U of Chicago Faculty Letter to the Students


The following open letter from University of Chicago faculty appeared in the Chicago Maroon on Sept. 13.

Dear Students of the Class of 2020:

As you have undoubtedly noticed, you and your new institution have been in the media spotlight lately. We want to take this opportunity to voice our own welcome as members of the faculty. You will find the University of Chicago to be a diverse place full of strong-minded people. We encourage you to become one of them.

Those of us who have signed this letter have a variety of opinions about requests for trigger warnings and safe spaces. We may also disagree as to whether free speech is ever legitimately interrupted by concrete pressures of the political. That is as it should be. But let there be no mistake: such requests often touch on substantive, ongoing issues of bias, intolerance, and trauma that affect our intellectual exchanges. To start a conversation by declaring that such requests are not worth making is an affront to the basic principles of liberal education and participatory democracy.

Foremost, we are committed to our students and to the free exchange of ideas. As teachers, we understand ourselves to be engaged in a collaborative experiment in the classroom. For that to work, mutual respect is indeed indispensable—all the more so since the practice of academic freedom can sometimes be contentious, difficult, perhaps even painful. But the crucial point is that such contention has to be based on a commitment to learning from a wealth of histories and experiences—to more discussion, not less; to openness, not closure.

The history of “safe spaces” goes back to gay, civil rights, and feminist efforts of the mid–20th century to create places protected from quite real forces of violence and intimidation. They also served as incubators of new ideas away from the censure of the very authorities threatened by these movements. It would be naïve to think that the University of Chicago is immune from social problems. Yet the administration confusingly disconnects “safe spaces” it supports (see the list of mentoring services on the College’s own website) from “intellectual safe spaces” that it does not, as if issues of power and vulnerability stop at the classroom door.

The best spaces for independent thought and action may be those you create yourselves. For example, graduate student instructors at the University of Chicago have just won the right to organize as a labor union. We applaud their contributions to this national effort. Please see the statement of the University of Chicago chapter of the American Association of University Professors for further evidence of widespread faculty support of student activism and student rights.

The right to speak up and to make demands is at the very heart of academic freedom and freedom of expression generally. We deplore any atmosphere of harassment and threat. For just that reason, we encourage the Class of 2020 to speak up loudly and fearlessly.


A. Holly Shissler

Aden Kumler

Adom Getachew

Adrienne Brown

Agnes Lugo-Ortiz

Alireza Doostdar

Alison James

Allyson Nadia Field

Amy Dru Stanley

Andreas Glaeser

Andrew Drucker

Angie Heo

Anna S. Mueller

Anton Ford

Bart Schultz

Benjamin Morgan

Beth-Anne Jacob

Boris Maslov

Bożena Shallcross

Bruce Lincoln

C. M . Naim (emeritus)

Cathy Cohen

Chad Broughton

Christian K. Wedemeyer

Christopher Taylor

Clifton Ragsdale

Colleen Grogan

Constantine V. Nakassis

Cornell H. Fleischer

Daisy Delogu

Dan Arnold

Daniel Brudney

Daniel Morgan

Danielle M. Roper

Darryl Li

David Wray

Demetra Kasimis

Denis R. Hirschfeldt

E. Summerson Carr

Elaine Hadley

Emily Lynn Osborn

Eric Lombard

Erin R. Pineda

Eugene Raikhel

Faith Hillis

François Richard

Gary Herrigel

Ghenwa Hayek

Gina Fedock

Gina M. Samuels

Heather Keenleyside

Howard Stein (emeritus)

Hoyt J. Long

Hussein Ali Agrama

Itamar Francez

Jacob Eyferth

Jacqueline Najuma Stewart

James A. Hopson

James Hopson (emeritus)

James Ketelaar

James Lastra

Jane Dailey

Janice Knight

Jason Bridges

Jason Grunebaum

Jennifer Cole

Jennifer Mosley

Jennifer Pitts

Jennifer Wild

Jesse Hall

Jessica S. Baker

Johanna Ransmeier

John D Kelly

John E. Woods

John P. McCormick

Joseph Masco

Judy Hoffman

Julia Henly

Julie Orlemanski

Julie Saville

Julie Y. Chu

Karlos Arregi

Kathleen Belew

Kaushik Sunder Rajan

Kenneth Pomeranz

Kenneth W Warren

Kimberly Kay Hoang

Kristen Schilt

Kyeong-Hee Choi

Larissa Brewer-García

Larry Rothfield

Laura Gandolfi

Lauren Berlant

Leora Auslander

Linda J. Waite

Linda Zerilli

Lisa Wedeen

Loren Kruger

Manuela Carneiro da Cunha (emeritus)

Marci Ybarra

Mario Santana

Mark Miller

Mark Philip Bradley

Malynne  Sternstein

Marshall Sahlins (emeritus)

Matthew M. Briones

Micere Keels

Michael C. Dawson

Michael Dietler

Michael K. Bourdaghs

Michael Rossi

Moishe Postone

Monica E. Peek

Na’ama Rokem

Nancy Munn (emeritus)

Norma Field (emeritus)

P. Sean Brotherton

Paola Iovene

Patchen Markell

Patrick Jagoda

Patrick R. Crowley

Ramón A. Gutiérrez

Richard Strier (emeritus)

