Campus Free Speech

The University of Chicago Took a Stand for Free Speech. Faculty Say They Live in Fear Anyway.

Former professor John Cochrane: "I spent much of my last few years of teaching afraid that I would say something that could be misunderstood and thus be offensive to someone."

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In a 2017 New York Times column headlined "America's Best University President," Bret Stephens praised Robert Zimmer of the University of Chicago as a defender of free speech.

The column quoted speeches and letters from Zimmer and other University of Chicago administrators and professors, including a committee that, as Stephens quoted it, issued a 2015 report finding that, "Concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community."

So it was surprising to see a blog post from John Cochrane, who until recently was a professor at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. Cochrane wrote on June 15, "I spent much of my last few years of teaching afraid that I would say something that could be misunderstood and thus be offensive to someone. Many of my colleagues report the same worries."

If that level of fear accurately describes the situation at the University of Chicago, where the university administration has deservedly won national attention for coming down clearly, decisively, and publicly on the "open debate" side of the campus speech wars, imagine just how bad things are in the rest of academia.

In a moment when black Americans fear being killed by police, the concern that tenured professors might be inconvenienced might seem trivial. The worry at Chicago as described by Cochrane was less that university administrators would, on their own initiative, rule speech out of bounds, and more that a student would lodge a grievance that would, in turn, generate an investigation that would then accumulate a momentum of its own—with no due process. It could end with a teacher falsely labeled as a racist, one of the worst things a person can be called in contemporary America.

David Brooks, another New York Times columnist who is a member of the University of Chicago's board of trusteestweeted over the weekend that the story of "radically shifting attitudes and awareness on race" is ten times more important than the story that "the hardcore cancel culture is losing its mind."

Perhaps. But the two stories are not unrelated. Among the people getting canceled are those whose "attitudes and awareness on race" have not shifted rapidly enough to suit the hard core's vanguard. At FutureOfCapitalism.com I have published a still-growing list of 20 people who have lost their jobs in these purges. The list includes the CEO and co-founder of the Wing, a coworking community for women, Audrey Gelman, who had conceded, "Employees were required to attend diversity and antibias trainings, but it was a one-time requirement and didn't go deep enough." It also includes the president of the Poetry Foundation, Henry Bienen, and its board chairman, Willard Bunn III, who resigned after issuing a George Floyd-related statement that critics said was "vague and lacking any commitment to concrete action," the Associated Press reported.

These aren't people who committed hate crimes. They are people who committed thought crimes or people who appear guilty, at most, of being well-intentioned but clumsy. They were antiracist but they were mediocre at it rather than excelling. That didn't used to be a firing offense in most places. Maybe those of us who favor excellence rather than mediocrity, in general, should welcome the expansion of high-stakes high standards to the field of diversity and inclusion.

This is complicated stuff, in part because it is a good thing that there is a stigma attached to racism, and it is a good thing that people in power, as professors are, are motivated to choose their words with care rather than without it.

But as important a value as antiracism is, there are other closely related values as well, among them the rule of law and seeing everyone as fully human and, in many cases, capable of improvement and repentance. Another recent New York Times column quoted the longtime national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, bemoaning what he described as, "one wrong picture, and you are finished for life."

Zimmer is recovering from emergency brain surgery, but the University of Chicago website carries a speech he gave at Vienna in September 2019. "As frequently the case for groups filled with self-righteousness, many simple well-meaning behaviors are given malignant interpretations followed by demands for corrective action," Zimmer said. "On some campuses there is a tone of discourse ostracizing those with currently unpopular views, faculty are concerned about bringing up certain topics and ideas for fear not of disagreement but of being demonized, and some university administrators are actually fostering an environment in which students' feelings of discomfort with ideas take precedence over the importance of actually discussing ideas."

Those words are as true now as they were then.

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52 responses to “The University of Chicago Took a Stand for Free Speech. Faculty Say They Live in Fear Anyway.

  1. University of Chicago is in a pretty bad neighborhood. If someone is offend by a professor they could easily attack them just off campus and it would be chalked up to “just another mugging” and never investigated

    1. Like what happened to Jussie?

      1. I think Jussie moved to Alabama.
        Heard he visited Bubba Wallace

      2. You mean that French actor, Juicy Smolliet?

    2. There was a student from the University of Chicago who ended up mugging the entire country.

      1. Milton Friedman?

        1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new…GDe after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

          Here’s what I do…………….new Income Opportunities

      2. Obama wasn’t a student (Occidental, Columbia, Harvard Law). He was a lecturer (and from what I remember when I was there, not a good one) in the law school.

