In a recent Maroon column “The Line Between Institutional Neutrality and Complacency,” Cherie Fernandes argues that the principles of the Kalven Report are used to prevent scholars and students at the University from tackling tough and controversial subjects and taking political stances. I am delighted to see student interest in the important topic of free speech on campus: Meaningful debates are at the core of what the University of Chicago is all about.
In that spirit, allow me to point out that the argument itself is backwards. Kalven stands for the idea that University administrators (presidents, provosts, deans, departments) do not take official positions on matters of the day. The goal is precisely to ensure that faculty and students have the individual freedom to do what Fernandes wants them to do without fear of breaking with orthodoxy, bucking the party line, official reprimand, or worse. As for the new Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity discussed in the column, the objection raised by some, including me, was that it is hardwired to reach certain conclusions. Free discussion about its merits was chilled by political statements around similar issues posted by various departments, including those of English, history, and human genetics. It remains to be seen not only whether faculty in the new department will be free to study all aspects of these issues and reach any conclusions but also whether this kind of scholarship will actually happen as a matter of practice. If it does, Kalven will be vindicated.
Harald Uhlig is the Bruce Allen and Barbara Ritzenthaler Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago.