THE ISSUE: The University of Chicago’s Dean of Students, Jay Ellison, wrote a letter to members of the incoming class of 2020. In it, he warned them that the school’s commitment to academic freedom means it does not support trigger warnings. Here, editorial board members share their thoughts on the letter. You can the other viewpoint here.
A large fuss is boiling over Jay Ellison’s communiqué scare quoting the phantom menaces of trigger warnings and safe spaces. Here he cheaply casts UC in the culture war against what almost always exist as benign, noncoercive practices.
Yet on the silencing of speakers and events, Ellison found some of the backbone that seems to slip out of the body of most university administrators. Activists of any persuasion attempting to cause total stoppage of speaker appearances and/or content airings that may “challenge” or cause “discomfort” purport an indolent, childish tactic that should be shamed into a dark cellar beneath university intellectual life. The propellant logic of this tactic (“anyone who offends me must be silenced”) leaves everyone vulnerable to silencing.
A recent report of UC’s Committee on Freedom of Expression offers a more adamant principle statement than many higher education institutions do. Abstracted to an equation: Open discussion is greater than civility and mutual respect. Not equal to.