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University of Chicago Students, Faculty Protest Immigrant Professor's Invitation to Debate Steve Bannon

"Bannon's immediate presence is dangerous because of his association with violent alt-right supporters."

ChicagoMax Herman/ZUMA Press/NewscomA finance professor at the University of Chicago invited Steve Bannon, the notorious former Breitbart chairman and Trump advisor, to debate globalization, immigration, and populism. Bannon accepted.

But many anti-Bannon students and faculty don't want the debate to happen—even though the professor, Luigi Zingales, is an Italian immigrant who wants to challenge Bannon's nationalist worldview. The Trumpian figure's presence on campus, they claim, could make marginalized students feel unsafe.

"Bannon traffics in hate speech, promoting white supremacist ideologies meant to demean and dehumanize those most marginalized, often people of color," wrote the signatories of an open letter to University President Robert Zimmer. "His presence on campus sends a chilling message not only to students, staff and faculty at the University, but also to the young people who attend the University of Chicago Charter School and Laboratory School and to the primarily black neighbors who surround the university."

More than 1,000 Chicago professors and alumni have signed the letter.

Many students are fighting the invitation as well. Last week, student protesters engaged in a sit-in during Zingales' class. One of the protesters, Rikki Baker-Keusch, told The Chicago Maroon that students "understand the importance of free speech, but this is a private platform and [Bannon] has incited violence against many, and we could not stay quiet."

Student Government President Calvin Cottrell and his executive slate released a statement chiding Zingales for putting an "undue financial and emotional burden" on students of color and Jewish students, "whose safety is directly endangered by Bannon's presence and rhetoric."

"The threat posed by Bannon is real and immediate," they wrote.

I emailed Cottrell to ask for clarification about the alleged threat posed by Bannon. Cottrell replied that he did not think Bannon himself would engage in violence, but was concerned his presence would draw the alt-right to campus.

"Bannon's politics are xenophobic, insular, and backwards," wrote Cottrell in an email. "His presence is dangerous not due of the strength of his ideas, or because of any violence Bannon himself would carry out. Bannon's immediate presence is dangerous because of his association with violent alt-right supporters."

The debate over the Bannon invitation is especially notable because of Chicago's reputation as an outlier in the campus free speech wars. Chicago, more than any other university, has staked out an extremely pro-speech position. In his introduction letter to the class of 2020, Chicago Dean of Students John Ellison warned incoming freshmen 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."

Inviting Bannon to a debate is perfectly in keeping with the principles Ellison outlined. Zingales told the student paper that he fully believed Bannon should be held accountable for "flirting with racists" and that the debate format is precisely the best way to do that:

"He said that we're not an economy, we're a people. What I want to know is, who is in this 'people'? I'm an immigrant with a strong accent, so I probably don't fit into his definition of 'people.'"

Zingales also addressed a question on whether he would invite someone like Hitler to speak. "Would I have invited Mao [Zedong], for example, to the University?" he asked rhetorically. "Probably yes. Mao killed more people than Hitler and Stalin together, but I would have a conversation with him, yes." Zingales referenced an Italian interview in which Hitler made anti-Semitic results before his rise to power. "It would have been helpful if more people had seen early on what Hitler was made of."

Zingales welcomed student input for the upcoming Bannon event, and asked for suggestions on how to minimize potential counter-protests and violence. He mentioned the possibility of holding an open call for a student to co-moderate the debate with him.

Zingales deserves a great deal of commendation, both for championing the university's mission to foster free inquiry and for explaining why that mission is so essential. And he has remained so good-natured about the controversy over his decision that even student-activists who oppose the Bannon invite have even conceded, "He's so far been very respectful and very responsive, and we appreciate his willingness to speak to the students whom his invitation harms...we can reason with Professor Zingales; we cannot reason with Steve Bannon."

Cottrell told me he supports Zingales' right to invite Bannon, though he disagrees with it. He hopes the event "runs smoothly" and thinks the university should focus on "avoiding another Charlottesville."

