A number of colleges and universities are making inroads to strengthen viewpoint diversity on their campuses. Yet, no institution of higher learning has taken as many concrete and substantive steps – and, in turn, become as influential in the debate around open inquiry – as the University of Chicago.
The HxA Open Mind Awards Committee awarded Chicago Heterodox Academy’s first-ever Open Mind Award for Institutional Excellence for this very reason. The university’s leadership has been an exemplary model for administrators to follow to foster a deeper culture of constructive disagreement and mutual understanding.
In 2012, predating the current controversy on campus and, thus, with great foresight, The University of Chicago created its “Statement on principles of free expression” (also known as “The Chicago Principles”). It provides a framework for thinking about the importance of dissent and the role of the university as a platform for debate. These principles, which include a ban on no-platforming and a statement on the value of allowing competing voices to be heard on campus, have now been adopted by more than 35 schools across the country. The connection between open inquiry and academic excellence ought to be taken seriously. In 2011, Chicago was ranked tenth in US News and World Report’s list of the top national universities. In the most recent raking it has moved up to third, ahead of Yale. In our opinion, it is the best university in the country.
President Robert Zimmer has affirmed UChicago’s commitment to open inquiry at every opportunity. “The University of Chicago,” he forthrightly notes in the official “Statement from the President,” “is distinctive in many respects, but perhaps in none more so than our singular commitment to rigorous inquiry that demands multiple and often competing perspectives. We have an obligation to see that the greatest variety of perspectives is brought to bear on the issues before us as scholars and citizens.”
For his dedication to viewpoint diversity, President Zimmer received the 2017 Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. During the awards ceremony, President Zimmer gave a speech which read, in part, “Central to this [Liberal Arts] education are free expression, open discourse, rigorous argument, diverse perspectives being brought forth by individuals with different backgrounds and experiences, freedom to express views that may be unpopular or contrary to any consensus, and the multiple intellectual challenges these activities generate. It is an education designed to teach students to think critically in multiple ways, and designed to impart a set of lifelong habits of mind and intellectual skills.”
The university’s dedication to viewpoint diversity is evident amongst the student body as well as the administration and faculty. In April 2017, Chicago undergraduates and graduates hosted representatives from 14 schools from across the country to discuss challenges to free speech on their campuses. Sessions featured experts in law and politics, and by the end of the event, they had developed their own distinct statement of principles supporting free expression for use by other student governments. Further, the university also held a conference in 2017 on campus freedom of expression, which attracted an impressive 66 provosts and presidents.
Chicago’s pioneering commitment to the free exchange of ideas has earned the university a distinct reputation for its open culture. Speakers, students, and groups are confident that their events will not be disrupted, that their remarks will be heard, and that vigorous debate will be encouraged. This commitment has significantly bolstered its endowment as well. In November, Citadel CEO Kenneth Griffin announced a $125 million gift to the university, noting that it was made in part “because the university has been outspoken in its resistance to safe spaces and trigger warnings.”
Heterodox Academy is proud to recognize the University of Chicago for all it has done and all it continues to do to advance and sustain viewpoint diversity and free inquiry on its campus and beyond.
Opinions expressed are those of the author(s). Publication does not imply endorsement by Heterodox Academy or any of its members. We welcome your comments below. Feel free to challenge and disagree, but please try to model the sort of respectful and constructive criticism that makes viewpoint diversity most valuable. Comments that include obscenity or that sound like a tirade or screed are likely to be deleted.