Student activists at my university occupy campus police headquarters

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I’m deeply saddened at how woke The University of Chicago is becoming. The students, of course, are far woker than the faculty, but I always expected the faculty and administration to hold the line by adhering to two of the great “foundational principles” of our University: the Report on the Committee on Freedom of Expression (the famous “Chicago Principles” mandating pretty unrestricted free speech), and the Kalven Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action. The free-speech principles have been adopted by 55 universities, and I wrote about the Kalven Report here, explaining how it prohibited the University as a whole from taking political and social stands. (Individuals, of course, can say what they want as individuals.)  I’ll reiterate a bit of that report; the emphasis is mine:

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.

The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints. And this neutrality as an institution has its complement in the fullest freedom for its faculty and students as individuals to participate in political action and social protest. It finds its complement, too, in the obligation of the university to provide a forum for the most searching and candid discussion of public issues.

One exception to this is if the University must weigh in on an issue that endangers its own function as an educational institution, and then it can make a statement.

The wokeness of students here is inevitable: it’s a one-way ratchet to authoritarianism that will eventually destroy the “founding principles.” I had hoped that the faculty and administration would hold the line on the two principles above, and, in truth, free speech is still viable here—at least temporarily. But as various statements issue from the administration aligning with political movements and ideologies, the Kalven Report is in tatters—if any administrator even remembers it.

And now the students are demanding the defunding and eventual disbanding of the University of Chicago Police Department, a large organization that patrols not just the campus, but a wide swath of the South Side, from 35th Street to 63rd Street. I’ve interacted with them quite a bit (often without them knowing I’m on the faculty, though they can see I’m white), and have found them polite, professional, and efficient. (This morning I saw one of them who had retrieved a stray turtle who left Botany Pond, most likely to expire in the heat, and was putting it back in the pond.)

Criticism of the UC Police began in earnest in 2018, although there had been sporadic complaints of police racism that I don’t know much about. But in April of 2018, they got a report of a man acting erratically off campus, bashing in cars with a rod and doing other damage. Responding to the call, the man charged the cops with an iron bar. They warned him to drop the weapon, and, as he continued charging them , they shot him in the shoulder.

The offender turned out to be a mentally ill student, Charles Thomas (my reports here and here), who has since been in and out of jail and is now incarcerated for violating parole. But the shooting upset the student body, though, as I said, the cops really didn’t have a choice if they didn’t want their heads bashed in, and they shot him in the shoulder, not the chest or head (these are not, after all, Minneapolis police). There were calls for mental health care to be improved on campus (it was), and, inevitably, doe the defunding and disbanding of our police department. Here’s the report from the Chicago Maroon,  the student newspaper, about the student sit-in in at campus police headquarters on June 12 (I’d missed the event). Click on the screenshot to read:


100 students began sitting in inside the police station, and, acting professionally, the police let them in, but, as business hours ended, refused to let anyone else in, though they could leave. Bathroom facilities were locked, as they are normally after hours, and delivery pizza, also ordered after hours, wasn’t allowed in, either. Forty students stuck it out for the night. They could have been arrested for trespassing, but the police wisely decided to let them be.

What did they want?  Here’s what they wanted:

Their demands were “defund,” “disarm,” “disclose,” and “disband”: for the University to reduce the UCPD budget by at least 50 percent for the 2020-21 school year; entirely disarm the police force; make the organization’s budget from the past 20 years and all future years public; and dissolve the force altogether by 2022.

Protest signs (photo from the Chicago Maroon by  Yiwen Lu):

I’ve read in other places that by eliminating the UC Police (I believe we have about 50 officers), the protestors don’t intend to replace then with the Chicago city police, whom they dislike even more. It is not in fact clear what they want in terms of campus security.

What is clear is that if eliminate the police force, or even disarm it on the gun- and crime-ridden South Side of Chicago, the school will eventually vanish. What parent would send their child to the University of Chicago if there were no campus police?

The University Provost and Chief of Police even met with the protestors in person, but refused to immediately accede to their demands.

It is stuff like this that disheartens me even more than usual, for I am immensely proud of being associated with this university, and I’m saddened by watching it slowly—on the student, faculty, and administrative sides—put its foot on the greased slide of wokeness. That produces a one-way trip to 1984—36 year late.  I’d love to hear what kind of campus security these students want when the cops are gone by 2020. But no worries: I’m 100% sure it won’t happen. The University administration is not as muddled as these students.

Now if only the administration would stop violating the dictates of the Kalven Report by taking official University positions on politics, I’d regain more confidence in my school.

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