Oct. 24, 2002
Vol. 22 No. 3

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    Randel addresses issues of free speech, intellectual discourse on campus

    In a meeting last week of the Council of the University Senate, President Randel read a statement on the University’s policies regarding free speech, intellectual discourse and the creation of a civil environment that promotes, rather than chills, such discourse. (The full text of his remarks is available on the Web at http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/021024/freespeech.shtml and will appear in the next University Record).

    Citing the Kalven Report of 1967, Randel began by noting that the University “must embrace, be hospitable to and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.”

    Noting the need to protect that right for individuals, he quoted the Student Manual’s prohibition of “Acts of violence and explicit threats of violence directed at a particular individual that compromise that individual’s safety or ability to function within the University setting.”

    But he added that as a community, we must also maintain “a decent respect for one another and even a degree of trust. No set of rules or codes of behavior can ever fully capture everything that respect and trust require. Maintaining this community is hard work, and each of us must assume some personal responsibility for it.”

    With such relationships as a foundation, the community can then do the difficult work of negotiating passionately held, but widely divergent views.

    “In a world of increasing tensions and heated differences, we will sometimes be accused of bias or even rank prejudice for tolerating a wide spectrum of views,” he said. “But the response to views that one finds distasteful is not in the first instance to attempt to suppress them but instead to answer them with the force of argument.”

    After speaking of the importance of combating prejudice, he noted the related virtue of diversity, both of ideas and of experience. “No part of the University community can think of itself as immune from this concern for diversity,” he told the Council. “An unprecedented number of programs is in place to increase diversity in the functioning of our academic programs and in the ways in which we carry on our business affairs and our relations with the neighborhood and city of which we are a part. Each of us must believe that embracing–not merely tolerating–diversity is a personal obligation.”

    In closing, he noted the delicate but crucial balance that an academic community must strike in these matters.

    “A community gifted in argument can readily produce the hypotheticals that make the embrace of diversity without elaborate qualification seem dangerous if not absurd. But we really do know what we mean here. Prejudice is an ugly word because it describes an ugly phenomenon. We must know it and reject it when we see it. Nor, however, must we allow the mere assertion of it to deter us from our most fundamental pursuits.”