Law Professor Defends Edmund Burke Society After Allegations of Racism

By M. Todd Henderson

In an op-ed called “The Whip Hand,” law student Osama Alkhawaja named me as complicit in alleged hate speech by the Edmund Burke Society because I was “proudly opening up the discussion.” As I have been a member of the Society since 1995, I want to clarify some misunderstandings as to how it operates. 

The arguments for and against a topic are not made in the whip sheet but on the floor during the debate. In my experience, debates are reasoned and devoid of the over-the-top rhetoric of the whip sheet, which often parodies politicians of the right—it was Pat Buchanan in my student days, while it is Trump and his ilk today. Debates are substantive, civil, and entertaining. As for me, I agreed to frame the debate with an opening speech against the resolution to restrict immigration.  

The language in the whip sheet that offends Mr. Alkhawaja offends me too. My mother is the daughter of Syrian immigrants, and I personally believe in open borders—if you want to be an American, we should welcome you with open arms. The difference between me and the protesters who personally attacked the Burke leadership in order to prevent the debate from happening is that I believe the best way to counter speech I disagree with is to speak against it. Isn’t debating ideas that make us uncomfortable why we are all at the University of Chicago? 

—M. Todd Henderson, Michael J. Marks Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School