November 28, 2020

President Zimmer Writes to Reaffirm Chicago Principles, Defend Diversity Training in Response to Executive Order

Euirim Choi / The Chicago Maroon

In an email sent to the campus community on Tuesday afternoon, President Robert Zimmer sought to “reaffirm the University’s opposition to federal governmental action that could limit free expression in higher education.”

The email comes as a result of an executive order signed two months ago that limits the scope and kinds of diversity training allowed for government contractors and certain federal grant recipients. More specifically, the order prohibits contractors from using “any workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating.”

Included in the list of prohibited “divisive concepts” are the views that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;” “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;” and “an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex,” among other ideas.

Zimmer’s objection to the executive order is that it limits the amount of free expression allowed on campus. He wrote that any federal interference “would enable the government, with all its resources and authority, to define the content of campus dialogue and thus compromise free inquiry.”

Furthermore, Zimmer expressed concern with the idea of a bureaucracy that judges the content of discussion and inquiry. “Such judgments are subject to change according to who is in power and what policies they wish to promulgate, and this alone could pose a profound threat to open discourse on campus,” he wrote.

He concluded by stating that “the University of Chicago is deeply committed to providing training, education and research on the widest range of issues, including those involving diversity.” According to Zimmer, any government interference with these issues, among many others, will limit the autonomy of the campus community and directly contradict the Committee on Freedom of Expression’s Chicago Principles.