In an Orwellian move, the Provost of the University of Chicago sent an email to the entire campus titled “Freedom of Expression” to announce the university’s intention to crack down on any protestors of tomorrow’s event with former Bush administration officials Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
Provost Thomas Rosenbaum wrote:
We will continue to respect the rights of protesters to express their views in a peaceful manner that does not prevent invited guests from speaking. However, should individuals violate these expectations and attempt to shut down the speech of others, we must take action to protect our fundamental values. This means escorting disruptive individuals out of events and pursuing appropriate disciplinary action in accordance with longstanding policies noted in the University’s Statutes and in the Student Manual.”
Undoubtedly Rosenbaum had in mind what happened when former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert visited the campus in October 2009 to give the King Abdullah II leadership lecture. On that occasion, as the viral video of the event shows, members of the audience disrupted Olmert, preventing him from speaking.
But as The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah, who took part in the Olmert protest explained, this was because the University itself had already shut down all possibility of challenging Olmert and holding him accountable even to the point of banning media from the event. Then, as now, the University disingenuously claimed to be protecting “free speech.”
On this occasion, the University is making a special effort to protect the free speech rights of someone promoting a book published by Random House that will be distributed in the mass market and has already been reviewed in mainstream publications including the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.
We can only speculate as to whether the University of Chicago has been emboldened in its anti-free-speech stance by the September conviction of the Irvine 11 for protesting Israeli ambassador and military officer Michael Oren.
The University’s threats of “appropriate disciplinary action” against its own students may in fact be much worse than arrest, because these measures include suspension and expulsion.
Here’s the email in full.
From: “Thomas F. Rosenbaum and Kimberly Goff-Crews” firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: November 13, 2011 5:18:07 PM CST
Subject: Freedom of Expression
To: Students, Staff, and Faculty
From: Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Provost, and Kimberly Goff-Crews, Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students
Re: Freedom of Expression
Over the course of this academic year, we have had, and will continue to have, many events featuring spirited debate about a variety of topics, academic and otherwise. This is in keeping with our commitment to a core value of rigorous inquiry, which has been a central feature of the University of Chicago’s distinctive culture throughout its history.
Constant and deliberate work is required to sustain this commitment. Argument is a central means of achieving deeper understanding and creating new knowledge. In this spirit, we engage one another and welcome campus speakers with viewpoints across the intellectual and political spectrum. We must protect a speaker’s right to be heard, just as we have a responsibility to challenge their ideas with honesty, vigor, and respect. No speaker is to be expected to present all views on a subject, but as a community, we offer the possibility of additional fora for exploration of contrasting opinions, so that taken together inquiry can proceed untrammeled in the service of scholarship.
It is our experience and expectation that members of our community will adhere to these principles in connection with events on campus. We will continue to respect the rights of protesters to express their views in a peaceful manner that does not prevent invited guests from speaking. However, should individuals violate these expectations and attempt to shut down the speech of others, we must take action to protect our fundamental values. This means escorting disruptive individuals out of events and pursuing appropriate disciplinary action in accordance with longstanding policies noted in the University’s Statutes and in the Student Manual.
There have been numerous instances where speakers have generated great debate about topics both personally challenging and intellectually difficult to segments of our community. And yet with few exceptions, we have held fast to our belief that these individuals have a right to speak on campus and, in so doing, help us sharpen our arguments and deepen our understanding. We underscore our obligation as a community to create appropriate ways to engage in debate and express dissent.
The University of Chicago has suddenly postponed tonight’s event with Condoleezza Rice and Henry Paulson at which protests were expected.
Update: Due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict, the Nov. 14 event featuring former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has been postponed.
The event was scheduled to take place at 7pm Monday, Nov. 14, at International House. Rice and the organizers will work to reschedule a visit to the University of Chicago at a later date.