"I feel confident that UChicago will rise to the occasion to have this debate in a productive, and safe way!" he wrote.

Cottrell, his fellow students, and other faculty and alumni are all within their rights to criticize the Bannon invite. So far, the campus seems to be having a productive conversation about the event—even the sit-in was quiet and orderly, and activists cancelled a subsequent protest after Zingales agreed to speak with them at a town hall. These discussions about the event could actually serve as a powerful example of why free speech is so important.

The only truly concerning element of the controversy thus far is the idea that it might be necessary to preemptively censor a speaker because of the potential for criminal behavior on the part of the speaker's supporters. Violence has no place on a university campus, or anywhere else, and law enforcement should deal with any violent threats. But we can't start censoring Person A because of what Group X might do if Person A speaks, regardless of whether Group X supports or opposes Person A.

In any case, the alt-right seems far more likely to march on Chicago if the campus unwisely decides to cancel the event, turning Bannon into a free speech martyr. Let him air his nativist views, and let smarter people tear them apart.

Photo Credit: Max Herman/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Bannon traffics in hate speech, promoting white supremacist ideologies meant to demean and dehumanize those most marginalized, often people of color...

    Word salad.

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    For a Robbo article there was minimal "to be sure" and social signalling.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    To be fair, those weren't his words.

  • Rhywun||

    "Marginalized" really needs to be jettisoned from the language. Since it has no meaning anymore, we might as well toss it out.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Still refers to something in probability.

  • GILMORE™||

    To be sure, salad is healthy.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Student Government President Calvin Cottrell and his executive slate released a statement chiding Zingales for putting an "undue financial and emotional burden" on students of color and Jewish students, "whose safety is directly endangered by Bannon's presence and rhetoric."

    I cannot imagine trying to live an adult life with such an attitude. Mere paranoia would be a picnic in comparison.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Look at me! I have a weak mind! Help!

  • Otis B. Driftwood||

    Christ what a generation of bitches.

  • some guy||

    I doubt these snowflakes are more than a small minority of their cohort. They just happen to be the most vocal. The majority probably doesn't really agree with them but is currently too timid to speak out against them for fear of being labeled as the enemy or just because they've got better things to do.

  • Ska||

    I'm going with B.

    I couldn't tell you who the student body president was when I was in school, what they stood for, what they did, where they assembled, what they cared about - none of that. I could tell you which drink specials were going on for each day of the week at the six bars within walking distance of campus.

  • Drig||

    Only because of your privilege were you able to remain ignorant of the life and death struggle some students face everyday when they step out of their dorm rooms. Teachers refusing to use a person's preferred pronouns, Trump bloviating 24-7 on CNN, the lunchroom appropriating Asian culture by serving sushi and doing it poorly, Cinco de Drinko celebrations, white people wearing dreadlocks, people who say "mankind" and the mansplainers who correct them, bathroom wars, wedding cakes, conservatives, the list is endless! No wonder these kids are so overwhelmed. It's a small miracle any of them actually find the time to hit the books which, of course, is why we need to be considerate and let them assign their own grades, as self approval is really the only approval that matters anyway. If you aren't attuned to what's going on, then you simply aren't woke man...

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    B, totally. This is the University of Chicago. The party t-shirts say "Study Naked".

  • What's that smell?||

    Do you mean "Marginalized"?

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I think you are correct, some guy.

  • some guy||

    Student Government President Calvin Cottrell and his executive slate released a statement chiding Zingales for putting an "undue financial and emotional burden" on students of color and Jewish students, "whose safety is directly endangered by Bannon's presence and rhetoric."

    It must be nice believing that simply thinking something makes it true.

    Chicago, more than any other university, has staked out an extremely pro-speech position.

