BY HANK REICHMAN
Two days ago I posted a piece about the University of Chicago’s ill-considered attempt to discipline graduating senior and student body president Tyler Kissinger for his leadership of a peaceful and brief sit-in advocating, among other demands, a $15 minimum wage for campus workers. Kissinger’s disciplinary hearing was held yesterday and The New York Times reports that he will be permitted to receive his diploma and attend commencement today. However, Kissinger “was told by a university disciplinary committee that he would be placed on probation, which would expire when he leaves the university. He said he was also told he would be able to graduate only if he did not break any rules for the rest of his time on campus.”
After the university’s attempt to discipline Kissinger — the only student charged for a demonstration that involved some 200 others — became public a student-led online petition stating that disciplinary action “stifles free speech, and suggests that the University is not tolerant of viewpoints that challenge its own” was signed by over 3,000 people. The University of Chicago AAUP chapter also issued a “Statement of Support for the Right to Engage in Peaceful Protest at the University of Chicago and for the Dismissal of All Charges against Tyler Kissinger,” signed by 187 members of the faculty (the statement notes that these signatures were obtained in less than 24 hours and “hence these likely represent only a fraction of the faculty members who share the views represented in this statement“). The statement, delivered on June 9 to President Robert Zimmer, Provost Eric Issacs, and Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen, reads:
We the undersigned faculty join the University of Chicago AAUP Advocacy Chapter in supporting the right of all members of the University of Chicago community to engage in peaceful protest at the University of Chicago. Further, we call on the University administration to dismiss all disciplinary charges against Tyler Kissinger and permit him to graduate on June 11, 2016. Free speech, free access to university space, and dialogue among students, faculty, staff, and administrators are essential to the university’s educational mission. The draconian punishment threatened against Kissinger chills dissent. Notably, too, it stands in troubling contrast with the enlightened approach of other universities in addressing campus protest, as reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/09/us/university-of-chicago-protests-tyler-kissinger.html?_r=0https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/11/23/after-protests-princeton-debates-woodrow-wilsons-legacy/).
I will confess that when I first posted about this issue I was unaware that our Chicago colleagues had taken this important action. That so many prominent faculty members at a prestigious university stood up for the free expression rights of students under the leadership of the campus AAUP is a tremendously positive development. My congratulations and praise to our UC chapter for their leadership.
And, of course, my congratulations to Tyler Kissinger and his family on his graduation and his commitment to social justice.