March 4, 2003

Conference examines relevance of Kalven Report

The Kalven Report, a 36-year-old document that recommends against the University's involvement in political affairs, received a thorough review at a faculty and student conference in Ida Noyes Hall on Saturday.

Pamela Bozeman-Evans, associate dean of students in the University, director of the University Community Service Center, and moderator for the conference said that student demand was very important in creating the conference. "A group of students from the College were very instrumental in stimulating conversations about the report campus-wide. Deputy dean of students Bill Michel asked me to follow-up with interested students on the matter, and the conference was organized shortly after," she said in an e-mail.

The Kalven Report, which argues that the University cannot take "collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its indifference and effectiveness" was analyzed Saturday in terms of its impact on the University's policies as well as on current campus debates.

The report wrestles with the University's mission of maintaining the fullest freedom for students and faculty as individuals, as well as the University's obligation to provide a forum for the discussion of public issues, in the midst of political controversies. "Our basic conviction is that a great university can perform greatly for the betterment of society. It should not, therefore, permit itself to be diverted from its mission into playing the role of a second-rate political force or influence," the report states.

At Saturday's forum, all the panelists acknowledged that prevailing social issues often encroach on University life and make it difficult for administrators to be completely objective. Recent issues the University has had to deal with include the sale of clothes with the U of C logo made from sweatshop labor, negotiation with unions that need new contracts, and support of affirmative action in University admissions.

Of particular importance was the paragraph that notes, "From time to time instances will arise in which the society, or segments of it, threaten the very mission of the University and its values of free inquiry. In such a crisis, it becomes the obligation of the University as an institution to actively support its interests."

The panel began with the speakers giving an overview of their views of the current relevance of the document, which was created by a special committee in 1967 as an affirmation of University neutrality in the politically charged environment of the 1960's.

Addressing issues regarding sweatshop-produced clothes and affirmative action in admissions policies, Alison Boden, dean of Rockefeller Chapel, said that the report is flawed in the sense that it could be used as a smoke screen to deflect questions about many University policies.

Larry Arbeiter, director of University communications, noted that the University's authority tends to legitimize the views of its staff and faculty. When an individual is identified as part of the University, what they promote may be considered part of the University's agenda, he said.

Susan Gzesh, director of the Human Rights Program at the International Studies Center, discussed the problem highlighted by the paragraph that urges the University to act as a corporate entity. The University must try to get the most "bang for its buck" though it must occasionally sacrifice higher profits for moral purposes, she said.

First-year in the College Aaron Kurtz, who attended the conference, dismissed the report as being a little disingenuous. "The only way [the University] can function is to not take sides on issues. They make decisions based on what they need to survive, not based on some moral compass," he said. "Mearsheimer [the speaker of this year's Aims of Education address] said it himself. There are no courses in morality at this school."

The panel also included John Boyer, dean of the College, and Allen Sanderson, a senior lecturer and associate chair in the Department of Economics and the College.

The report is named after Harry Kalven, Jr., a Chicago law professor at the time and chairman of the committee created by University president George W. Beadle.