    Hopefully University administrators will keep their spines and tell these snowflakes that if they don't like free speech they can seek an education elsewhere.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    So the University of Chicago took an admirable stand on the issue of free speech vs. "safe spaces" on campus; now let's see if it lives up to it.

  • Rebel Scum||

    "Bannon's immediate presence is dangerous because of his association with violent alt-right supporters." the reaction of violent, intolerant leftists like the ever ironically named Antifa.

  • some guy||

    It's funny how the closest thing to actual fascists left in America call themselves anti-fascists.

  • Kivlor||

    It's important to remember that a large part of the rise to power by Fascists in 20th Century Europe was due to popular outcry against the violence of Marxists, anarchists and others who flew under the same banner and used similar tactics as "Anti-Fascists" do today.

  • phillhamian||

    In this example, organizing a group of people specifically around the idea of being anti-anything is an oxymoron. Ideas that have no practical value should not be worthy of the validation given to them by spending the time and energy necessary to organize against them. In the case of someone expressing ideas that you find inappropriate or even repugnant, indifference is the best response.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Student Government President Calvin Cottrell and his executive slate released a statement chiding Zingales for putting an "undue financial and emotional burden" on students of color and Jewish students, "whose safety is directly endangered by Bannon's presence and rhetoric."

    You know what other Italian put an emotional burden on a certain Jew?

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Cesar had his faults.

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    Quit pontificating.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Biggus Dickus?

  • vek||

    Win!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "He's so far been very respectful and very responsive, and we appreciate his willingness to speak to the students whom his invitation harms...we can reason with Professor Zingales; we cannot reason with Steve Bannon."

    We'll see how conciliatory Zingales feels when the unreasonable demands and petulant fits start in earnest.

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    He's Italian he knows about the Ides of March.

  • Alcibiades||

    Unbelieveable, just fucking unbelieveable.
    Better tell those "infants" to stay clear of libraries and bookshops and the main Amazon webpage.

    Here's a fantastic debate and defense of the First Amendment and freedom of [removed]by an ex-Brit no less) and a couple of weasel academics who utterly fail to make their case. It was two against one but to make it fair it should have been ten against one. Cooke wipes the floor with them, some truly priceless moments:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZDq2fw6kuY

  • Alcibiades||

    What the fuck is up with the comments section at "Reason".
    It redacted the word "expression"!

  • DajjaI||

    At the risk of getting banned again by Reason - I agree completely. The cause of violence isn't hate speech - it is banning speech. Because when people feel muzzled they act out with violence. Yes the alt-right can be violent. They are trying to use it to spark a wider war. Ben Shapiro handles this well by telling them, "If you disagree with me, come to the front of the line." This is a great way to de-fang them. But even in this case, the groups must be allowed to face each other and to argue. It's a mistake to separate them. Even if there is small scale violence this is much better than what's happening in Europe, which is hurtling towards another wide scale conflagration and genocide due to their thick web of hate speech, incitement, holocaust denial and other restrictions. Let's show them how it's done!

    Hitlary for UberDrumpfenFuhrer 2020 approves this message.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Columbia University proved the practical benefits of having a nuclear weapons program when it invited that Iranian president to speak.

  • David Emami||

    "The Trumpian figure's presence on campus, they claim, could make marginalized students feel unsafe."

    Regardless of one's opinion on Bannon or free speech issues, if someone engaging in a debate makes you feel unsafe, you're a neurotic. That's an issue for you and your therapist. Further, if we've thrown objective assessment of threats out the window, opponents of Muslim immigration could just as easily say "they make us feel unsafe" in support of their position.

  • dantheserene||

    As soon as someone mentions safety regarding an issue were actual safety is not involved, I stop listening.

  • ||

    I agree with the broader point, but I don't think this is an example of that. They're not claiming that Bannon's words will make them unsafe, they're claiming that Bannon's presence on campus will trigger violent right-wing groups to assemble on campus and attack people. I think that's really unlikely, not least because the University of Chicago has an enormous private police force that would be more than happy to beat up violent demonstrators, but it's still a claim about actual violence, not rhetorical violence.