        1. His knowledge of constitutional law is certainly lacking. Based on his observance of the constitution as president.

          1. I think he quickly learned he wasn’t really bound by the constitution because in the eyes media he could do no wrong. When the media doesn’t cover your mistakes and labels your political opponents racists it is very easy to overstep your constitutional limitations.

      3. Hans Morgenthau?

        Wait, he was a professor, not a student there.

      4. Trayvon Martin’s dad?

    3. Fuck you, Kirkland.
      What do you mean by pretty bad neighborhood Too many blacks? You racist pig.

  2. I have been active in the police and justice system reform movement for at least 30 years.

    Surprisingly, things have been getting better over the last several years. I say surprisingly because it is hard to tease out any one action that anyone has taken.

    Fatalities from police shootings of unarmed people have dropped into the realm where they are roughly equal to lightning strike deaths in the United States. (About 27 people are directly killed by lightning in an average year) And even then, the majority of those deaths of unarmed people involved some form of violence by those people against the police.

    In a moment when black Americans fear being killed by police, the concern that tenured professors might be inconvenienced might seem trivial.

    That sounds like a very insightful and cutting statement. I mean, who could possibly compare death with nearly losing a career?

    But when you put it in the perspective of the absolute magnitude of the problem, can you imagine anyone saying that sexual harassment in the workplace is not worth discussing because 38 people were killed in lightning strikes last year?

    1. It’s the Summer of the Shark effect. People confuse incidence of a thing with how often people talk about a thing. Thus, rare, scary incidents are perceived as more common because hey always get on the news. We have had 1-2 lynchings a DECADE for the duration that most of us have been alive. However, people still fear them.

  3. They are people who committed thought crimes or people who appear guilty, at most, of being well-intentioned but clumsy.

    It’s not cancel culture’s fault if these monsters fail to predict at their chosen moment of expressed support the exact location of the goalpost.

  4. I officially no longer give a damn.
    I have come to agree with Bette Midler when she said “fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke”.
    As long as the stay off my lawn, turn ’em loose.

  5. >>I spent much of my last few years of teaching afraid

    easy way to avoid this fear is to act like a fucking man.

    1. Biden’s mystique is that he has mostly been holed up in his basement for the past year and that he has articulated no political program. So, Democrats project their wishes on Biden’s blank canvas (conveniently forgetting what a horrible politician and person he has actually been before he dropped out of sight). That’s all.

      1. If Biden does not articulate a political program, who will do it for him?

        Trump?

        1. He wouldn’t know anyway. I listened to a neurosurgeon describe, in detail, what Biden’s second aneurysm surgery did to him cognitively.

          Biden is literally mildly lobotomized. I’m not being snide.

      2. Biden is running as “not-Trump”. He is trying to be as uncontroversial and undivisive as he can be. Some Democrats say that a mannequin could run against Trump and win due to how hated Trump is by many. Biden’s entire campaign seems to bank on that. No one wants Biden. They want Not-Trump.

        The problem is that Biden does have such huge skeletons in his closet that it’s not avoidable. The Democrats made a massive own-goal with the impeachment, as they brought that to light too early. Hunter Biden came into the spotlight, instead of being in the background of a busy campaign. Everyone had time to focus on him, and many found Biden’s actions disturbing to the point of transparent corruption. Similarly, you have the sexual assault allegations, even sniffing young girls. Finally, there’s his obvious mental decline. If they wanted a neutral party act as the “return to normalcy” candidate, Biden is probably one of the worst people they could have chosen. The only thing that could make it worse is if Biden has an open breakdown on stage in the debate.

