Thursday, August 25, 2016

The University of Chicago Welcomes New Students

With a warning about the intellectual dangers of education:
Welcome and congratulations on your acceptance to the college at the University of Chicago. Earning a place in our community of scholars is no small achievement and we are delighted that you selected Chicago to continue your intellectual journey.

Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. … Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.

Our commitment to academic freedom means 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.

Fostering the free exchange of ideas fosters a related University priority – building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds. Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community. The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

I'm mostly on board with this, but I don't get all the fuss about trigger warnings.

If you're going to be discussing topics involving thing like rape, domestic abuse, or other traumatic experiences that are likely to hit close to home to a not insignificant number of your students (one in six American women is the victim rape or attempted rape within her lifetime, and 54% of rapes are of victims aged 18 to 34), it's just basic human decency to approach the topic with at least a minimum of compassion and caution. Warning students that you're about to discuss such topics and giving students permission to excuse themselves if it becomes too much for them to cope with is simply acting humanely.

Obviously it's a matter of degrees. Trigger warnings make sense when discussing these topics directly and in depth, but clearly are absurd in more limited or tangential contexts.

Where you draw the line is something that could be debated at length with no clear consensus being reached, especially as needs will differ on a case by case basis. That said, generally erring on the side of caution doesn't seem to me to be that much of a thing to ask professors and faculty.