  • Rhywun||

    "I'm an immigrant with a strong accent, so I probably don't fit into his definition of 'people.'"

    *eye-roll*

    You gotta hand it to these people, they've got the smug language and tone of SJ down pat.

  • Kivlor||

    Let him air his nativist views, and let smarter people tear them apart.

    Yeah... I don't think it is going to go down the way you want it to Robby, supposing that Bannon has any rhetorical skill at all. The nativists, nationalists, etc have had a long time of building up their arguments, while the opposition due to being in the halls of power and taken for granted have become weak, resting on their laurels.

    "To be in the weakest camp is to be in the strongest school" --GK Chesterton.

  • Dick Puller, Attorney at Law||

    True enough. The last time I saw debate between a libertarian and the alt-right, the libertarian got served, but good.

  • Kivlor||

    LMAO. I like Sargon. But God, he really chimped out on Andy RaceWarski's stream. He should have been able to beat Spencer pretty easily because honestly, Spencer is not full of good ideas, he's an excellent troll. He's a horrible leader but a great agitator. If the alt-right had any hierarchy at all they'd be wise to ditch his ass in a heartbeat once they can get themselves into mainstream discussion. Jared Taylor is a great example of the kind of leader needed. They just need a younger version of him.

  • vek||

    Richard Spencer is an idiot. Jared Taylor is a very bright man indeed. Most on the alt-right take things too far, but many of their general ideas in more mild form are quite valid. There is more objective reality/science/history to back up their views than progressive multiculturalist views by far.

    I hope someday soon we can have a calm, rational discussion on some of these issues.

  • GILMORE™||

    Who is the "libertarian" in that debate?

  • Kivlor||

    No one. Sargon is openly not libertarian. Although the cosmos would probably take him.

    It was still funny though.

  • Eidde||

    "Last week, student protesters engaged in a sit-in during Zingales' class....

    "So far, the campus seems to be having a productive conversation about the event—even the sit-in was quiet and orderly, and activists cancelled a subsequent protest after Zingales agreed to speak with them at a town hall."

    By definition, sitting in at a professor's duly-scheduled class is not orderly - it is disruptive and ought not to be tolerated.

  • Rhywun||

    Yep. I would never allow that crap in my class if I was a teacher. You can have your little "resistance" playacting out in the halls or outside or something.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    In retrospect, I should have encouraged my students to conduct a sit in when I taught high scool in Brooklyn. I could have gotten paid for doing nothing.

  • GeneralWeygand||

    If that is how you spell 'school' it sounds like you already did.

    /Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier!

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I sometimes wonder if these twerps are even marginally aware of how much more respictable this kind of whining idiocy makes Bannon and his ilk look. I know next to nothing about them man, but their oppsition makes me think well of him.

  • Eidde||

    From the Maroon article:

    "Zingales, according to protesters, opened the class by acknowledging the protesters and offering to engage with them after class ended. The class, called "The FinTech Revolution," focuses on "blockchain, virtual currencies, and smart contracts," according to a Booth class listing.

    "Zingales proceeded to teach normally; after around 20 minutes, some of the protesters left the class voluntarily. According to the protesters who left, they were then escorted out of the building by UCPD officers, who claimed that protests were only allowed outside."

    Why didn't the cops enforce this principle from the beginning?

  • Eidde||

    Can I call myself a protester and just go to a university classroom and listen to the class? If so, why should I bother with tuition and enrollment and all that jazz - just let anyone hang out in the classroom and obtain instruction for free!

    What are the campus cops going to do, check my ID to make sure I'm a student? They're already not enforcing the rules vis-a-vis student protesters, why not also ignore the rules vis-a-vis outside interlopers who take a fancy to auditing a class without permission?

  • Kivlor||

    In large universities, where classes are huge, you can certainly get away with it.