    2. He cleans up well.

    3. There has been scant recent media coverage of this aspect of Biden’s “mystique”. Biden was adamantly opposed to bussing back in the 70’s. Business Insider ran a story on July 15, 2019 which stated:
      “Former Vice President Joe Biden is facing increased scrutiny over his record on busing and racial issues, and this week old comments resurfaced in which he said, in 1977, that non-“orderly” racial integration policies would cause his children to “grow up in a racial jungle.”
      The quote was originally discovered by University of Southern California Law School professor and scholar Daria Roithmayr and first reported by The New York Times, which published a lengthy story on Biden’s record on busing and school de-segregation on Monday morning.
      In the quote, which appears to come from a congressional hearing related to anti-busing legislation, Biden emphasized wanting to “insure we do have orderly integration of society,” adding he was “not just talking about education but all of society.””

      It is hard to believe the same party that is tearing down statues of Lincoln, Jefferson, and Jackson are about to nominate someone who made those statements as their party’s candidate for President.
      https://www.businessinsider.com/biden-said-desegregation-would-create-a-racial-jungle-2019-7

  6. “I spent much of my last few years of teaching afraid that I would say something that could be misunderstood and thus be offensive to someone.”

    No, you weren’t afraid of offending someone. You were afraid of your career being lynched because someone claimed to be offended.

  7. If that level of fear accurately describes the situation at the University of Chicago

    It accurately describes the situation at almost all universities. And why should anybody care? Universities have become institutions for indoctrination, propaganda, cronyism, and sinecures for the well-connected. If smart, skilled professors resign from their university positions and do something better with their lives, we’re all better off.

    In a moment when black Americans fear being killed by police, the concern that tenured professors might be inconvenienced might seem trivial.

    The chance of a black American to be killed without cause by police is roughly comparable to that of being struck by lightning. You know what black Americans should be afraid of? Obesity, diabetes, unwanted pregnancy, and that 18 year old drug dealer from around the corner.

    But thanks anyway, Ira, for illustrating that the kind of idiocy that has destroyed our universities clearly also has a foothold even in supposedly libertarian publications.

    1. You know what black Americans should be afraid of? Obesity, diabetes, unwanted pregnancy, and that 18 year old drug dealer from around the corner.

      I kind of wonder if you did a poll of normal, everyday black Americans if those would come out as things that they actually are more concerned about than being shot for no reason by a cop. Or am I the only one who sees an awful lot of trust fund babies LARPing at being ’60’s “radicals” in a lot of footage from these various protests?

      I mean, that one guy, Raz Simone, in CHAZ or CHOP or whatever the fuck they’re calling the ANTIFA autonomous zone in Seattle – who they’re calling the “warlord of Seattle” – drives a God damned Tesla, for fuck’s sake.

      1. If those trust fund babies are LARPing, I also want to LARP. As a national guardsman, from Kent State.

  8. Dave Chappelle summed up “cancel culture” best:

    “If you do anything wrong in you’re life, and I find out about it I’m gonna try and take everything away from you. And I don’t care when I find out, could be today, could be tomorrow, 15, 20 years from now. If I find out you’re fucking finished! Who is that? … That’s you! That’s what the audience sounds like to me.”

  9. some university administrators are actually fostering an environment in which students’ feelings of discomfort with ideas take precedence over the importance of actually discussing ideas

    That’s the problem right there – too damn many administrators who aren’t on the university’s side. Professor says something offensive, student complains, the response ought to be “fuck off”, but it’s not, it’s some self-important administrator who sees her job as protecting the students from offensive thoughts. Thanks to free student loan money, universities have grown far beyond their capacity for rational thought.

  10. “This is complicated stuff, in part because it is a good thing that there is a stigma attached to racism, ”

    The problem is that the stigma isn’t attached to racism. It’s attached to ‘racism’, which is something completely different. Often avoiding ‘racism’ actually requires being actively racist!

  11. Presenting any argument isn’t bigotry.

    Refusing to consider one is.

  12. Remember the term “spoiled”. Lets consider the last 40-years.
    1. Parents taught their boys to respect Women – they are to be regarded as your mothers.
    2. The state held Women in such great regard as to give them child support even when the fault of pregnancy was entirely their own.
    3. The state went even further in demanding alimony payments to Women.
    — Even the police let Women off more
    — Culture decided it was always the boys fault no matter evidence because “Women” are special.

    DID IT FIX IT???? Women are screaming more about oppression today than ever in history. They aren’t oppressed they’ve become immune to being spoiled.

