The student body received an e-mail from the Dean of Students Stephen Klass last Friday entitled “Academic Freedom.” This e-mail reminded the University community that freedom of speech lies at the heart of a free forum of debate. “In the public or commercial world, it may be legitimate to seek to vanquish or weaken one’s adversaries,” the e-mail read. “In great universities such as ours, however, serious opposition is not only welcome; it is essential to what we are about.”
The University of Chicago has long enjoyed a worldwide reputation as a jewel in the crown of academia, a place that beckons to students seeking to continue their intellectual pursuits. For the most part, this is true. Some students paid little attention to the e-mail. “I hadn’t deleted the original email,” said Terin Izil, a third-year in the College. “But I don’t think I would have read it if you hadn’t asked me for my reaction.”
These e-mails regarding academic freedom began last year, and mark a new development in the University’s relationship to its students. When asked what motivated these letters, Richard Saller, provost of the University and co-author of the letter said: “Several incidents two years ago prompted us to send the message. Every year there are episodes of posters and announcements being torn down or defaced. We wanted to remind the community that such behavior is analogous to shouting down a speaker but in a different medium.”
Joelle Shabat, a third-year in the College, can attest to this fact. “Last year around this time, I know there were Chicago Friends of Israel posters that were torn down and defaced,” she said. “One poster had a swastika slashed into it, not just written, but literally slashed into the paper. That was found in a Pierce elevator. There is definitely a tension among some students with respect to their beliefs on an ideological level.”
The administration plans to continue sending these reminders on a yearly basis at the start of each autumn quarter.
“I worked with students and administration in high school,” said Rebecca Stocchetti, a first-year in the College. “From a student perspective people will think, Oh, that’s ridiculous,’ but from an administrative perspective I can see why you would want to put that out there. It’s good to know that the University is looking out for everyone.”