University of Chicago pres. slams 'privileging of feelings'
The University of Chicago president defended his school’s commitment to free speech in an address to the City Club of Cleveland.
University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer said during a speech on Oct. 3 that “challenging one's assumptions inevitably creates discomfort, but a discomfort that is necessary for growth, understanding, and achievement." Zimmer continued by describing what he believed to be three contributing causes of a decreased commitment to freedom of expression across U.S. universities.
“Privileging feelings, to the extent that a child feels they are always entitled to feel good and comfortable, and that the world should be organized around this, is not helpful in this regard."
“Some people are trying to keep certain views unexpressed out of self-righteous, moral, or political indignation, an agenda driven by such moral or political views, and comfort, arrogating to themselves and those they agree with the right of speech, while denying it to others,” Zimmer said, outlining the first cause.
The second contributing cause, according to Zimmer, is that universities are suppressing free speech in the name of fighting against the exclusion of historically marginalized groups. He makes the case that freedom of expression is necessary for fostering an environment of inclusion.
Zimmer cited “the privileging of feelings” as a third cause: “Privileging feelings, to the extent that a child feels they are always entitled to feel good and comfortable, and that the world should be organized around this, is not helpful in this regard. And what we are seeing in some cases within high schools and universities is an expectation, and then demands, for such privileging, and then the inappropriate acquiescence to such demands.”
The University of Chicago president concluded his speech by stating that “creating a sanctuary for comfort is not fulfilling our responsibility. It is only through an environment of intellectual challenge and the free expression and open discourse that provides this challenge, that we are fulfilling our obligations to students, their future, and the future of our society.”
The University of Chicago has been known for its embrace of freedom of speech. It released a policy report in 2015, known as the “Chicago Statement,” which expressed the school’s commitment to the ideal. Since then, at least 35 schools have adopted the same policy, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
“In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed,” the Chicago Statement reads, in part.
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