

        Thanks for clearing the air. It was getting pretty smokey in here. 😎

  46. David Selway
    Posted August 28, 2016 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Don, This is a posting from a web site that I follow. DavidS

    On Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 6:45 AM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “I’m not much of a jingoist: I don’t root for > America in the Olympics, I don’t favor my home-town sports teams, and, > although I like the University of Chicago, which has treated me very well, > I don’t go around touting it as The Best School in the World. ” >

  47. Mark Joseph
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    OK, I know I’m super late, but there is a very nice cartoon here about this.


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