    1. The Republicans (i.e. referred to today as White Supremacists) passed legislation and fought the US bloodiest war to end slavery. Even going to far as to give them free land.
    2. Then the Black crowd lobbied to get invites to every “public” yet privately owned institution available. You can’t kick me out of your property.
    3. The popular shaming of white people didn’t end there; next up was ACTUAL legislation entitling and funding JUST black universities (still existing today!!!!!!!).

    DID IT FIX IT?? Not even close. BLM has formed and now and screaming about racism like never before….

    These aren’t legitimate protests what-so-ever. They are wildly spoiled citizens that have been using their unalienable characteristics (i.e. color & sex) as excuses to entitle themselves just as much as they possibly can.

    1. K we now know who the token racist of the thread is, and we didn’t even have to wait for Rob Misek to show up… Yikes, seriously dude save it for the KKK rally, no one around here wants to hear that. Anyone else care to out themselves as an unrepentant misogynistic bigot?

      1. Yes we know who the actual racist is: you.

    2. I stand corrected, Misek already posted.

      1. Which proves my point entirely. Racists swarm together, like flies on a MAGA hat.

        1. The difference between Misek’s bigotry and what this guy is saying is monumental. Misek says that Holocaust is a Jewish hoax, but this guy’s just saying indulging and curating people by identities, rather than treating people as individuals, creates problems.

          Stop being so dishonest.

          1. He’s just proving Brett’s point above

            1. And what can we expect from PB? He’s an unrepentant child molester.

    3. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    4. Dividing people into identity groups didn’t happen by accident and it’s not because people are spoiled, it’s standard left wing political strategy. People get trained in this.

  13. I agree with the general sentiment in this article. Nevertheless, I feel Ira Stoll gives the ‘social justice’ children and militants far too much credit. They are infantilized, a-historical, a-intellectual thought police. They stifle free thought, destroy our shared history and public art. They are racist, and (ironically) base their entire ideology on the premise that all individuals in some certain minority groups have no individual agency in this World. Simultaneously they also claim all individuals of certain other groups possess guilt and culpability for all disparities between the groups that may never be overcome.

    For example, if the commenters to this article were social justice imbeciles, we would be saying things like: “Ira Stoll is worse than Hitler”; “Ira uses the language of the oppressor by not speaking out against thought police in a real way”; “Ira’s article is violence on our whole community and puts us at danger”; and “Ira must be fired.”

    Obviously, this is all nonsense. The adults in the room, and the adults on campus, need to start imposing consequences on the socially woke. To be clear, consequences not for their beliefs, but for their tactics and conduct. Students on campus who disrupt speeches to impose a hecklers’ veto, destroy property or statues, threaten (specific) violence, or commit violent acts must be EXPELLED from Universities (or at least dismissed from campus for a couple of years, until they grow up). Police must arrest and charge violent rioters, looters, and those who would deface public history or art.

    Enough is enough, normal classically liberal people are living in fear. These woke morons are breaking very specific and clear laws, and nobody is enforcing the rules and laws that all of us are forced to follow (all the rest of the time) for fear of being called racist.

  14. “I spent much of my last few years of teaching afraid that I would say something that could be misunderstood and thus be offensive to someone. Many of my colleagues report the same worries.”

    It’s no wonder he was afraid – he doesn’t understand what is going on. The risk is not that something might be “misunderstood”, it’s that SJW students will intentionally misrepresent what is said and the SJW administrators and faculty will support them. That is what allies do.

  15. Was this allowing mediocrity over excellence or was this not clapping long or hard enough for Comrade Stalin’s speech? What seems to be complained about is that the reeducation class did not take to the political commissar’s satisfaction.

  16. “But as important a value as antiracism is”…

    Antiracism is to racism

    As

    Antifa is to antifascist.

  17. If anyone lives under the delusion that what we are living through is “excellence” in America, they just need to blink twice and look again to be dispelled of that delusion.????

  18. If anyone lives under the delusion that what we are living through is “excellence” in America, they just need to blink twice and look again to be dispelled of that delusion.

  19. They were antiracist but they were mediocre at it rather than excelling. That didn’t used to be a firing offense in most places. electrician santa clarita

  20. How stupid or cowardly do people have to be to be shamed or coerced into being bigots?

    If you don’t stand up for and defend free speech, logic and science regardless of the context, you deserve bigotry and corruption.

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