The University of Chicago guide to free speech

The University of Chicago recently sent a letter to incoming students that bluntly laid out the school’s stance on freedom of expression. This NY Times article gives more background, but unfortunately suffers from a dopey headline that uses “political correctness” as though it were an unbiased term. This commentary on the issue is also well worth reading.

Students, like anyone else, can take things too far, but the whole concept of “trigger warnings” has now been picked up and blown out of proportion by conservatives. In the age of Trump and Black Lives Matter and campus protests by minority students, this letter is tone deaf and inappropriate. It’s largely name-calling and buzzwords with an attempt at plausible deniability.

Some will claim I’m arguing that students should be shielded from points of view they may disagree with. I have not said that at all. I do think that when a university brings in, say, a known internet harasser who uses his public profile to intimidate and abuse women online, students have the right to protest the legitimacy being granted by the university. If anything, the letter suggests that the leaders of U. Chicago are trying to make a “safe space” for themselves so they can frame criticism they don’t want to hear as anti-free speech.

Update: Some important background info for people who mistakenly think this whole issue is about “silencing offensive speech”: “What University Of Chicago Students Think Of Their School’s Campaign Against ‘Safe Spaces’


  • Mike Hunt

    You’re missing the mark on this one, offensive speech shouldn’t be silenced but is exactly what needs protected the most. You should defend the free speech even of those that offend you.

    • InheritTheWindow

      Straw man alert!

      • Mike Hunt

        How is it a straw man argument if it’s actually happening? Just because you’re aware of the term “straw man” doesn’t mean it’s being correctly applied.

        • InheritTheWindow

          Because Jen isn’t saying offensive speech should be silenced, obviously. Nor is that “actually happening.” If a college protest leads to the inability for a war criminal or otherwise repugnant figure to speak there, that person isn’t “silenced.” They just can’t use those students’ institution of higher learning as their platform.

          At least one of us knows what a straw man is.

          • Mike Hunt

            Using your example, someone invited that speaker. It’s both the invitor and speaker being silenced. You truly don’t understand that?

          • InheritTheWindow

            It’s not a matter of understanding, it’s a matter of you being wrong. If I don’t want to hear what you have to say, it doesn’t mean you are “silenced.” It just means you can’t force me to listen. Freedom of speech means the freedom to speak (or not) and the freedom to listen (or not). You aren’t entitled to whatever platform you decide you’re entitled to. You are only entitled to have your speech be free from censure by the government.

          • Mike Hunt

            If you don’t want to listen, simply don’t attend the speaking event instead of dis-inviting an invited guest or shouting them down. Nobody is forcing you to listen or attend.

          • Aequorea

            An invitation to join some other NPR Refugees:

          • InheritTheWindow


          • Mike Hunt

            There is none so blind as those who will not see.

    • James Hutchins

      Perfectly right, Mike. Those of us who despise bigotry and other forms of idiocy should protest but not actively stop them from speaking, grab mics out of their hands, demand the resignation of faculty, shout them down so no one can hear them nor assault those who wish to listen or the speakers themselves. Both right and left in this country are so locked in their respective echo chambers that they simply can’t stand to hear the other side’s view without having a full meltdown. The left shouldn’t be afraid of even the most vile of ideas because we have the truth on our side.

  • Rubicon

    I genuinely don’t mind the notion of having “un-pc” speakers and speech. But for the right these days, open discussion of ideas is not the goal – the goal is to have disarmed victims who will be punished for speaking back. This is the bully trying to shame his victims into compliance.

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.