College Council Members Invite Zimmer to Discuss Free Speech

By Letter to the Editor

Over the past few months, our university has become the centerpiece for a national debate over “free speech.” University President Robert Zimmer has portrayed UChicago as a bastion of open discourse, an increasingly rare zone where hearing, confronting, and debating all ideas allows scholars to deepen their learning. However, student discomfort with recent events featuring Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski has revealed that many University community members do not agree with or perhaps even fully understand what Zimmer means by “free speech.”

This became most apparent in a recent interview with Zimmer that was published in The Wall Street Journal on February 20. Throughout the interview, Zimmer repeatedly affirmed his fierce belief in unbridled free speech. When questioned if prominent white nationalist and University of Chicago alum Richard Spencer should be allowed to speak on campus, Zimmer replied, “It would be fine if he came.”

For many students, this comment demonstrates Zimmer’s increasingly concerning free speech policy and advocacy. Spencer may only be moderately famous, but his ideas are still dangerous—and not dangerous in the sense that they may cause students intellectual discomfort. Rather, his ideas are dangerous because they call into question many students’ worth as human beings, normalize disproven ideas that have led to horrific ethnic cleansing, and could provoke legitimate security threats. Just last week, the Hyde Park Jewish Community Center (JCC) received a bomb threat. In December of 2016, a neo-Nazi group intentionally hung posters at the Center for Identity and Inclusion and at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture that depicted swastikas and Nazi phrases such as “#HitlerDisapproves” and “No Degeneracy, No Tolerance, Hail Victory.” Given that this sort of violent hate speech has already seen an uptick since the presidential election, both nationally and in our neighborhood, Richard Spencer’s potential presence on campus could have further frightening ramifications for our community.

Whenever Zimmer uses the name of our university, we are all implicated in his statements. Thus, it is paramount that we fully understand the scope and boundaries of the University’s free speech policy. Zimmer has a committee that helps him craft this policy, the Committee on Freedom of Expression. However, no students sit on this committee, and it has been difficult for students to express themselves to Zimmer in general. As representatives of the College student body, we would like to invite our president to a College Council meeting for a discussion on free speech. The members of the College Council and the signatories of this letter hold diverse opinions on the complex matter of free speech on campus. This letter is not meant to affirm a position on that issue. We are seeking clarity and discussion on a topic that affects those we represent and ourselves. Along with this public letter, we have submitted a formal invitation. If Zimmer believes so deeply in open discourse, he should welcome this invitation and come prepared to answer tough questions.


Louisa Richardson-Deppe, Class of 2017 Rep

Katherine Shen, Class of 2017 Rep

Chase Harrison, Class of 2018 Rep

Dan Lastres, Class of 2018 Proxy Rep

Ari Mulgay, Class of 2018 Proxy Rep

Qudsiyyah Shariyf, Class of 2019 Rep

Elizabeth Ortiz, Class of 2019 Rep

Mahi Senthilkumar, Class of 2019 Rep

Zander Cowan, Class of 2019 Rep

Satyen Gupta, Class of 2020 Rep

Veronica Myers, Class of 2020 Rep

Jahné Brown, Class of 2020 Rep

Kosi Achife, Class of 2020 Rep