    John Taylor Gatto used to teach his middle school classes in NY to dress and behave like adults, and then had them go to university classes and provide reports on what they learned. He also got his kids to pretend to be older than they were and managed to get several of them internships at the Governors' office without anyone realizing who they were bringing in.

  • Dick Puller, Attorney at Law||

    You can sit in on classes at UChicago. I did it a lot. But if you don't pay, you don't get credit!

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""If so, why should I bother with tuition and enrollment and all that jazz -""

    Do you want college credit for protesting or not?

  • LynchPin1477||

    The best way to prevent Bannon's ideas from spreading is...to let them go unchallenged?

  • Tony||

    I'm so fucking tired of liberal snowflakes.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    They're just as bad as liberals (and/or libertarians, or moderates) who are interested in pointers on how to run a school from conservatives -- who, when they control a campus, operate a censorship-shackled, nonsense-teaching, science-suppressing, viewpoint-discriminatory, dogma-enforcing, superstition-flattering, nanny-state goober factory.

  • FreeRadical||

    Tony, is that really you?

  • GILMORE™||

    "the alt-right seems"

    Robby's got his finger on the pulse of race-realists

  • Incredulous||

    This has so many ridiculous statements:

    #1. "Bannon traffics in hate speech, promoting white supremacist ideologies..."

    Bannon may be many bad things but I don't recall any promotion of white supremacist ideologies or even trafficking in hate speech.

    #2. Bannon would "make marginalized students feel unsafe"

    Is there really any evidence that students, other than conservatives or libertarians, are marginalized today? And why should we care whether somebody "feels" unsafe? If they are safe, who gives a crap how they feel?

    #3. "Bannon's immediate presence is dangerous because of his association with violent alt-right supporters."

    Other than some lone wingnut who ran over some protesters in Charlottesville, almost all the violence has come from Bannon's opponents on the Left. And even in that case, the protesters weren't exactly unarmed peaceful bystanders. Furthermore, that actually was a white nationalist rally. Bannon is not holding a white nationalist rally or likely to spout white nationalist ideas.

  • Mark22||

    #2. Bannon would "make marginalized students feel unsafe"

    Is there really any evidence that students, other than conservatives or libertarians, are marginalized today? And why should we care whether somebody "feels" unsafe? If they are safe, who gives a crap how they feel?

    I'm sure there are plenty of students who have cause to feel unsafe: illegals who fear deportation, sociology majors who look forward to a lifetime of government handouts and fear having them cut, teenage single moms who fear having government support of their bad choices cut off, etc. The political positions Bannon takes are a direct threat to these people, just like police and judges are a direct threat to the interests of bank robbers.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    #2 is a projection of feelings onto a group.

    SJWs know what's best.

  • Don't look at me.||

    How are the political positions of a non politician a threat to anyone's?

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Let him air his nativist views, and let smarter people tear them apart."

    Reason should invite Bannon to debate Shikha!

    Bwahahahaha!

  • vek||

    GAWD. It would be amazing. Here's the thing, I'm ACTUALLY an open minded person. I have come to accept many things I knee jerk didn't like... Because facts! Morals trump facts sometimes, but other times in extreme situations I think you have to take the pragmatic approach.

    What always gets me is how proponents of things will refuse to concede that they're wrong based on the facts, and then simply make the moral argument. That is the HONEST way to discuss such subjects.

    I don't know how well Bannon would do, but there are plenty with similar views who could destroy Shikha (or any other Reason writer) on a lot of the "split" issues. Hell I could destroy most of them, and I'm not even a professional shit lord or anything!

  • Mark22||

    GAWD. It would be amazing.

    Shikha can't even put together a coherent argument laboring over it for hours in the privacy of her own home; how well do you think she'd do in a live debate?

    Shikha trying to debate anybody with half a brain would be cringeworthy, with Shikha doing even more poorly than Cathy Newman.

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