Robert Bird

Robert L. Kendrick

Russell Tuttle

Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky

Samuel Refetoff

Seth Brodsky

Shannon Lee Dawdy

Shipra S. Parikh

Sonali Thakkar

Srikanth Reddy

Stephan Palmié

Susan Gal

Susan Gzesh

Tara Zahra

Thomas C. Holt

Timothy Harrison

Travis A. Jackson

Tyler Williams

Ulrike Stark

W. J. T. MItchell

Whitney Cox

Willemien Otten

William Mazzarella

William Schweiker

William Sites

William Wimsatt (emeritus)

Yanilda González

Yoonsun Choi

Zachary Samalin

9 thoughts on “U of Chicago Faculty Letter to the Students

  1. Pingback: University of Chicago Law School Shouldn’t Be a ‘Safe Space,’ Say Professors | Law Deluxe

  2. Yeah, students have every right to speak up. But when universities allow large numbers of revolutionary young people to become courageous and daring pathbreakers, professors become harassed elderly intellectuals who get one opportunity to turn over a new leaf before being exposed, refuted, and completely discredited.

    Cue the destruction of the Four Olds – old customs, old habits, old culture, and old thinking – because Mao is back in town.

    • Do you have any examples at the U of Chicago (or anywhere else) where this Maoist revolution you warn us about has ever happened? Exactly how are students harassing these poor elderly tenured professors, with their six-figure salaries and tiny teaching loads, at the U of Chicago? Your idea that universities must not “allow” students to be “pathbreakers” lest they criticize the poor old professors, that sounds a lot more like Maoism to me.

      • I’m glad you asked. Have you read The Demands of students at 79 different universities nationwide? You MUST be aware of what happened at Yale, where students demanded the resignation of Associate Master of Silliman College Erika Christakis, or at Occidental College where students demanded the “immediate removal of President Veitech.” Surely that qualifies as harassment.

        But perhaps you’re not aware of other demands which didn’t make the headlines. Here are just a few.

        Kennesaw State University: “required cultural awareness, race and ethnicity, and intersectional LGBT diversity training for members of Greek Life and all student organizations on campus.” Not only that, but “no one should be exempt” and “staff members are not agents of respectability, nor are organization advisory boards breeding grounds for respectability politics; we will no longer accept the tone policing, political bias, and overarching reach of the power of organization advisors.”

        University of San Diego: “demand that representatives from the university’s administration acknowledge the colonialist legacy of Junípero Serra, who established the Catholic California mission system that massacred the vast majority of native peoples in California. We demand that Serra Hall be renamed to a designation chosen by a coalition of native students, staff and faculty.”

        University of North Carolina Chapel Hill: “We DEMAND that all administrators be compensated at the same rate as workers.”

        Tufts University: “We demand that if any of these demands are unable to be met we demand that the university make a public response explaining explicitly the rationale for the non-compliance.”

        University of North Carolina Chapel Hill: “We DEMAND the immediate firing of Margaret Spellings. And any future President of the UNC system must be decided collectively by students, staff, faculty, workers, and those living in North Carolina who are marginalized by the University space.”

        University of South Carolina: “We require that university personnel use personal gender pronouns as indicated by the individual.”

        Loyola University Maryland: “We demand Mandatory Racial Justice Training for all employees, faculty, staff, and new students. This training must be facilitated by a student-approved third party consultant.”

        There are literally hundreds more, and if you compare them to Mao’s “Sixteen Points” you discover striking similarities. Like Point 2: “The Main Current and the Zigzags: Large numbers of revolutionary young people, previously unknown, have become courageous and daring pathbreakers. … they argue things out, expose and criticize thoroughly, and launch resolute attacks on the open and hidden representatives of the bourgeoisie.” And Point 4: “Let the Masses Educate Themselves in the Movement.” And Point 8: “The Question of Cadres: The anti-Party, anti-socialist rightists must be fully exposed, refuted, overthrown and completely discredited and their influence eliminated. At the same time, they should be given a chance to turn over a new leaf.”

        As Mao said, “Because the resistance is fairly strong, there will be reversals and even repeated reversals … The struggle of the proletariat against the old ideas, culture, customs and habits left over by all the exploiting classes over thousands of years will necessarily take a very, very long time.” (See Point 9.)

        Maybe you agree with The Demands and maybe you don’t. If you dispute my assessment you would only be agreeing with Mao on Point 6, the “Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People.”

        And if you work for a university, I would strongly urge you to read Point 12: “Policy Towards Scientists, Technicians and Ordinary Members of Working Staffs.” You wouldn’t want to be caught unawares…

      • You asked me, “Do you have any examples at the U of Chicago (or anywhere else) where this Maoist revolution you warn us about has ever happened?” I provided examples. Now you say my examples “have nothing to do with this topic.” Talk to me again when you encounter Point 12.

  3. I would be interested to have the faculty be identified by their departments, or at least have a departmental breakdown. I understand no one from the law school faculty has signed, for instance.

  4. Pingback: Chicago Law Faculty Do Not Join Letter Defending Trigger Warnings And Safe Spaces - Eric Allen Kauk

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