Newsletter for August 23

Zimmer addresses Charlottesville; Obama Center plans revised; Another letter from Dean Ellison

By Adam Thorp, Pete Grieve, and Katie Akin

Good morning.

Zimmer on Charlottesville: University president Robert J. Zimmer addressed the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia and the University’s free speech values in a letter to the campus community Tuesday afternoon.

  • “…The celebration of Nazi flags and uniforms, torches and hoods of the KKK, accompanied by powerful weapons visibly carried by those espousing hate and exclusion with a clear intent to menace and threaten, and the death of an innocent person must be seen for what they are—an attempt to intimidate, overtly threaten, and arrogate for themselves an exclusive right to speech. Such overt efforts to intimidate and to threaten the safety of others are not within the ‘freedom of expression’ espoused by our University. …”
  • The SG Executive Slate also released a statement on the events, with a focus on how this year’s Student Government plans to combat bias on campus.

IN VIEWPOINTS: “This past week proves the extent to which some of the UChicago College Republicans, or at least their leadership, will go to forcibly contextualize national events into the existing narrative of the intolerant, anti-speech left.” Columnist Jake Eberts reflected this week on a post-Charlottesville statement by the College Republicans.

Change to Obama Center plans: DNAinfo and the Hyde Park Herald report from a invitation-only meeting the Obama Foundation held with community leaders Tuesday. Highlights include a previously floated parking structure on a little-used section of the Midway Plaisance between the Metra tracks and Stony Island Avenue.

“Speech and Privilege:” The University shared remarks Zimmer gave last month on this subject at the Chicago Humanities Festival. He responded to two cases that he had heard for the suppression of speech. The first, he said, “is essentially that unequal backgrounds demand that universities respond by being a counterbalance and have unequal protection of speech. The other argument he responds to is made by people who think their views are superior and do not think opposing views should be expressed. He explains why he disagrees with both arguments. (Watch)

Ellison letter 2.0: Campus Reform published a copy of this year’s letter from Dean of Students John “Jay” Ellison to incoming first-years sharing a monograph by Dean of the College John Boyer and a message on the University’s stance on free expression. This year, it lacks the statement on trigger warnings and safe spaces.

Library coalition launches: In other Obama library news, yet another group purporting to present community perspectives in planning around the Obama library launched Saturday. A press release from the Coalition for the Obama Presidential Center quoted by the Hyde Park Herald emphasized their opposition to “outside groups” seeking to capitalize on contention over the library. Per Reverend Dr. Leon Finney: “We worked too hard for years to get the library here, to get the library on the Southside and to get the library in Jackson Park to let some of the same organizations that fought us on getting the library claim to represent the community after we won the hard fights.”

Events: The Renaissance Society hosts artist Jochen Dehn, who will put on a performance built for their exhibition space on the fourth floor of Cobb, Saturday, August 26 at 7 p.m. It is part of the Society’s Intermissions series, which houses ephemeral artworks when the Society is between long-term exhibitions. See more local events, and add your own, at

On a lighter (or, more accurately, darker) note: To commemorate Monday’s solar eclipse, Rockefeller Chapel played Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on the carillon.